‘Time in Turkey’ sparks wider debates in photojournalism

‘Time in Turkey’ sparks wider    debates in photojournalism

Turkish President Abdullah Gül speaks on the phone in this photo taken by Christopher Morris.

November 20, 2011, Sunday/ 12:54:00/ LATİFA AKAY

“An expert is anyone from out of town,” author Mark Twain was once quoted as saying. If Twain’s words are anything to go by, then “Türkiye’de Zaman” (Time in Turkey), a project by the Zaman daily fusing the visions of 25 world-class photojournalists to produce an eye-opening snapshot of present-day Turkey, is indeed a collaboration of the works of experts.

With contributors ranging from the celebrated Reza to Samuel Bollendorff, Paolo Pellegrin, Rena Effendi and Eric Bouvet, the colossal collection, described by Iranian-born photographer Reza as “an achievement that will be important in the long term as a bridge between Turkey and the rest of the world,” offers a visual feast of life in modern Turkey from a glimpse into the private life of President Abdullah Gül to the action-packed patrols of night wardens in Beyoğlu and to the macho tradition of oil wrestling in Edirne.

Scattered across seven locations in Taksim’s historical Beyoğlu district, the opening of the exhibition on Tuesday evening marked the beginning of a four-day program of photojournalism-themed discussion and debate which addressed timely issues ranging from the future of photojournalism in light of technological developments to the ethics of the trade; one discussion which sparked heated debate was a decision by the Habertürk daily to publish a graphic image of the half-naked body of a woman with a knife buried deep in her abdomen on its front page in October.

Prestigious guests in town

In a program boasting some of the top names in the industry, contributing photographers Samuel Bollendorff and Christopher Morris, as well as the photo editors of Stern magazine and French daily Le Monde and Professors Paul Martin Lester from the California State University at Fullerton and Ken Kobre from San Francisco State University were included amongst the guests in town.

War photographer turned White House photographer Morris spent a period of time behind the scenes with the Turkish president for his part in the project. Speaking in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Morris described “Turkiye’de Zaman,” as a bold and journalistically ambitious project, “What makes a photography project strong is how unique it is, and I take my hat off to Zaman and their photo editor Selahattin Sevi for pursuing such a vision. My contribution to the project involved photographing President Gül, which I think is especially symbolic in Turkey because it is one of what is becoming an increasing minority of countries where the president is predominantly photographed in a very formal, ribbon-snipping role.”

Is there anything Morris can think of that he feels the project may be lacking in, a particular aspect of Turkish life? “Well actually, something I think the project really would have benefited from would have been an insight behind the closed doors of the military. To get permission for this would have been very difficult of course, but for a country where the military have always played such a major role in the life of every citizen -- from the young men who are tied to conscription, to their families at home -- it would have been great to have sent a photographer in for two weeks to follow, for example, the training of a nervous, young soldier working to find his feet in a new environment. I think it would have impacted a lot of people,” Morris said.

And what about the project in general, does Morris think it captures the essence of present-day Turkey? “Well I think the main thing about the project is that we, as a team of 25 foreign photographers, don’t know exactly what present-day Turkey is,” Morris answered, continuing, “but that is of course the refreshing thing about the project. For a non-native there are no prejudices or subconscious images of what we should be looking for. That makes for something completely unique.”

John G. Morris: the life of a legend

During a week that has engaged the attention of photojournalism enthusiasts from İstanbul and beyond, one of the highlights for many was the presence in town of distinguished 94-year-old photo editor John G. Morris, a man widely renowned as the most esteemed figure in American photo editing.

An extraordinary figure who has survived two world wars and lived under 17 American presidents, the veteran photo editor delivered an informal seminar, as entertaining as it was thought provoking, on his working life at Bahçeşehir University on Wednesday. An intimate address with personal anecdotes interspersed throughout that held the rapt attention of students and professionals alike, Morris offered insight into everything and anything from lowly beginnings working at $20 a week in a mailroom, to his student days at the University of Chicago, dodging bullets in the trenches during World War II and his role in the establishment of the Magnum photography agency.

An extensive slideshow accompanying the seminar featured a colorful insight into the great man’s life, from snapshots of close friends such as author Ernest Hemmingway to a clip of a “photo fiction” series in which Morris managed to secure the services of the great Alfred Hitchcock in the role as a loitering barman. “I boasted for a long time that I directed Hitchcock,” Morris confessed with a chuckle.

