Foto Galatasaray in three different contexts

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 

Every photography archive is an important corpus of culture, identity and representation. The sociological impact of studio photography, from its beginnings, should be sought in its ability to caress society’s—especially the individual’s—obsession with identity. Photography not only describes “his/her having been there” but also answers “who he/she was” and is perceived as a cultural indication. Thus, every photograph is inherently charged with a documentary role. It is this representational relationship that differentiates studio photography from different types of photograpy, by enabling relationships to form with many different disciplines. Studio photography’s relatively democratic use, in contrast to art, defines its relationship with society since the beginning of the century. This hybrid form was pushed into a sociological territory as it was marginalized by art. When we return to these archives years later, it is this ironic bridging between the quotidian and the artistic that enables us to draw endless conclusions on the social character of the time. Every individual from every class had the opportunity to be represented by the photography studios at least once. The visual information that reaches our day from these archives carry a potential to be discussed in parallel to many issues problematized by contemporary art through its inclusivity and its foundational relationship to the sociology of daily life.

When we consider Foto Galatasaray’s identity through normative criteria, we are confronted with three different contexts. These criteria are important to gather under a separate heading due to the particular location of the studio in the history of photography and the studio’s role in forming a sustainability. Although our projections today group studios as a single genre, every studio had a specific clientele. Thus, every photography studio is identified with a different sociological group on a micro level. When we look at three photography studios that share the same boulevard; one has no images of children, the other only appeals to families and the third hosts the foreigners of the neighborhood. From this perspective, photography studios sit at particular dials. These dials also indicate to the scale on which the studios represent social history. Many factors can be included when thinking about the different audiences, including the spatial restrictions of the studio, the photographer’s logistic resources, pricing and location. The framework is defined by the photographer’s relationship with other practices and sometimes, the influences are absolutely coincidental. We can thus see different types of studio prototypes that require different perspectives. After a while, each studio—usually, unconsciously—becomes responsible for producing visual inventories of the sociological groups with which it has been identified.

Who produces historical information and why (?), who records and under which circumstances (?) Who analyzes and how (?) If we return to Maryam Şahinyan’s archive through these problematics, three groups can be identified amongst the communities that the studio represented. The definitive population in this archive is the women, stemming from Maryam Şahinyan being a female studio photographer. Foto Galatasaray serves a relatively large population of women over its sixty-year history, in comparison to other studios at the time. The second important factor is Maryam Şahinyan’s non-Muslim identity that facilitates the representation of many different religions and sects to in her studio. This is also due to the stability of Şahinyan’s religiously conservative lifestyle. The third crucial element is the studio’s instutitional relationships and partnerships with the surrounding Armenian churches and schools through Şahinyan’s Armenian identity. Many Armenian families in the area preferred Foto Galatasaray and the studio took on the mission of witnessing Armenian culture in the post-Republic era. These three central (normative) criteria are professional reflections of the schema of identites that Maryam Şahinyan embodied personally throughout her life. It is not healthy to expect information on the personal identity of the photographer from a studio archive. From this perspective, the Maryam Şahinyan archive express a particular sociological territory in İstanbul’s exclusive social layers in which the photographer and the clientele shape each other.

As studio archives represent more concrete information than what is offered by written and oral social histories, they are charged with inevitable functions in the context of today, when we are discussing an increasingly vague social arena. These cross-sections of images go beyond merely providing opportunities to make acute determinations; they openly pave the way to re-discovery. Especially if these communities are not represented as such today… The photograph is charged with a completely different duty. This is precisely why many memory museums today are based solely on photographs. The masses of images are the only remnants of the personal histories of those smiling at the cameras, the only evidence. In this light, no studio photograph is a coincidence and each studio has a correspondent in the social domain. A studio’s sustainability determine the movement of the sociological layers. The questions that each studio produces should be considered separately from others. In this context, the Maryam Şahinyan archive has its own set of questions and it is one of the unique guidebooks for the monumental evidentiality of a photography studio. This woman who opened up her humble space under “limited social circumstances” leaves us with a visual corpus that is more striking than images by more popular photographers of the time.
—Tayfun Serttaş

Previously published on m-est:
Foto Galatasaray: Anti-memory
Two introductions to Foto Galatasaray 

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