Özgür Atlagan


From : Istanbul
To: Arles


Visual Arts

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How did this grant contribute to the realization of your project in regard to artistic exchange, local cultural development and/or the promotion of cultural diversity?

In Cosmos Arles Books, as four photographer friends, we rented a table for three days, to exhibit fifteen photobooks from Turkey. We rented the table not only to show pre-editions of photobooks that Torun plans to publish but also other ones, which were self-published or published by other colleagues and collectives. We chose to name this table "Herhal", meaning 'every-state' in Turkish. First of all, seeing these books all together on the same table was an encouraging experience, giving us the impression that there is a blooming photobook publishing culture in our own local situation. And having a table in Cosmos enabled us to have direct contact with an international audience. It was a great experience to see how this audience reacted to the books we exhibited and hearing their feedbacks. We were also able to sell several copies of different books, to people that collect photobooks and also to Tipi Bookshop, based in Berlin, and to Café Lehmitz Photobooks, which provides publications to museums and libraries. As Cosmos Arles Books is an event, which is like a marketplace, that hosts many publishers from different countries, we had the chance to meet small-scale publishing houses which have similar capacity than our project. Traveling to Arles was also a great opportunity in terms of observing different publications in a wide variety, both in Cosmos Arles Books and in book award exhibition of Les Rencontres d'Arles. As the access to photobooks and artist publications is limited in Turkey, when compared to certain European cities, it was quite crucial to understand, if not entirely, what constitutes to “photobook publishing world”. To be able to examine the publications made it possible to interact with the physicality of the publication, which is crucial for learning from the object itself, as it was possible to observe different kind of methods and material approaches. One interesting observation was seeing certain genres that are articulated within the variety of the books published. It was possible seeing similarities with our local situation in terms of genres and styles. It can be argued that such similarities in terms of visual language is a positive thing, in terms of communication capacity; though it is also somewhat intriguing to see the power of trends. These were eye opening observations for understanding if there is a certain local approach – or approaches – towards visual language of the photobooks in Turkey or whether it is possible to look for such an approach. Besides the market place of Cosmos I found the chance to follow the program of Les Rencontres d'Arles. This was also fruitful for our project, as the future program of Torun as a publishing initiative includes a publishing festival. Being able to see current approaches and discourses in contemporary photography broadened my perspective on what kind of programming would be cherishing for such kind of festival.

How does exchange, networking and international contacts contribute to the development of your artistic and cultural project?

