Eylül Aslan

Let introduce you, how would you describe yourself ? How your passion for photography began ?

For me it was just a way to get out of the life I had. I am from a relatively liberal family in Turkey. My parents are divorced, I grew up with my mom but I was always with my dad whenever I wanted. They really represent the country in the best way possible to explain because my mom is very liberal, feminist and she’s a politician in the opposition party ; my dad is really religious and traditional like typical turkish. Obviously they didn’t get on well. It also helped me to have both of these part of the culture ; I was able to explore the part of my mom and then the part of my dad. My mom was the biggest reason I really started anything because she used to take photos and she actually gave me her own camera to experiment do whatever I want and see if I’m enjoying it. She’s the kind of person pushing me to do it and I still use her camera. I wanted to make photo, for me it was the best way to express myself and to show my personality. The society expects you to be this nice girl who learns to cook and clean the house and take care of children and I wasn’t interested in this. Also I was a teenager, I wanted to explore sex, life, myself and womenhood and I couldn’t do that in my life so I was taking a lot of selfportraits, then I photographed my cousin who lived with me, she was like my first model and then I slowly asked friends if they want to model and then I uploaded them online with Flickr profile.  Then it goes so popular and I thought about taking it more seriously. Then a lot of people approached me from business like photographers saying they think I have eyes for it and they want to help and they kind of put me in the business, all this in Istanbul.


Who are the women on your photographs ?

I started with myself and there was a moment when I got a bit more known my dad was like «  you’re gonna delete all this photos like these are photos of you, I can see this is you, I recognize your beauty marks, etc. », I was like « no dad i wont delete it because it has all these views, like no » and now that I’m like actually kind of  famous  he’s not saying anything. That’s another turkish thing, for exemple the society is really homophobic but once someone is established and sucessful then nobody cares because they are like : « Oh but he’s very eccentric  and he’s famous, he has money, he’s successful, it’s fine, we won’t say anything » so he stopped doing that but interesting enough I stopped using myself in pictures. So I used to do a lot of selfportraits then  I was photographing my cousins and after that I started to have a lot of emails from just random people saying «  oh I’m coming to Berlin or Istanbul, I want to model for you, are you interested ? » I was just like yes of course. I’m not really shy when it comes to seeing someone and thinks that they are interesting, I just go and say like : «  Hey, my card, do you wanna model for me, I mean 9 of 10 say yes so… ». Mostly it’s been a lot of people asking me and arranging because I don’t like  working with fashion. I mean professional models, they wanna pose. I like normal natural people and honestly I feel like now there will be like kind of a change in my work. I want to work more with men and not just women but haven’t done it yet, I have some ideas. And I want to photograph my mom because she’s the biggest influence but she’s a bit shy, she’s a private person so I have to find a way.


What does interest you in the female body ?

I think it’s because it was about me in the beginning. It was just for selfish reason, I wanted to explore and play and somehow I’m a really central person, I couldn’t do that in public, it was kind of luxury to be in front of a camera and be seen but not really, so I really liked that. It was just a different way of becoming myself through that. Like I said, I grew up with my mom and she’s very politically engaged and I was always growing up with stories of women  suffering because some men decided to lock her inside an appartment. To this kind of issues, I was really sensitive and I was always interested in and wanted to help them and do something. I was also having all these problems with myself personally so  seeing it through friends and myself like basically the people  we knew it made me angry and I wanted that to be changing. And the nicest thing I heard once was in an interview is that what I do is really revolutionary in a way, I was like wow that’s really nice because honestly I didn’t start it to be revolutionary, it just became because I wanted to explore and take more photo and that what makes me happy and I will continue. I mean it’s also weird because the turkish audience think it’s very pornographic. To me it’s absolutely not. That the thing, even if you show your ankle for them it’s sexy because  it’s so taboo, it’s so hidden that it becomes like precious, very interesting thing even if it’s not, it’s just skin.


The thing is that since forever, women body is what we see the most through photography and art market. Whereas in your work, I see a different interest for women body far from this. Of course we can find it sexy but without any vulgarity how would you describe this ?  

