Aiming to add new meanings to his world with his own perspective, Oğulcan Arslan defines himself as a visual storyteller. Using photography as a means of making sense of his life and conveying his feelings that he cannot express verbally, Arslan’s works convey his momentary perception, the feelings he experiences there and then, through the landscapes and details filtered through his lens, reveal a poetic mosaic in the whole.
The artist, who completed his undergraduate education in Marmara University Fine Arts Faculty Photography Department, has been continuing his postgraduate education at Marmara University Fine Arts Institute Photography Department since 2020.
How did your interest in photography begin? What influenced your choice of photography art?
I can say that it started with a memory from my grandfather. At the beginning of my teens, a Rolleiflex Twin Reflex camera was the only memory I had from him, and when I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, I felt like I was entering a magical world. The viewfinder was a world where I could live my imagination directly by breaking away from reality. The more it drew me in, the more I clung to it, and I fought hard to always have photography at the center of my life. By adopting approaches such as esotericism and symbolism, I transferred my feelings and emotions to my photographic language with these methods. I directed myself to an endless path of development to express and make sense of my photographic world that I created.
Images encountered in life in every branch of art can turn into sparks of creation. In this context, are there any artists who have influenced you and whose works have made an impression on you?
There is definitely! As someone who constantly follows different branches of art, I can say that there are lens-oriented artists among the artists that I am most impressed with in this concept.
Of course, this is not a coincidence, but apart from visual arts, there are also composers, musicians, actors and writers who create exclamation points in my brain. I examine the artists to the end, whose works tell a part of life, sometimes exactly life itself, and I catch a point from these works and find pieces of myself, sometimes the first time I see or hear them, and sometimes after a certain period of time, they make me say ‘Eureka!’.
I think the filter formed in our minds is shaped to the extent that we are nourished by art and life, and we can create our artistic language in this way. For this reason, even though I have a much larger list, it is a great pleasure to share some of the artists who have transferred their perceptions of life or the things they have encountered in life to their works and left a mark on me!
Bela Tarr, Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stanley Kubrick, Kryzysztof Kieslowski, Christer Stromhölm, Masahisa Fukase, Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Trent Parke, William Klein, Robert Frank, Anders Petersen, Rinko Kawauchi, Michael Ackerman and many more.
Similarly, are there any books and/or movies that have been influential in the production of your art that inspired you?
I think that every branch of art affects me and I am blended in my life with artists or works that my perception makes me feel closer to. Of course, books and movies are among the branches of art that have influenced me the most. Instead of naming a book, I would like to share some of the authors that influenced me. Ursula K. Leguin, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Michael Ende, Jose Saramago, Nazım Hikmet, Cemal Süreya, Murathan Mungan, Edgar Allan Poe, Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, John Berger, Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Melisa Keskinmez, Terry Barrett Jean Mohr, James Elkins, Roland Barthes, Theodor W. Adorno, Charles Baudelaire, Heinrich Charles Bukowski and many more…
If we come to the movies; Bela Tarr – Satantango, Werckmeister Harmóniák, Bela Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky – The Turin House, Bergman – Persona, The Seventh Seal, Winter Light, The Serpent’s Egg, Jean Luc Godard – My life to live and all his movies, Luis Buñuelos – Los Olvidados , Federico Fellini – La Dolce Vita and all his movies.
Xavier Dolan – J’ai Tue ma Mere, Cary Fukunaga – Sin Nombre, Bernerdo Bertolucci – The Conformist, Alfred Hitchcock – The Birds and more, directors and their films that are very important to me…
Some artists say that the music they listen to also contributes to their work. Is there a genre of music you prefer while working or artists you particularly like to listen to?
I am aware of the fact that I listen to music that fits the spirit of my work during periods of intense work. This approach shows itself much more clearly during periods when I feel my emotions much more intensely psychologically. For example, while I was shooting my work titled “Put on My Geneva Armor”, which I shot in Switzerland, I generally listened to artists who are very valuable to me, such as Charles Aznavour, Jean Ferrat, Jacques Dutronc, Alain Souchon, Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Yves Montand, Nino Ferrer. I think that the artists I have mentioned have deeply imprinted the atmosphere I experienced while taking photographs. This method was very effective in expressing my emotions. In the editorial process, I continue to listen to the music I listen to while taking photos. They make me feel what I’m going through by showing them exclamations over and over again. In this way, I feel the emotions I feel while taking photos, as well as while editing. I apply this method to every work and project I create.
