Artist Selim Süme stood in the gallery of Versus Art Project’s whitewashed apartment to greet a few travelers who had wandered around on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. He spoke clearly, and in several words, about his series of photographs, which according to his practice are about as significant as his chosen medium, namely the retro camera he used to create the overexposed images. . His aesthetic, entirely intentional, is one of sinister specters, in which faces, walls and objects are projected into the artificial flash of mechanical instantaneity.
The people who listened to him had not planned to see the artist. They had only come to see the art. But, without his explanation, it’s unclear how much of the art they would have seen. Her work carries a sort of achingly close familiarity, something that spurred on childhood reminiscences of domestic space, especially for those who formed their first memories in the 1980s and 1990s when the snapshot was a curiosity of a new genre, overused and subject to cultures and lightings that are imperfectly beautiful and almost lost.
In an age defined by crystalline images, produced endlessly, as people pose and linger with frozen smiles and a slight bend in the knee, evoking classical Greek sculpture’s break with their ancient Egyptian ancestors, the disturbing and seemingly random photography of Süme is welcome. catharsis. Their preservation as works of art, however, might require a special share of historical imagination from passers-by adorning the floor of a downtown art gallery in the heart of Istanbul.
But, to his credit, Süme was thinking of his son, whom he framed in one piece, with the rambunctious kid ostensibly involved in a game of hide-and-seek. He wanted his photos to have an informal air, so that their prints would be palpable as they hang freely against the wall of Versus Art Project, gently rippling in the weekend breeze respite from a cold late winter. His guests were from Eastern Europe and asked him for his opinion when it came to comparing art galleries in Istanbul with those in Vienna, where Süme resides.
Süme responded by saying that in Austria there is a different color palette for some contemporary art spaces, almost as if they are more interested in decoration; while in Turkey there is a haunting political consciousness that affects a deeper and more psychological yearning for the legacy of popular metaphor, multi-generational stories preserved by symbols to safeguard their messages and storytellers. And so inspired, his exhibition references a poem by the living author of Izmir Ahmet Güntan.
To reveal the darkness
In one of his best-known works, which could be loosely translated into English as “Fragmentary Raw Manifesto” (Parçalı Ham Manifestosu), the poet advises his readers to use imagery to inform. It also says not to send secret messages, as readers shouldn’t need additional material. These principles can be said to apply to Süme’s photographs, which are as they appear, obviously flat in their dimensions. In conversation, Süme referred to miniature or pre-modern painting to explain his full-face portraits and the use of shadow.
While suffering from a lockdown, he found an outdated digital camera and started clicking. He shot the family members with candor and the interior of the house with blatant candor. All pieces are untitled. In one work, an elderly woman prepares to bite into a piece of fruit. Her pale skin and gray hair are accentuated by the harsh light. There is no point of view. He is almost hard to watch, but for his unwavering gaze, absolutely forward. He hides nothing, not even the tangle of cables that lay in disarray on his soft carpet.
In one photo, he fixed his gaze on a person’s bare arm, his face out of frame. Although they have rolled up their sleeves, the fact that they wear heavy winter clothes suggests a cool climate. It could have been Istanbul or Vienna. On their finger, gleaming in the light, is a ring, perhaps a wedding ring. The absence of any semblance of immediately identifiable qualities gives some of his images a semi-abstract quality, a sort of postmodern neo-Impressionism in photography.
One of his works is almost entirely abstract, his large-format print exposed to the point of pure whiteness while emitting warm orange light and a band of purple blending into the evanescent borders of an image that may have once captured the surface of a counter, or the end of a desk. When juxtaposed, as arranged, next to a smaller photograph of someone’s shoulder, with more even exposure, the sense of scale becomes important. Süme noted that the whole process of developing the images felt nostalgic and stimulated his creativity.
Among the larger prints is a flash photograph of a stuffed animal, a monkey, its gleaming black eyes gazing up at the camera with the inanimate kindness of the object, as if pulled from a a memory. By spending more time with his family, especially his son, and returning to aspects of his childhood, Süme has done what artists arguably should do, exhibiting not only their works, but what humanizes them as they grow. ‘they became an artist, and while doing art, that is a bold and courageous act of vulnerability in dialogue with others.
Back to the darkroom
Versus Art Project is an independent space that has shown an interesting number of series by Turkish photographers, namely Yusuf Murat Şen and Metehan Özcan, both of whom resonate with Süme in their works. While Şen’s photographs explore vintage themes reaching back to the roots of photographic technology, Özcan has also focused his practice on architectural interiority, albeit with a more Candida Höfer-like Düsseldorf style.
Süme conveyed a naïveté in his show, “Transit,” which, as a professional artist and in reference to the art world, might be endearing, but the question remains whether the unwittingly prolific mass of universally public photographers will respond to it with the same idiosyncratic charm that he has imbued in his very personal works. Theory aside, “Transit” is an image-weary artist’s pandemic notes on how the past was once seen when it was present.