First of all I really don’t have a problem with this  thing of people saying women are being objectified. It’s like everything is  objectified, I mean it’s also children, man, animals, etc. In an ironic way when women can be objectified like that it means that they are actually free. Actually you don’t really see like bikini billboard in Turkey, because  women are these things to be protected and to be hidden, man think they have to protect women and when you do that they become property and I think this is different than like objectifying someone. What I mean is more the reason  I show them in their real emotional and private moments is because they need to be accept as who they are and it also involves having boobs, legs, feet. It should become something usual to see and to look at and that’s why I think I have this very thin line in between  erotic photography and a bit documentary that’s exactly what I want to show. It’s fine to have a girl pose half nude or nude, if she decides there shouldn’t be nothing wrong with it. But some people don’t think that way so…It is a right of a girl to choose that and I don’t feel bad about choosing it and of course we worship the female form much more than anything and there is a good reason for it because it’s beautiful.

I will not give names but there are so many photographers that really use the female form in the  way to get likes or to sell. I don’t find interesting because  there is nothing mysterious or intriguing when you have a girl bending over and you  see everything, that’s not very tasteful, it’s just like there is no hidden story behind, it leaves nothing to imagination. When I look at a painting or a picture of a beautiful woman it’s always nicer to  have something slightly covering her because you think and wonder what’s behind.  And that’s exactly why I think the reason  all of these things are taboo in Turkey is that it’s hidden so much that people think there is so much to see. Actually it’s all about psychology, things that are forbidden are  just attractive just because they are forbidden.


Through each of your photos series, we notice that you tell a story, how do you create it ?

Of course it’s about the person, what they make me feel, what they bring out. Sometimes there is like a mutual attraction, maybe I find this person attractive in a sexual or emotional way and then it’s all about this interaction too because sometimes I am in the photos with the other person and it also shows my relation  to them.  The things i feel for these models and people you can also see the little part from our story or you know it can be anything that maybe the first time I see the person, when she had a red dress on and I wanted to photograph her in a  red dress because it kind of symbolized  how we met so it’s just little stories like that. And sometimes it’s very just random, I meet them, we are in the street somewhere and then I see something and it inspires me. But I also have tiny notebooks that I keep with me and I also take notes,  if I see someone leaning on the wall in a strange way while I’m at the bustop, and I’m like oh that would look really nice in a photo so I draw really fast and next time I have  a photoshoot that fits this situation  then I make it. Also I have really Bright, colorful, playful dreams whenever I wake up I have a diary where I write my dreams and it also inspires me. I do this since I’m a child because with my mother we used to analyses dreams.


What is different for you in shooting in Berlin and in Istanbul ? Does both different society affect your work ?

Yes,  I think the biggest challenge is the light because Berlin is notorious for being very dark and having days without any sun and that’s really hard for me because I work with natural light, using shadows and light. I came up now with this way of working. When it’s fall and winter I work a lot on ideas, concepts and themes and  as soon as it gets warmer and sunny I start shooting. Also, I visit Istanbul quite often, it’s really nice to shoot there. I have other people telling me, I didn’t realize myself that now I focus much more on general problems of women because before it was more about me and myself and its becoming much more universal than  just private experiences,  I don’t know if that’s true, it’s a comment I heard. Also here in Berlin it’s easier to work with people, I mean Berlin is a really creative city so whenever you meet someone , most people are open to art  and collaborations. It’s also accepted as a full time job because in Turkish culture nobody see it as an actual profession they think it’s more like a hobby. It also affects in the way people approach photography and it makes me feel much more motivated because people take it seriously and not as a young pretty girl who wants to be an artist.


Is the reception of your work different in Berlin or around  Europe than in Turkey ? How do you see it ?

It’s very interesting, I had my first ever solo exhibition in Istanbul last december. I was really chocked that a gallery in Istanbul wants to represent me because I was expecting that someone in Europe or Unites States wanted to do this first but it didn’t happen like that. It makes me really proud because in the end I fight for the problem much more in Turkey than in Germany. Of course,  the german society has its own problem on treating women rights but in the end Turkey has this important issue to deal with, so it’s important for me to be reprensented and to be getting more popular in Turkey. By getting known in Europe I also get much more valuate  in my country which is so ironic but it’s always like this. It makes me happy to have a name in Turkey. One day I would like to see turkish girls being able to walk in the streets at night, of course this won’t happen in two years but hundred years but some  people needs to do things the best way they can.  My mom does politic to help it and I do photography to help it, even if I can help a little it makes me happy. Also I had a lot of visitors at the exhibition some people were looking at my work let them think about their own lives and question their own  womenhood and if they’re happy. It was like showing them a mirror, making them think about themselves and that’s  really nice to hear at the end of the day.


What was the name of the exhibition ?

It was called Herstory in one word, like History because man has always told history and women don’t get to do that. I wanted to play with this idea of the name that it’s like her story and not his story. I had a collection of some of my old and new work so I was doing a completely new exhibition, it was for a month in Istanbul at the Alan Galeri. It was about taboo and sexuality of women and how they can really live their lives the way they want.