In your works, you include subjects such as the life of Afghan immigrants in Istanbul, horses in Burgazada, and mental illnesses, which are ignored but are part of daily life. What prompted you to study these topics? Can we talk about a turning point that shaped your practice?
Each of the works that I have designed has actually emerged as a result of my search for myself. Since I was born in a Macedonian immigrant family and grew up with an immigrant culture for a while, the phenomenon of immigration was particularly interesting to me. They used to say to my elders that they spent their last days in this country knowing seven languages without learning Turkish. I witnessed this too. My grandfather and grandmother lived in the country for a while without knowing the language of these lands. As I witnessed their lives, the phenomenon of immigration attracted my attention. The incidents that I encountered by chance dragged me into this project and I found myself moving very comfortably in these roots that were uprooted from the lands of my birth. I had no difficulty in taking pictures among Afghan immigrants and participating in their lives. At one point, I realized that I was looking for myself among them. Afterwards, the feeling I experienced led me to go on an adventure for 3 years and this is how I finished my project called “Unsafe Haven”. Unsafe Haven was first published in Iz magazine and later in many magazines abroad and was included in several group exhibitions abroad. This was a proud start for me. In the projects I did afterwards, I always looked for myself in the cases I photographed. Sometimes in the gaze of a white horse symbolizing freedom, sometimes in a picture scribbled on the wall in a mental hospital. Finally, I decided exactly what I wanted to do and decided to tell my stories on my own, focusing only on my own life, only on my own feelings and emotions. The shaping of my practice and the way I chose to express my feelings more clearly started as a result of this whole process. In my project titled “Putting on My Geneva Armor”, I decided to tell my own story by focusing entirely on my own life and emotions. We can see the result of this process as a turning point that shaped my practice. Now I am on the way to transfer my feelings through my own life.
In some of your works, you act as an observer from afar, while in others you use close-ups. What are the factors in making this distinction?
My works create unity and harmony. I create an order according to the intensity of the moments I photograph. If I really feel like getting closer at that moment and if it creates a deeper feeling for me when I approach, I approach. Even if I take a photograph closer to the emotion I want to convey with a general plan photograph, I bring them together in an orderly manner. This creates a more balanced way of expression in my approach. Sometimes it is a tempting element for me to look away from the outside, that is, to make the environmental elements visible, while sometimes being in the very center of the event and too close to be approached. Presenting these variations together in a certain order is just one of the elements of my practice.
Red, blue and turquoise colors stand out in all of your series. Is this a conscious choice?
Definitely a conscious choice. During the creation of my works, I pay attention to the color scale and I am aware of the power of colors. For example, I decided to do this while I was still in the shooting phase of my work called “All The Rivers Flow In The Nuthouse” and red was an important source of power for my work. In the text of my work, instead of writing the name of the main character in the project, I addressed him as my friend who likes to wear red. Because he really liked to wear red, and the aggressive and inconsistent situations I observed around included the color red too. As a result when my work became an artist’s book with Leporello Books in Rome, 75% of the book was in red tones and the rest was a balance between blue and violet tones.
Many things take shape during the development process of my projects. The questions I ask during the photography process guide me. For example, in my work titled “Put on My Geneva Armor”, the point that was effective in my choice of color scale was the Lake Geneva itself. I’ve photographed it thousands of times. One day, while photographing the lake from the island of Jean Jacques Rousseau, I realized how much I had absorbed the turquoise hue of the lake. I looked at the photos I took one after the other, and they all stretched towards green between shades of turquoise. I thought that I felt every place I saw with this restlessness and the peace it contained. Then I asked myself why not try to see everything in these shades. I knew exactly what I wanted at that moment. Showing the colors everyone sees! That’s what I didn’t want. What I’m wondering, what I want to know is if I saw between turquoise and green tones, how would it make me feel in every place I looked? Could I have conveyed my feelings more accurately? After this point, my curiosity took over me and my course was in this direction. During the creation phase of my works, I allow the process to ask me questions, and by answering these questions many times, I take notes on how to proceed and draw up a roadmap.
The photographs in the “Put on My Geneva Armor” series tell a more personal story than your other works, like the pages of a diary. What did this creative process in Switzerland add to you on your artistic journey? What has changed in the narrative format?