Other images included newspaper clips of the first time uncensored Vietnam visual material by Eddie Adams made it into The New York Times during Morris’ days as photo editor at the paper, a day he deemed as “unforgettable,” and the picture of a shockingly young captured German soldier who had moments before fired at Morris. “My only thought when I saw the soldier was poor kid,” Morris recalled.

A man with an extraordinary life story, Morris spoke expressly of his brotherly relationship with legendary war photographer Robert Capa, who died with his camera in his hand for an assignment associated with Magnum Photos in Vietnam in 1954: “I had to offer him the assignment and to my horror, Capa being Capa, he agreed. It wasn’t our war, he was to travel with French troops, so I tried to talk him out of it but of course he would have none of it. When I heard the news I asked for the last photograph he had taken, and I still have it today.”

Speaking more generally about the future of his profession, Morris was surprisingly optimistic. “Of course we live in an age now where anyone can claim they are a ‘photographer,’ and there are a lot of lousy photographers lurking behind very fancy equipment. What this development in technology also means is that there have been some very inexperienced photographers who have taken some massively important pictures. I think the future of photojournalism is hopeful, though; people will be able to communicate even better than before. I turn 95 in a few days, but I am hopeful about what lies ahead; the future is exciting,” he said.

Commenting on the difference between the role of a photo editor and a photojournalist, Morris said: “It is easier to be an editor than a photographer, but we need more editors, people who can sift and select the good from the bad to decide what is right for tomorrow’s paper. Photographs are evidence -- but of what? The privilege of the editor is getting to decide with publishers what to present to the public, but for this we also need good publishers.”

Discussions and debate: from ethics to e-magazines

Arguably the most heated discussion of the week was prompted by Professor Paul Martin Lester, who braved the storm in his lecture on the ethics of photojournalism to deliver an informed and balanced analysis on the sensitive issue of Habertürk’s decision to publish a graphic, poster-sized photograph of victim of domestic violence Şefika Etik on the front page of their Oct. 7 edition.

“As soon as I got off the plane in Turkey everyone was asking me what do you think of the Habertürk incident? Of course I hadn’t heard about it, so I did a bit of research into the issue,” he said.

Presenting a detailed slideshow presentation addressing the finer details of the incident, Lester praised what he described as a “very measured” article published by Today’s Zaman’s Yonca Poyraz Doğan on Oct. 16. Weighing up the typical criticisms with typical justifications, the American professor ran the incident through a simple test, ultimately concluding that the nature in which the photograph was published made it in his eyes unacceptable.

“There are a number of basic criteria that we consider unnecessarily provocative in these instances,” he explained. “For example if the photograph is in color, if it is published in a morning paper, if it involves nudity or lack of respect to a body and if there is a distressing element to the photo. The image in Habertürk not only complies with all these criteria, but it is also distasteful on a number of other levels: We have the crude pun of the knife handle on the word “son” [last], the trivial adverts running directly above it, the writing all over the image itself -- which is not generally a favored practice when dealing with an image of any description -- and the utter distastefulness of the fact that the lady’s eyes are staring straight at the ribbon on the front page advertising the paper as Turkey’s third most affordable daily issue,” he said. “Most offensive perhaps,” Lester added, “is the fact that this lady wore the hijab and yet here she is pictured not only with her hair on show but also half her body as well.”

A less intense but equally timely seminar addressing photojournalism from the view of a magazine was delivered by Andreas Trampe, the head of the photo desk of German weekly news magazine Stern. Discussing Stern’s new e-magazine, whereby the publication is available as an iPad application via the Apple App Store, Trampe explained that what the e-magazine, with its exclusive multimedia elements including audio and video formats as well as high-resolution photo series, affords for a completely new, networked reading experience. “What these magazines allow is the presentation of a much greater and richer depth of material than a normal magazine could ever support,” he said.

Commenting on the future and sustainability of the photojournalism profession, Trampe gave a reasoned response: “I do believe that photojournalism has a future, but we need to work a lot harder now. With regard to our magazine, to purchase Stern every week is simply a luxury, it is not a necessity, people can live without it. So now we need to step up our game and try to engage the reader in an entertaining way that is both informative and intelligent. The average readership for our magazine is 45, so we must find ways to engage with younger readership and to find new ways to present content.”

With the seminar program having ended on Friday, the big guns may be out of town now, but their collection of photos will live on for what many predict will be a long time to come. The exhibition will be on display for public view in İstanbul until Dec. 15 before travelling to the world’s major cultural hubs, including Paris, London, Moscow and New York in 2012. For more information see

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