During the festival I conducted five interviews with publishing houses from Italy, the United States, Ukraine and Spain. These interviews helped to gather information on their economic structure, how they produce and distribute their publications and the hardships they encounter. All of these publishing houses, except the Ukrainian one, are established within the last 5-6 years and run by one or two person. Listening to these people helped to understand how we can shape the economic structure of Torun, or at least what kind of risks should be expected. The publishing houses interviewed have similar structures. The people running these ventures, who occasionally collaborate with a colleague at certain stages of a project, are mostly in charge of all the duties related to a publishing operation, including contacting artists, designing the books, following the production, distribution, public programming and etc. This means a workload of several employees, which is not easy in a market where earning one's life is uncertain, thus sustaining a publishing house. There are several results to this situation. First of all this causes an interrupted production, release and distribution of new publications. This kind of interrupted nature seems to be more risky in a country like Turkey, where there is absolutely no public funding for this kind of publications; the interviewed publishing houses, received funding, for one or more projects, from a State institution, university or as such. And when considered the photobook events in European Union, it is easier for a publishing house based in EU to attend at these events, but it is virtually impossible for a publishing house from Turkey to travel to ten, fifteen events a year. Another result to this kind of working structure is concerning the artist/photographer. The general approach for paying the content owner of the images, is to hand in a specific percent of the books published, which is usually five percent. If compared to more established and commercial publishing houses, which usually print a project that comes along with its own funding or its own budget, the small-scale houses' approach is better. And when considered the amount of effort that the publisher puts into realizing the projects, these conditions may be accepted as reasonable. However, in my opinion, this situation indicates an impaired structure. There is must a better way which supports the production of the artistic work but not only the cost of designing, producing and distributing a book. A publishing house dependent on one or two individuals seem to be bound to this kind of economic operation. However, structuring a publishing house as a collective/platform – at best as a cooperative – might have the means for proposing a way which funds the collective's operations as well as the production of – or at least a certain support for – the work of the artist. In terms of the economical situation of the 'photobook market', which is a disputable term, people stated the same opinion that four or five years ago it was the 'golden age' and photobooks were booming, but now the sales are going down because of the inflation in published projects. (However, one of the interviewees indicated that it is also a blooming medium in terms of the quality of the works published.) This is another factor that has to be taken into consideration when structuring the operation of the collective/platform. As artists and photographers in Turkey there are many people who are eager to use this medium to communicate stories, thoughts and generate critique towards the contemporary situation in art, society, politics and etc. in Turkey. However a well-thought way of sustaining such an approach is crucial as it is possible to write a concise history of interrupted and short-lived art initiatives in Turkey. In conclusion, although the publishing houses that kindly accepted to be interviewed, produce very exciting works as a result of very hard work, their way of working seems to be not very suitable for our local context. Therefore, we have to invent a new way of sustaining a publishing house or a collective of publishing houses. Torun may be a publishing project on its own, but we must also work to create an umbrella structure that would become partners in production, distribution, public programming and hopefully in building a pool of knowledge that would become an open resource.

Can you elaborate on the learning and knowledge you have gained and shared throughout this experience?

Attending to Cosmos Arles Books was teaching in different ways. First of all I was able to follow the contemporary discourses and approaches in photography by visiting the photography exhibitions in Les Rencontres d'Arles and also by observing the exhibited books both in Cosmos Arles Books and in the Atelier de la Mécanique, which showcased several hundred books that competed this year in different categories of Les Rencontres d'Arles books awards. Examining the books was very valuable as this was like going to a 'library' which does not exist in Turkey. So I was able to learn from these photobooks in terms of their content, editing and physical production, which presents a wide variety of formats. This helped me to broaden my thoughts and knowledge on how a photobook can be built, helping me to better understand what would be the possibilities for making photobooks. Second learning experience was setting up a table in Cosmos Arles Books. It was an important experience for understanding what would be the way to communicate the published works and overall intention of bringing books from Turkey and hear feedbacks of the photobook audience and other publishers. Furthermore, as we rented and set up the table in Cosmos with colleagues from Turkey we were able to observe and discuss together how would we proceed with publishing when we return to Turkey. Our thoughts on a structure that would work would never be generated in that way if we had not travelled to Arles. A third and crucial aspect of visiting Arles was to be able to get in touch with other publishers, face to face, and be able to ask questions about their own experience of running a publishing house. The knowledge gathered from these interviews constitute to a basis for getting started with publishing photobooks, helping to tune our approach towards an infantile, soon to bloom publishing project. The interviews conducted and the talks I listened to also helped me to understand the common difficulties of the photobook market and of creating a sustainable structure. Even the long-established, well-funded and more commercial publishers are subject to similar problems in regard to sales and introducing the photobook medium to a wider audience. Although, some publishers in certain countries may be more privileged, as some state institutions offer funding, publishing photobooks is a very difficult task to sustain economically. Therefore, one of the biggest effort to put into proposing a structure should be focused on collective practices. I would say this was the foremost conclusion reached at the end of this journey.

Please indicate a link to your current work (website/facebook page)

As our project is still in development phase we will be providing the necessary link after Cemil Batur Gökçeer's travel to Gaze Book Festival in Sicily.

Roberto Cimetta Fund

c/o ONDA
13 bis rue Henri Monnier
75009 Paris - France


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