There is in your work some political and humouristic view could you describe it ?

It started as kind of rebellious way of saying « fuck you » because it was like if I want to photograph myself naked  or half naked  then I can because it’s my choice and you’re not gonna stop me because you have a penis, you think you have the right over me but it’s not.  So I think I did this in a really teenage rebellious thing. Then I got more serious about it, I realized that people really paid attention, I thought maybe I can develop and do different things and it’s more about the basic rights of human beings to live and to be themselves and to be not judge or labelled as sluts or whatever. Because it’s like in my culture, when a guy comes up at 3 in the morning it’s absolutely fine but when a girl does it she’s like a prostitute. I have so many friends of mine that are forced to live this life that they don’t want to live, it just made me really upset and I was inspired by this. It’s also a part of being feminism or women rights, being really girly and funny. I think my photos are not just political, it’s also humorous. When someone looks at the picture they smile and to me it’s also a really nice compliment because I have always thought that it’s easier to make people cry than it is to make them smile. I also have this funny part about me and it comes in my photos. I think it’s also quite childish I think, there is a lot of childish elements in it, it’s about myself and my person and like I said i don’t do this to please some curator or to impress the honor of some gallery, I really do it just like for myself because it makes me really happy. But it’s also really nice to have the luxury to create something and then show it to the world and then the world reacts to it instead of being lost somewhere.


Do you have any photographers or artists  that you would like to mention as part of your influence ?

It’s funny, I never studied photography except some months in Berlin, I tried to go to photography school and I quite. I don’t really know photographers, this was not my plan or dream, I wanted to be a translator or a teacher and I liked litterature, but I end up being a photographer. I was told I have similar styles to different photographers, Guy Bourdin was one of them, of course I love his work.  That’s the funny thing I take a photo then I saw he took same kind of things. Also I like more contemporary photographers much more than older ones. For example, Lina Scheynius, she’s swedish and one of my closest friend from Poland Lukasz Wierzbowsk, Vivian Sassen.  I’m not really a follower of other people works.


It’s hard to create this felling but we could see one of your picture in a group show exhibition or anywhere and we would recognize yours. You managed to create your own universe which can be recognized, it means you’re doing something new, are you aware of this ?

The problem I think with internet now and all these photographers is that everything is so accessible, people just see so much work and get inspired without meaning to and it just turns out all of them similar. And that bother me because it’s interesting for me to see people who do genuine original work that they don’t just copy someone else with or without knowing it doesn’t matter, in the end I like to see things that are new and of course what I do is similar to other photographers but in the end when people see one of my photos in a newspaper without knowing it’s mine they can notice it’s Eylul’s photo and it’s really sweet. So yes, it’s super egoistic why I do photography, it shows my world and my imagination and I always try to stay true to my aesthetics  and to the way I see things and the world. If I don’t do that then there’s absolutely no purpose of me taking photos because I only do it to express my world.


What about your publications Trauerweide and DearSlut ?

I published two books. One was with a french Publisher (DearSlut) at Editions Bessard, this is more like a tiny zine of twenty five different books and this was a letter I wrote to all the women that are labelled as slut because they are who they are and I just wrote like « You should stay how you are  because I love you the way you are and it’s important that we all each of us as women who we are and we don’t try to be someone else for the sake of someone else ». And my first book was Trauerweide, this one was with a Publisher from Norway, it’s actually out of stock now so it doesn’t sell anymore. Trauerweide means wipping willow, it is like tree and it’s just because of the tree shape, the branches look like the veil (hijab), playing with the idea that it’s like a woman that you can’t see because she’s covered. And now I would like to publish on my own, it’s much better.


Do you have any project or exhibition coming ?

I’m working on a serie now, it’s about turkish culture and women preparing food for each other like monthly and the same group goes to each women place, I want to doucment this like a kind of ritual because it’s very feminine and only women.


How would you describe the word « Art », what does it mean to you ?

I think it is something that’s very important and I really do believe that each one of us is an artist, that we have that inside. It’s about how to bring it out or if you have the need to bring out. Because to me I can’t imagine a life without having that in my life. I think art just means any forms or ways of explaining the human emotions, feeling, and everything. It’s about the intention and putting an history next to it. It’s all very subjective. It’s very optimistic way of thinking but… it’s also modest, it’s about how important it is for you.


Interview by Fiona Vilmer, writer specialized in contemporary art.
Photographs and text courtesy of the artist.