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.
BEZALEL AND HEBRON
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.
PLANS FOR THE FILM
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.