How did your photography story begin? Which photograph of yours made Timurtaş Onan a well-known person?
As a chronic cinephile, I grabbed my father’s Kodak Retinette 1-A 35 mm camera under the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up” movie I watched when I was 13.
It was interesting to observe what was going on all around me as the time flowed. Later on, it turned out to be an overwhelming passion to shoot these real moments just at the right time. What sparked my attention most were the great stories in the lives of ordinary people. I obtained an enlarged in the ’80s and I started taking black-and-white photographs as well as developing and printing films around the clock.
Instead of seeking photographs, I like to stroll in the streets, meet new people and listen to their stories. Sometimes a quaint form attracts my attention. Sometimes a photograph creates itself. The most important thing at that moment is what I feel. Sometimes I hear a music playing inside my mind or I remember a couple of lines from a book or a scene of a movie. Irony is one of the features of my photographs emphasized at times. In some of projects, I tried to express my concerns about social problems through my photographs. Technical issues are in the background.
I cannot remember a photograph that made me popular. It may be because I avoid self-repetition through my diverse presentations created by using different materials.“Beyoğlu Nights”, “Beyoğlu Neoclassical”, “Istanbul – City of Lights and Shades”, “Abandoned” and “Outsiders” projects may allow me reach many people.
Do you have a philosophy or principle that you always stick to while you are doing your job?
As someone swaying from here to there, I don’t know exactly what to say about principles. Actually, businessman or bureaucrats have professional principles. It is important to show respect and affection to people whose photos I take and to share my experiences with anyone who wishes, if it may be counted as a principle.
For a pair of eyes having seen many people all around the world, what are the common features?
People are same anywhere in the world. They want a free life without being under pressure and to feed themselves. The problems caused by globalization affect all societies. People become unhappier and more estranged under the influence of wild capitalism. While some of the countries and people profit from the situation, people in many countries suffer from major problems. Unemployment is one of these problems. In parallel, violence climbs and oppressive regimes gradually increase. As people get estranged with each other, bad people will get richer and richer.
What do you look for in terms of colour, texture and story while taking photos from rural areas where people evolve in parallel with nature?
First of all, it is important to share modest lives of people dependent upon earth. This is why I go a specific place many times and I don’t want to be like a tourist. I have never been a wandering photographer.
During the years I lived in Antalya (1990-2000), I shoot photos in many villages and highlands such as Elmalı, Korkuteli and Akseki. In my photos, it was more important for me to make enthusiasm, dreams and hopes of those people felt by others instead of emphasizing authentic features. Colours and textures are already available in any way in such picturesque places. I just press the shutter button at the right time.
Today, there are many people who are engaged in photography, and competition is at a considerable level as in other fields of art; however, no matter which branch of art is, it is a really demanding process to get the title of artist. Which challenges did you come up with? Could you tell us about this process?
I think one should be in self-struggle. He should avoid competitive environments. I achieved my position by producing continuously. Like everybody else, the most challenging thing for me has been instable government of Turkey all my lifetime.
Of course, there are some issues I will reprimand. One of these issues is that photography sector does not support artists. They are only interested in the number of equipments they sell to amateurs. I think we deserve some respect. Instead of making polished speeches, they should take some action. My wife Sennur Onan has been running Istanbul Photography Gallery, the only privately-run photograph gallery of Istanbul She hosted many successful exhibitions. She supported emerging artists. Not a single person has knocked on my door yet. It is another problem that the number of photograph collector is too few.
People who work passionately are inspired by things and people. Could you tell us about people, incidents and photographs that aroused your photography passion and that excite you the moment you lose your motivation?
When I was young, I was motivated by the works of French photographers such as Edouard Boubat, Brassai and Robert Doisneau. The great artist Şahin Kaygun, who saw a photograph of mine on the wall of my friend in 80s, told me that I should definitely keep going on this way. This is quite important for me. It was quite encouraging that such a special person liked my photograph.
Some poets and musicians dedicate their works to Istanbul, and narrate Istanbul in their works. You are also a lover of Istanbul. Please tell us about Istanbul from your point of view. Where and what do you love most in this city?
Istanbul is where I was born and grew up. My youth passed by strolling at its streets and listening to stories. I performed as a DJ for a long time. Its cosmopolitan structure is what attracts me most. In this city, you have the opportunity of living together with different folks and cultures. For instance, you can meet quirky people and drink tea with them at any time. Istanbul is a city of hope. It is a real metropolis with both good and bad aspects. It is golden city for some people, and a mattress made of cardboard for others. There are many stories to listen in Istanbul.
Not all artists have the opportunity of carrying out works at international level. How does it feel to make an exhibition abroad?
What is the best is that I had the chance of seeing many countries thanks to photography. If feels nice to take part in projects with foreign artists and hold an exhibition. By this way, I made good friends. Especially press and public are interested in the art of photography.
When is the next exhibition?
My next exhibition is Istanbul-themed and will be held in February at Galeri Ark.
Where have you been and doing recently? Are there any upcoming projects? Where can people wishing to keep up with you closely contact you?
Of course, there are upcoming projects both at national and international levels. Currently urban transformation sparks my interest. My new Istanbul book will be published in February. A collection of black-and-white photos of ’80 for today.
Meanwhile, I organize new workshops and projects with my students within the scope of Istanbul Photography Gallery. Light and shade workshop is the one that features a transitional stage for my continuous projects. Our last project was inns in Istanbul. Now a new period is beginning.