Foto Galatasaray: Anti-Memory

I met Foto Galatasaray over a year before the exhibition of the same name at SALT Galata, in Tayfun’s studio at the former Platform space. Tayfun’s rigorous research has yielded a project that strikes a delicate balance between completion and incompletion. The archive produces more meanings as time goes by, as the number of Istanbulites who engage with the archive grow and as the face of Istanbul continues to change. In order to treat Tayfun’s writing on this project with the same attitude and to extend the exhibition in time and space, m-est decided to publish all of Tayfun’s writing included in the book that accompanied the exhibition, published by Aras Yayincilik.
—Merve Ünsal 

Foto Galatasaray is based on re-visualizing the complete archive of Maryam Şahinyan, who worked in her modest studio in Beyoğlu Galatasaray, without interruption, between 1935 and 1985. The archive’s uniqueness is twofold: it is an unmatched inventory of a historical era, having witnessed the demographic transformations of the city’s socio-cultural map in the period after the foundation of the Republic. The archive also exhibits the professional career of a woman studio photographer from İstanbul who worked for half a century. Very few of the real archives of the İstanbul studios reached our day and Foto Galatasaray represents a very specific, sociologically unique segment of these  studios. Foto Galatasaray aims to develop a critical approach to categorical determinations relating to common memory, influenced deeply by historical interruptions.

Essentially, I used this method because there was no evidence left behind. I was looking for evidence. Was there a possibility for a new method, an undefined inventory, a new diagnosis? A democratic analysis that would enable me to make eye contact with everything, at the same time? I was running after such a possibility, while struggling with the chronic illnesses of a century whose centers of memory had shifted. Threatened by the normative that cannot offer an alternative to linear history, I never had the luxury of not supporting my own thesis with evidence. I was going to find that photograph and poke them in the eye. I was going to make their history visible next to his/her history. I was going to do this without making any contact with the sticky traps that history set on my very own hems. I was bored with listening to and reading the same text thousands of times. My need for a visual analysis was born when I was looking for a cult way to remember without any denial. This is how I was included in that sepia world. I started to reign in that world.

I always think about who would not want to leave behind any evidence. Serial murderers, debt collectors of the mafia or the advisors to dictators? No, not really. Sometimes, culture does not want to leave behind any evidence. Culture, existing under unfavorable conditions, is charged with sterilizing the subjective organization of society and leave some outside to be able to perform this duty. It performs the sterilization as if nothing is really off. Culture accepts responsibility for the calm, bloody ways in which we internalize the process. We realize that some things have been destroyed later, maybe decades, sometimes centuries later. First, there is a sense of void, although nobody is really responsible. Somehow, some individualities are just not there. The destiny of the deletions from the cultural map resembles a genocide; it is by no means a natural mutation. We start running amok in the depts of the debris left behind by what was reduced. We do not know our paths. Negligence starts by making way deep in that void, despite culture.  It becomes a spy-detective scenario in which the end is known from the beginning. At the end, the detective turns out to be the spy. In this cliche, there are no innocents.

And sometimes something happens that lead us to believe that miracles can turn life upside down in one swift move. Despite all efforts, the void cannot be fully covered. And sometimes, a memory comes at us from the opposite lane, full-on collission! there it is. Sometimes, in the last remaining glass from a crystal liquor set left in the pantry, too precious to be thrown away; sometimes, a short note squeezed into the pages of a book unfinished; sometimes, in a cigarette hole on the shirt worn once and put in the back of the closet. Where it was forgotten, how it was forgotten. This becomes the elixir that transforms the world. It waits, lost, and sometimes the miracle makes us believe the opposite of reality. It reminds us that what we can remember is not limited to what our memory conditioned us to remember; it becomes anti-memory. It becomes the form of the past and making peace with “despite the past.” It convinces us that there is another “we.” Negotiation wins this confrontation. For those who give creedence to another “us,” this is the miracle, anti-memory. The system that prescribes what is remembered and what is not remembered is the reason anti-memory is called as such. The name is derived from the irony of the conditions; in reality, it is memory itself.

I have been playing games with photographs that I did not know or care to know to whom they belonged, as far back as I can remember. I’m trying out different methods to relieve or fix the injustice imposed on fine art on studio photography. I take great pleasure in categorizing image types and enabling them to serve new, independent classifications over and over again. I free these photographs from historical, political and cultural theories and produce individual theories. I have been working professionally on studio archives through different disciplines for ten years. For that, I think I do anything.

I should confess something though. Up until three years ago, if somebody had told me about a female photographer’s private studio in Istanbul, that she worked and produced for over sixty years and had an archive of over 200 thousand images, I would laugh. That’s not what happened. I was the one who was defeated by this joke. Istanbul was going to leak its Istanbuliteness through the layers of charged history and maybe, it was going to borrow from the story of this most naive woman. Istanbul chose her and this time, that is exactly what happened.

On the third floor of Hidivyal Inn, on the floor of a fifteen-square meter storage space, topped by boxes of books, in nine large boxes, 1,139 boxes of negatives have been waiting for me for over twenty-five years. There it was forgotten, lost, still as it was last left. I had been convinced that no encounter was a coincidence. What needed to be done was to be convined of the non-coincidental results of the non-coincidental encounters. From the beginning, it was obvious that there was only one way out. Either I was going to touch them and until the last day, only I was going to touch them or I was going to not have seen them, I was going to forget that they were even there. How it was forgotten… Despite the immediate pressure of the very complicated responsibility that I was about to embark on and the conflict of having to cancel all my future plans, I did not have to think for too long. After that first intersection, nothing was as tempting as those boxes filled with Istanbul. We had been instantly attracted to each other and we had already started to rewind the story.

If we return to the start from here, photography enters a situation when there is no other evidence left behind. To what happens afterwards, the pages of this book will bear witness. While it was being forgotten, we were growing up. And suddenly, we find it somewhere.
—Tayfun Serttaş
Beirut, 2011

Artist, writer and researcher Tayfun Serttaş (1982) lives in İstanbul and Bodrum. He graduated from İstanbul University’s Social Anthropology department in 2004 with a thesis project on “urban anthropology.” He completed his masters degree in Yıldız Technical University’s Art and Design Faculty’s Interdisciplinary Art program with a project on the subject of “Photography and Minorities of İstanbul in the context of modernism and cultural representation.” Since 2000, he has participated in many academic projects inside and outside of Turkey. Throughout his education, he authored series of writings on “minorities” for various publications. Topics that he is working and producing on include urban anthropology, social gender, cultural heritage of the other, quotidian sociology, minorities, post-colonialism, urban transformation, immigration and cultural transformation, socio-political strategies and minority politics.

Tayfun Serttaş’s installation-based works are constituted by many different layers and techniques, including visual archives, found objects, sculptures, video, photography, artist books and drawings based on documentary themes. The artist employs experiemental emulations, situated between the methods of social sciences and interdisciplinary art; he works on constructing a new visual language that researches the interruptions in near history and the impact of these interuptions on balances of the individual, culture and identity. His works have been exhibited in many places including İstanbul, London, Paris, Warsaw, Beirut, Athens and Frankfurt. The first book of the open archive projects that he is working on, Stüdyo Osep, was published by Aras Publishing in 2009. 

Publishing House : Aras Yayınclık
Languages : Turkish – English
Translation: Merve Ünsal
ISBN : 978-605-5753-25-2
Book Properties : Coated Paper, 22×25 cm.
Edition Date : 328 pages, 928 Illustrations, 1st edition, November 2011
Design: Eray Makal