“We are no different from automated ants.”
That’s what hit photographic artist Şener Yılmaz Aslan one morning as he was on his way to work in the Fulya area of Istanbul. It inspired him to start the project we’re featuring today: Tavaf, a series of images from Istanbul’s metro. Born in Malatya (1986), the artist studied Industrial Design and Photography at Marmara University, Istanbul.
Şener, when and how did you initiate this series?
As you know, the Gezi protests were a milestone for Turkey. We can divide artistic production in the country into two periods – pre-Gezi and post-Gezi. So, I can answer your question by saying that the project started a few months prior to Gezi. I was in my senior year in the Photography Department and the series became my graduation project. While at university, I was working part-time at Box in a Box Idea in Fulya. I got to the office by subway and ferry, and the subway route turned out to be a great way to make observations.
Each morning I saw how people took the subway like robots, and upon arrival, rushed to the ferries. Viewing myself from the outside, I felt intensely how much I looked like everyone else. Naturally, the boring and disturbing aspect of this is its daily recurrence. We are not any different from automated ants; with a military discipline we depart and return home at an hour determined by others. When I entered the core of this known routine I was so impressed and afraid that I had to invoke a similar fear and apprehension in others.
What kind of people use the metro in Istanbul?
The commuters are almost identical in their facial expressions, but different in form. All have either woken up recently or are returning home after a tiring day. I don’t think anyone gets paid what he or she deserves. There are very few people who appear to be pleased with their lot. This is an indication of shared problems.
Actually, there’s a quote from Maxim Gorky that sheds light on my project:
The stillborn children of all dead cities who go to work every morning without awareness of destination, in every evening departing from an occupation without realizing location, living a life not loved, doing a job not liked, living with persons disliked, passing through neither carrying a sign of life loved nor lovelessness, entering the four walls of home as if entering a tomb, spending the nights alone beneath the quilt of privation or boredom, or accompanied by an unbeknownst body! The capitalist ruling class are those who prepared this dead living for you, this cruel game shall continue as long as you permit it.How did you do to construct your photo collages?
First of all, I observed for a long time. I visited many metro stops and searched for appropriate locations. I looked for ways to make these spaces more “powerful” and I drew sketches. Then, I took photographs conforming to the sketches. For example, to form the image called “Gidenler”, I took hundreds of shots, selected several and combined them in Photoshop. So people in my photographs might have been present in the same space but at different times. Of course, I did not consider myself an outsider while forming these photographs. I saw myself as a member of this same “tavaf” – the same circumambulation.
Are you going to continue this project?
Undoubtedly. This is going to be a long-term project for me. To plan, photograph, and form the desired vision takes a long time. I also want to explore different means of transportation in various cities.
2 thoughts on “Tavaf”
You might want to also photograph more affluent drivers in Istanbul. I am a California transplant, with one car in storage there, and a second sold before we came. We are happy with the public transit infrastructure in Istanbul, and glad not to need a car. Of course, when it gets packed it is uncomfortable…but how much less than the packed roads? I prefer to leave the “driving” to them. Solid public transportation infrastructure is democratizing…and green.