press release

venue: Centre for Fine Arts, Rue Ravenstein 23, B-1000 Brussels

Istanbul is a catalyst of cultural processes that has constantly changed its meaning, significance and appearance. Istanbul perpetually evolves and continues to defy a single representation, a defining telling or any generalisation. Istanbul therefore is an indefatiguable muse.

‘Imagine Istanbul’ looks at some defining artists of 20th century Turkish photography – but also music, cinema and literature- to illustrate how these art forms shaped the way we see this city. It explores a series of photographic revelations, bodies of work that move alongside the dividing waters of the city.

To start, a separate section with examples from 19th Century Istanbul photography illustrates how, from the very early start of the medium, the photographer desires and needs Istanbul. Unseen photos from the magnificent Koç collection reveal precurser imagery of what we consider comtemporary photography.

The core of the exhibition is Ara Güler, «The Eye of Istanbul», unquestionably Turkey’s most significant photographer of the 20th century. He is the fundemental artist then and now, the benchmark of a whole school of photography. All photography that followed Ara Güler and his school were either in agreement with it or made a conscious effort to escape from it. He has produced an enormous body of work over the past three quarters of a century, so exhaustive that there are several Istanbuls that no longer exist that he has recorded. They have become subjects in the astounding forensics of photography. Ara Güler is a photographer, artist, journalist, historian. He accepts only the ‘journalist’ but prefers the ‘historian’ and denies the ‘artist’. His importance is hard to overestimate. Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, has written:

" ... Ara Güler’s greatest achievement is to have preserved for many millions a visual memoir that captures the city in all its richness and poetry. Every time I look at the details in Güler’s Istanbul photographs, I want to rush to my desk to write about the city."

Ara Güler’s work will be followed by a wider investigation of new and forward-looking or new and past-embracing photography which characterises the Turkish photography of today.

One of these will be a substantial selection of the work of Ali Taptık, who can be described as the antithesis to Ara Güler. We could say that Istanbul needed Ali Taptık. It needed the gaze he brought to the ever-emerging cityscape which for him was a constantly emerging self-portrait of contemporary Turkey. His work is not a critique of Istanbul, it is an intimate interaction with it.

Ahmet Polat will be another contemporary photographer whose work the exhibition will explore. He is an artist who has built a body of work on the polarity of family background. He has Turkish-Dutch origins (he recently won the prestigious ‘Fotograaf des Vaderlands’ award in the Netherlands) and he has a keen awareness of the dichotomy of his aesthetic and conceptual approaches. His work is a combination of commentory and confession.

‘Imagine Istanbul’ is a journey of photographic encounters that are testimony to the immense power of Istanbul to confront, challenge and seduce. Music, cinema, literature as well as installations by contemporary artists such as Ayşe Erkmen, Sophie Calle and Kasper Bosmans dialogue with the different photographers. There is no attempt to be a comprehensive survey but more, a demonstration of the universiality of Istanbul.

In the frame of the exhibition, two artists are given the opportunity to create new work: Débruit and Bieke Depoorter. Both artists travel to Istanbul for a residency. The new album by Débruit, with recorded material in Istanbul will be premiered in the exhibition. Depoorter’s new photographic work, shot in Istanbul, will be shown in Bozar’s Horta hall.