Monday, January 31, 2011

Interview: Tan Kurttekin's Story

For this month's newsletter (you can sign up at the right!), we wanted to shine a focus on photographer Tan Kurttekin, who served as director of photography for documentary filming in Hebron. I asked him a few questions about his background, how he joined Floating World Projects, and what it was like filming in Jerusalem and Hebron. He gave a great overview of his introduction to photography, his experiences in art school, and eventual team-up with FWP, so I'm posting his response in full here:

When I was 15 I attended a class of photography in high school, and I could insist my parents buy either buy a camera for me or I'd borrow my father's very old "Zorki 3C" Russian replica of "Leica III" from WWII at last.

very Saturday I was visiting flea markets in Istanbul where Russian goods were sold, like time-expired color slides, cheap negatives, darkroom equipment, and lenses. (At that time the U.S.S.R was resolved and they opened their borders for trade.) The materials were so cheap I had the opportunity to experiment with them, resulting in photos with poor quality, faded colors, and lots of production failures. I was so interested in shooting long exposures at night and developing black and white negatives by myself. There was no digital photography in those years so playing with that material was lots of fun. When I used old color materials I obtained old cinematographic tastes from different eras, when I used new material the result was so different. I observed how people reacted when they saw the same photo taken with different materials and techniques. I understood the power and expression of the photographic image so when I was 18 I decided to study photography at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul.

It was not as fun as I expected- everything was so serious, disciplined and boring! I was good at technical photography but the artistic and documentary tasks we were asked to do had no sense of humor, they were all repetitive. So I quit school. I worked as an assistant for professional advertising photographers for few years, while improving my digital skills with manipulation and retouching. Then I returned to school. After my first contact with real world I took school more seriously and finished my degree quickly.

After school, I met a photographer whom I consider to be my real teacher. He led to my first international working experience in the 50th Venice Biennale. He is an independent photographer, an intellectual, an architect, an art historian and one of the most cruel critics I've met. He is still into chemical photography and working with obsolete techniques. When I was working for him as an assistant he always gave me briefs  and explanations of what to achieve in our photographic compositions and what aims we had. He allowed me to try or discover varying solutions and methods by myself  - it was very encouraging! He gave me a motto: "I don't have projects in life, I do things." I try to do.

Then for five years I've been an in-house photographer for a local, 25-year-old top advertising agency. I started there because of my retouching and digital manipulation past. (photomontage). Rarely do we see photographers in agencies, I was lucky to work within groups of copyrighters, art directors, graphic designers, and print technicians. There I had experiences of top projects for big brands in Turkey, thanks to the guidance of Hakkı Mısırlıoğlu- our Creative Director in that period.

Advertising agencies are not preferred places for you if art is your primary concern but usually employees there have the most common talents of artists. There you can see examples of individual competition or pulling together as a team. Sharp timing, socializing and financial criteria have essential importance whatever you want to do. It earns you different points of view but sometimes being too analytical can dull one's artistic creativity. After 5 years of my very safe adventure of being constantly employed, I became a freelance still life photographer again, and I still am now.

In 2007 I met James via my very old friend Özgür. They met at Cam Ocağı (a private glass studio with a furnace in istanbul). James said "Merhaba Cam üflüyorum" ("Hello, I blow glass") in Turkish. It's the first thing I knew about him and we became friends around the time FWP was beginning. I met his colleagues and students from the US in Istanbul. I noticed his constant efforts to establish connections between global citizens from different backgrounds, countries, and disciplines. He was so encouraging to people who had ideas for working and creating collaboratively, motivating people to get together.  Every year he visited Istanbul, he made friends, he contacted people with portfolios- not only with glass and ceramic artists but also musicians, filmmakers, and sculptors.

One day I visited him when he was packing after a glass workshop at Mimar Sinan University, He asked me to take photographic documentation of works produced during the workshop, and I said Yes! As I was shooting the pieces, I asked questions about them. Every glass piece had its own story and technique, and I tried to emphasize the specialties of different works in my photography. At last I was so happy because they were so happy with results. So this was the beginning.

Later, when James was back in Istanbul from his Israel and Palestine trip he was smiling and excited. He was invited to Bezalel Academy of Fine Arts for Glass Blowing and also he had been to an extraordinary glass factory in Hebron in the West Bank and met great people there. He tried to work with their different techniques, then decided to come back soon and improve his way of glass blowing. He had many photos from the Hebron glass studio. At that time I was working as a camera man for a 58" music documentary for ARTE (German/French) television, so I asked him if FWP had plans for a documentary about what he is going to do in Hebron, and that's how the idea for "The Road to Hebron" was initiated. Then I was a part of FWP.

At the end of our first day in Bezalel Uni I felt really strange. I have always thought that I am a man of no prejudices and no fears of being discriminated against. I don't care about political disinformation. I like people smashing down borders and fears. But on the other hand, due to very delicate situations in the Middle East, I admit I didn't feel comfortable because of my nationality before I went there. Now I am proud of my decision to go. From the first moment on I was so welcomed by everyone I met. It was a shame for me but I just had those little fears.

When I was taking the footage in the glass department I tried to focus on the process of glass blowing and also the attention given by students, how they were instructed. I remembered my years of study with a fine arts faculty… the smell of the corridors between electric ovens, plaster mold facilities, students passing by with protective glasses and white stains on their clothes, carrying materials like drills, paints, etc., small exhibition openings. I tried to reflect their ambiance and what I felt. I also tried to help some students who wanted to take better photos of their recent works.

