Şener Yılmaz Aslan’s Passion for Photography Overcomes the Absence of the Camera
Şener Yılmaz Aslan received considerable public attention with his success at Mamut Art. As the sensitivity in his works combines with his decisive aestetic approach, the resulting images become immersive, telling a lot with a few words and taking the viewer to a journey and back. We talked to Şener about his photography career, his artistic viewpoint and his sources of inspiration ranging from music to philosophy.
How did photography enter your life? How did you decide to focus on photography?
After I graduated from high school in Mersin in 2004, I began to follow some photography websites but I didn’t have a camera. I started to discovr the technical structure of a camera as I kept reading the comments on these websites. After a while I wanted to produce my own works; but I couldn’t acquire a camera for a long time, even an amateur one. I tried to obtain photographic images by scanning various decorative objects and some objects I found in my room. I was building various fictional compositions by arranging these images on computer software. In the same period of my life I was also deeply impressed by some works of Sabit Kalfagil; years later I became his student at Marmara University. Although I was influenced by photojournalism and a documentarist approach I was still enjoying building photographic images with the scanner. I was simultaneously interested in electronics and computer programming and I began to prepare for art school with the dream of designing better websites. Two years after being admitted to Marmara University Department of Industrial Design, I began to study double-major in Photography and that same year I decided that photography was what I wanted to do in life.
Your works manifest a simple and abstract approach. Are there any specific writers or texts that inspire you accordingly?
Although I have works that might be considered abstract, in general they are not. In my later works I abandoned the abtract. But this doesn’t mean that I will never revisit it. In addition to various books and articles discussing traditional documentary and contemporary photography, I can also say that I find some novels very nourishing. I follow contemporary photographers’ articles alongside authors like Sartre, Camus and Benjamin.
And your creative method? Do you predetermine your subject matter and depart from there? Or do you embrace an approach based on improvisation, going wherever your eyes take you?
I actually do both. I can search for a location I conceptualized in advance, but I can also build a series out of images that I didn’t predict would come together one day. Especially in my early years, I used to spend my time wandering around Istanbul with my analogue camera, looking for surprises. even though I had a few images I could consider beautiful I didn’t find them useful as they were not interconnected. But I still kept on making them as I saw them as a sketch back then. As time passed I began to focus on certain issues. Currently my documentary mages still rely on coincidences; sometimes I decide they are useful while it is all happening, and other, more often times I do so in front of the computer. For instance the series titled “Tavaf” emerged out of meticulous pre and post calculations; the only spontaneity in them were the people in them.
Which artists do you admire and follow, in Turkey and/or abroad?
In addition to names like Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky, I also enjoy following Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Hans Bellmer’s works. In terms of documentary/photojournalism I follow agencies like Magnum, Noor and VII. The impact of film directors like Theo Angelopoulos, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Pedro Almodovar and Michael Haneke is also considerable.
Your works are marked by a finely tuned rhythm; the composition element is highly visible and powerful. Do you like music? What is its place in your art?
I listened to a lot of folkloric music as a child an protest music after high scool. I knew the songs of Grup Yorum, Ruhi Su, Grup Kızılırmak, Ahmet Kaya by heart. Such ideological genres not only did strongly affect my philosophy of life but also my photographs. But this had more influence on my general approach to photography rather than my approach to rhythm and composition. These songs have a huge influence on the fact that I still produce documentary photographs at political demonstrations. As I started my university studies, I began to listen to other genres including classical music as well.
Which place in the world you have been to has been the most special and important one for your art? Where in the world would you want to go and take pictures if you had the chance?
The town on İdil in Şırnak (Southest Turkey) where I went for a photography project was a special place for me. I thought I went there under so many risks, but once I realized that the people there lived within much bigger risks for their entire lives my perception changed and the outcome in terms of artworks was different from the one I originally expected to deliver. A few weeks after İdil I went to Australia to collaborate with a friend on his Yörük-Aborigine documentary and I had a chance to visit a few different cities. It felt like a journey into the future… I think I would like to go back to Australia and stay there for a while, coming up with various photography projects.