Every time I travel to Geneva, I dedicate a day to museums. I have been to the Geneva Kunsthistorisches Museum many times. I also like to take pictures in this museum. I look for myself in the works. Sometimes I find myself in the little boy holding that thin alcohol bottle on his head, sometimes in the pensive fisherman who had just thrown his fishing rod into the lake with the news that the devil was approaching him, and sometimes in the baby Jesus in Mary’s lap. I want to touch the works most of the time, I approach and move away, I smell, I dream that I am in it. When I see that huge armor inside a glass partition, I dream of wearing it every time. Once, I saw myself in armor from the reflection in the glass, it felt strong and safe at the same time. From the first moment I left the airport and set foot in Geneva, I thought about how safe and strong I felt here. I was at peace and almost protected by armor. At this point, I decided to name the project I had progressed on, ‘Put on My Geneva Armor’. A story within a story. My favorite! While conveying my stories through photography, I also get to know myself. The experiences that have kept a place in my memory, my hopes, my pain, my sorrows, my love, the death that I have seen very close to me, my happiness and dreams are all reflected in my expression through photography. I don’t say it directly, most of the time, I convey these stories with small data in my photos. It is necessary to look, see, feel and think about it. Of course, the basis of this photographic language that I started in Geneva is the contributions of the projects I have worked with in the past. But this was the turning point when I started to tell my own story directly.
The most enjoyable part of the artistic language I have adopted is creating by playing the role of divinity and whispering something in the ear of the receiver while looking at your work. If they listen, they will find themselves in my story. If they give themselves, they will find their own story in my story. Of course, I like to get to know myself more and to go deeper and get lost in what my photos tell. By the way, who doesn’t love to share their stories with people who have had similar feelings before?
Again, we see that you made use of the collage technique in your “Put on My Geneva Armor” series. Was this just a preference for this series, or can we talk about a change in the physiology of your works?
Actually, although I seem to be using the collage technique, I actually prefer to call my works in my project “Put on My Geneva Armor” diptych triptych graph. In the process of creating my works, individual photographs have rarely been enjoyable for me. Now I see photos as a punctuation mark, letter or word, and by putting them together regularly, I sometimes write a claustrophobic poem and sometimes use it as a method of telling a story I find myself in. This is a method that I have assimilated for a long time and yes we can talk about a radical change in the physiology of my works.
In recent years, you have participated in events such as BASE Istanbul, Mamut Art Project, Helsinki Photography Festival, FreshEyes Talents with your works. What do you think about such events with competition? How did being involved in these activities contribute positively or negatively to your creative process?
I sincerely want more events and exhibitions in this direction in our country. I see every exhibition and event I attend as an experience and motivation factor. I find it very useful that artists from different disciplines meet and interact at these exhibitions. I am aware that such events are an important factor for more artists to be visible and for these artists to create stronger works with motivation. As for me, I’m not sure if such events put an exclamation point or a comma in my creative process, as I always produce work as regularly as my emotions allow. For some artists, their projects continue until they are published in a magazine, become a book, or become part of an exhibition. However, when it becomes a commodity, their projects come to an end for them. For me it is not. If my inner voice tells me that the process of producing my project has not ended yet and that I am continuing my life with similar feelings, the job is not over until I am sure that I have finished that adventure and embark on a new adventure.
The pandemic was a period that deeply affected artists and art production. Some artists turned to collective production, some platforms went into a transformation from physical to digital. How did these changes affect you as a photographer?
It was not a turning point for me that directly affected my artistic production. Since I had to spend more time at home at the beginning of the process, it allowed me to devote more and more intensive time to the editorial process, which is an important element in the production process of my works. As for the events that should have happened, although there was a disruption due to the prolonged closure process, it did not have a big impact on me as it returned to normal afterward.
Many interactions today are shifting to digital platforms, and art is one of them. With the popularization of NFTs, we witness many artists producing digital works. What are your views on this subject? Do you have such projects?
I do not produce projects specific to NFT. In order to ensure that the works I have created are visible in this area, I created a profile on foundation.app and started exhibiting and selling my works. I see this as an investment and instead of producing works for NFT, I present my works to the NFT world.
Art50net is a platform where a special selection of artists from different disciplines and backgrounds come together. How does it make you feel that your works are showcased to art lovers through Art50net? What are your views on experiencing art online?
I find the selected works of the artists within Art50net quite interesting. Another interesting point for me is the selections offered by Art50net with certain titles. At this point, we can see the harmony of the works with each other and the features sought in the works more clearly. In my opinion, it is an important element to be able to examine the works of Art50net artists while browsing the Art50net page to receive regular news from the art world. It is extra enjoyable to create a mosaic by bringing together artists from different disciplines. Previously, I shared my works abroad with art lovers online. Among them are the publications I made in Europe. I have received important feedback and this has been a strong motivation for me. It is also a pleasure for me to meet art lovers in Turkey through Art50net.
You can find Oğulcan Arslan’s works on Art50.net here.