ON PHOTOGRAPHY WITH BENNU GEREDE
Photography artist Bennu Gerede’s images will meet with the audience at BE Contemporary Art Gallery in Urla between 27 March - 27 April 2021 for the first time in a long time. In the exhibition curated by Pırıl Gündüz, Bennu Gerede, known for her social projects around the themes of women, body, gender and sexuality, invites us to rethink the female body and question the perception of these forms. We had an impressive interview with the artist about her personal journey in the art of photography.
How did your interest in the art of photography begin?
My grandfather was very interested in photography, he had a lot of binoculars and cameras. He gave me a very primitive Olympus when I was 13, and I still keep it like a treasure. I probably took the best shots with that camera… I had to work hard to get a clear shot, you need the frame you were looking to overlap! We lived in New York back then, I took my first shots there. I was doing "street photography" in subways and streets. Later, on the recommendation of my mother's very close friend Coşkun Aral, they bought me a Nikon FM2 as a 14 years old gift and I never stopped after that. While I was studying at the Parsons School of Design, I fell in love with Hasselblad and I never gave up that love since that day!
Which movements in the history of photography inspire you? Which artists do you admire?
Helmet Newton's look at women, Guy Bourdin's making women and fashion a work of art, Nan Goldin capturing very special ‘moments’ from the minority life that we could never reach, Cindy Sherman's disguise and taking self-portraits, Nobuyoshi Araki's brutal and raw manipulation of sexuality and Annie Leibovitz's view of famous people as if they came out of the frame of a film; All of these artists have impressed me in some way and I have been very impressed by them throughout my life… They all have a strong eye, soul and message. The most important thing for me is that an image tells you something. My mother always said: “Anyone can make a movie, but if you have a story to tell, do it, if not, don’t…” Actually, the same is true for photography.
As an artist who works on both artistic and fashion photography, could you tell us about how these experiences affect your approach to photography?
Yes, I did artistic photography and fashion photography. The two are actually very linked to me. Maybe because of my film background. After a concept has been created in my mind, I design a scene for it; I place its light, costume, venue, actor there. Like a movie frame… And I shoot. It is the same for fashion… I don’t like to shoot fashion in vain, I think it must have an "expression", statement, explanation behind it.
What inspires you? How do you choose the topics you work on? What do you take into account while creating the fiction during the photo shoot process?
Except for my portraits, generally my art touches on subjects that bother me. And also most of the time it is about women. For example, my first solo exhibition was "Submission" and it was about traditions; Of course the traditions that our women are obliged to obey… This includes adultery, child marriage, traditions, bride price, virginity, rooster (to prove their virginity) and fellow wifes… My next exhibition is situated in the same frame: “Celebrations of Love”. Working on press clippings about honor killings, I reflected true stories to my photographs by fictionalizing them one by one. I also had an exhibition called “Kiss & Bet”, it is about oil wrestlers. I went from village to village and ended my shooting in Kırkpınar. These images are very beautiful… In a way that is not disturbing, they are very erotic but they do not imply anything, only when we look at oil wrestling as an art, it really sounds very stimulating!
The theme of women predominantly stands out in your work. Why is this important to you?
I may not have grown up in a patriarchal society, but I was born in Istanbul and I was really getting very uncomfortable when I returned there for each vacation. I'm in this situation still, because I witness how Turkey has regressed and it hurts me a lot. Machismo is constantly applied to our women in this society and I really can’t tolerate it! Unfortunately, they make us victims and needy, and then they perpetrate the violence they want. We become just a toy for them. Society has educated its men very wrong, and this begins with our mothers. First of all, the distinction between men and women is very wrong, we are human beings, human beings!
You are involved in many social responsibility projects. What was the project that affected you the most? Could you share with us a memory from this project?
I took part in a project with Prima supported by UNICEF. I think it is one of the most important social responsibility projects I have participated in. We took off from here and flew to East Timur, an independent island in Indonesia. And we stayed there for about a week. On the shooting day, we got on the minibuses with the team and climbed the hills for kilometers. At that moment you are already without oxygen, your ears are clogged, your breath is tight... Then we found ourselves in a place like heaven, at that moment it was completely unreal for me, a surreal image was formed, and we found ourselves among hundreds of thousands of people. Of course, none of them had a good financial situation, it was not clear where and how they live; everyone with children, babies, was just waiting for free vaccines. We captured these moments, took their photos, and then turned all into an exhibition. I fell in love with a girl there and I could have adopted her if they really gave her to me… It was a very dense journey.
As a person who has lived in different cities such as New York, Paris, Istanbul and Bali, how do you think the culture you live in affects your art?
Strangely, when I lived in Bali, which is a place to be photographed with lust, I hardly ever took pictures. But also I was in a situation in which my camera broke down and I was feeling a little offended by the art world. I put my photography on the shelf, and I turned to myself, listening to my own voice for the first time in my life, taking time for myself and turning towards other things. But if we go back to the question of how my art is affected by different cultures, if I go now, I would probably shoot photographs of people there, of rice fields, but how would I shoot it, that's what matters! Maybe I would use the visual beauty of the area and somehow give place to minorities in that image. In America, the same way, I’ve always included minorities who are oppressed and who suffer from injustice in my photographs, because I can feel their pain and I think photography reflects it.
Thanks to today's technologies, everyone is constantly taking pictures with a phone in their hands. How do you think this situation is affecting the art of photography?
With the effect of technology, art has changed direction in every way, so I respect everyone and watch without judgment. If it were up to me, I would go back to analog photography. I started an analog project, then my camera broke down and I had to switch to digital again. But it was very enjoyable to develop films again, to do contact prints and select them! I watch this new technology generation with curiosity and frankly I sometimes feel out of date or behind, but I think I will always prefer to be an "old school".
Considering your experience abroad, what do you think about the developments of the art of photography in Turkey?
We have amazing photo artists. Not only photographs, but also artists from every branch; from painters to directors, visual artists, writers, in short, all of them! I think we've come an incredible way in the art world and we're finally starting to open up to the world. It is very exciting. However, I think there is a sad truth; not enough value is given to the arts in Turkey. I wish our artists were given more support, because we have artists who have really a lot of potential.
Could you tell us about your future projects?
Currently I’m realizing the dream of Beyhan Beyhan, a very special and dear friend. It is also about women and violence. I portray our esteemed artists and personalities in black and white, in a very close plan, with the theme of how they would feel if they were subjected to violence as a woman. I’m thankful to my friends who haven’t let me down and support this project. The project will be soon finished. I shot about 20 people, there are very important names. This is the first project in near future. Secondly, I am doing a project with LGBTI community. I focus on the very special moments of couples. The project is called "Intimacy Love Shows No Boundaries''. If the pandemic is over, I have something in mind like launching it with a great event and fashion show, establishing funds for them in some way with accessible priced artworks because this community has been very affected during the pandemic. Since they are a minority, unfortunately they can’t find a job easily, that’s why they are even more affected, I want to support them in some way.