Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blind photographer in Turkey wows the country with his images

From Today's Zaman in Turkey:

If I asked, “Can a blind person take a photograph?” I am sure many would say “no.” I used to think the same way until I met Cıvan İlici (pictured), Turkey’s first blind photographer.

İlici, who first picked up a camera as part of the Blind Photographers Project in 2007, has been taking pictures of beautiful images that he can’t see ever since. He photographs of all kinds of subjects, including the sky, the sea, a young girl selling flowers and trees. But the images he most desires to see the most are those of his son, Ege Arda. “If I could, I would want to see my son’s face and the books that I have read,” he said. Nowadays İlici is waiting for his exhibition, titled “I am looking at İstanbul with my eyes closed,” to open at the soon-to-be-established Museum of the Blind.

It would be an injustice to only mention İlici’s skills as a photographer because he also has countless other talents. He graduated from Boğaziçi University’s psychology department and is currently a researcher at the same department. He is also a cultural psychologist who provides opportunities for visually impaired people in Turkey to learn how to use computer technologies and he conducts psychological analyses of obstacles the visually impaired face. During my interview with İlici, Turkey’s first blind photographer, I felt a little uncomfortable using the world “blind.” But in a cool, calm and happy manner he told me to relax and said the word doesn’t really signify anything.

Nuri Kaya, the director of the Blind Photographers Project, approached İlici in 2007 and asked him to take some photographs. Explaining why the first thing he decided to photograph was a garbage bin, İlici said: “As a person who can’t see, I used to wait a long time before I could cross the street. And while I waited, the smell from the garbage bin would accompany me. Just like how people avoid garbage bins because they smell, they try to avoid us because we are blind. Garbage bins relentlessly wait in the same place without complaining. So do we. There is something mystical about waiting. Waiting is meaningful.”

This is how İlici’s journey in photography began. After taking some photography lessons at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, he took a big step towards realizing a life-long dream. İlici had been writing poetry from a young age and had always been interested in literature and art. “There were many things inside of me that I wanted to express. But words were not enough for me to express them. I started contemplating whether there were others way in which I could express myself. Then Kaya came to me with this project. I decided I could express myself much better through photographs,” he said.

Noting that his perspective on life, literature, poetry and art changed once he started taking photographs, İlici said he believes a photograph is a visual art that represents the unseen parts of an iceberg and that photographs are comprised of imagination and ideas.

Making the comment that he feels sorry for people who can see, İlici said ability to see imprisons people in a world of concrete images, materialism and light. “The ability to see is a large prison in which people are kept captive. Because they are imprisoned its very difficult for them to understand life, to appreciate what God has given them, to appreciate their abilities and to understand what they can do.”

He explained that he has often been asked whether he would want to be able to see and what he would want to see. But he only took the question seriously when his 7-year-old son Ege Arda asked it. His response to his son was truly meaningful and moving. İlici tearfully said what he wants to see the most is his son’s face and the books that he has read or wants to read. Aside from these two things, he said would also like to see the photographs he has taken. But İlici does not hold on to the photographs he takes. “A photographer who can see can touch, view and keep his photographs. But mine slip through my hands and it makes me feel like I have lost a child,” he says as the words get stuck in his throat.

The Blind Photographers Project is expected to evolve into an exhibition that will be displayed in the Museum of the Blind, to be established sometime in the next few years. While speaking of the museum, it is evident that this is a very exciting project for İlici. Photographs on exhibit will constitute images of İstanbul taken by 100 people who are totally blind. The exhibition will be titled “I am looking at İstanbul with my eyes closed” and around 200 academics and journalists -- including İskender Pala, Ali Ural, Adalet Ağaoğlu, Ece Temel Kuran, Sunay Akın -- are expected to write about the photographs. The photographs and the texts will be placed side by side. The texts will be in Braille to provide two different methods of seeing. While those who can see the photographs will most likely not be able to read the text, those who can read the text will most likely not be able to see the photograph. The exhibition will highlight themes of blindness, life, art, city perceptions and methods of seeing.

“Those who come to the museum and visit the exhibition will leave with a completely different perception,” İlici said, explaining that the purpose of the exhibition is to integrate two different worlds and to facilitate mutual communication between two different groups of people. “This exhibition will enable you to escape preconceived opinions, see that there are variances in life, realize that variances are always ignored and will make you more sensitive to this issue,” İlici said, and invited everyone who can see to visit the museum when it opens.