In Hebron it was completely different.

There these small glass factories have a different concept. Their production is for sale in piles. They are into traditional handcrafts. They are not students. They are not into contemporary art. Their taste in glass is so different. Their workflow is based on cost efficiency and speed, they burn wasted crude oil collected from car engines, they use recycled glass with a different consistency- their circumstances are so different.

Common things between Bezalel and Hebron were:
Experienced glass blowers feeling even the smallest glass piece put in the kiln is like their baby.
They are both in the same small region where glass blowing was born.

For the film, I took the journey of crude oil from cars to collecting cans and then to tanks' oil pumps, pipes, carburetors, and finally the furnace. After a while we start to see the rhythmic body movements of glass blowers in serial production of blown glass, followed by coffee and tea accompanied by Arabic music from an old radio. I can't say more than this before editing it properly but I think it gives the basic idea.

It's going to be mainly an FWP production. That's my aim. Guys from the US and Turkey doing non-profit work in Palestine and Israel. It sounds good! It can be an interesting source for people who are interested in the different methods of blowing glass between two cities only 45 minutes from each other. My other wish is that it won't be boring for non-glass blowers!

See Tan's Artist Spotlight.
Check out his website.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Tan Kurttekin

This post is part of a series spotlighting the range of artists and musicians involved in Floating World Projects. See all.


Born and raised in Istanbul, Tan Kurttekin graduated from Mimar Sinan University in 2002 with a degree in Fine Arts Photography. Since then he's worked as a freelance photographer in various advertising campaigns and publications for companies like Coca-Cola, Ulker, and Rolling Stone Turkey. In 2010 he was the director of photography for two films: Arabesk- Gossensound und Massenpop, a documentary about Turkish exploitation cinema in the 70's (here's a clip), and Impression of a Castle, a documentary focusing on Armenian-inspired architecture in Istanbul.

While very versatile in his style and approach to photography, his work is often characterized by deep color schemes and rich textures, with an eye for motion and symmetry. 

This month Tan traveled with fellow FWP artists James, Oben, and Guido to Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and the Al Salam glass factory in Hebron to film a documentary on the glass community and traditions in the troubled region. They culled together many hours of footage- hopefully a trailer will be released within the next month. More information on the doc forthcoming!

Check out Tan's website for more photos.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Glass Workshop at Bezalel Academy

Before making their way into Palestine, FWP artists James, Tan, Guido, and Oben stopped over at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem (with their host, professor Dafna Kaffeman). While there, they ran a glass-making workshop with the students of the glass department. For details, check out Ayelet Dekel's excellent article for MidnightEast, a site focusing on Israeli culture and events.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hebron: First Few Days in Photographs

I've got a few photos from our artists currently spending time in Hebron to film a documentary about the Al Salam glass factory. James and Tan are making friends, the Al Salam glassworkers share their techniques, and the city is sunny and eclectic. To keep track of their journey, keep an eye on the "hebron" tag!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"The Road to Hebron" Travel Diary #1

FWP artists James McLeod, Oben Abright, Tan Kurttekin, Guido Gerlitz are currently visiting the Al Salam glass factory in Hebron to film a documentary about their traditions and day-to-day operations in the area. Here is a glimpse of their experiences so far from James:

Al Salam in July 2010

We have had a fascinating week here in the holy land after landing in Tel Aviv last Sunday. We spent the first half of the week at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design working with students in the Glass Department. Israel is a small country and their glass community equally small. We spent three days working with students to share our knowledge of our craft and the results were visible immediately. We met with such an unbelievably warm and generous group that it was hard to move on when the workshop was finished. After a night of camping at the Dead Sea with some students, we were off to Hebron on Friday.

We have been here two days now and have had the chance to work at the Al Salam Ceramic factory and have also had a chance to explore the old city of Hebron. I cannot impress enough the hospitality that we have found here. Whether it is an invitation for tea or just a passing story, the Hebronites are nothing but warm, hospitable, and generous with their time. Our filming has been going well but not without a brief interruption from the Israeli military yesterday afternoon: It seems that there was a military checkpoint in the background of a number of our photographs. It is hard to avoid that here. The day that we arrived (Friday) the city of Hebron made international news.

Our director of photography, Tan Kurttekin has been doing a masterful job weaving together a story of glass in the Holy Land and we have discovered so much more than we could have ever expected. Often times with a project like this, the result can change drastically from one's original concept because of the logistics involved. So far, we have asked for so much and received everything more. Stay tuned!


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Years, Yeni mutlu yıllar, سنة جديدة سعيدة, שנה טובה ברכה לראש-השנה

Hello and happy New Year's Day from Floating World Projects!

As 2010 comes to a close I would like to personally thank everyone for your support and encouragement over the past year. Here in Istanbul the beautiful and crystal clear day highlights this cities majestic character and the streets are filling up as the Turks prepare for the night's festivities. I have the pleasure of visiting with many of the wonderful artists that are working with over the past few days and as usual, these moments serve as indelible reminders of the important need for organizations like FWP. On Sunday we are off to Jerusalem for a workshop at the Bezalel University and then the West Bank city of Hebron to conclude our documentary of Al-Salem glass factory. We hope that you stay tuned over the next week as we will be updating our blog daily.

We hope you all have a great 2011! Follow along this year as we release our documentary The Road to Hebron, produce major exhibitions in San Francisco and Boston, release new music, travel around the US with Turkish artists for residency programs, and more!

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