The day before his exhibition, I met up with Tuna Yilmaz as he made preparations in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne.
He seems unassuming and reserved, yet cheeky and confident. Tuna Yilmaz began his career as a fashion photographer. For him, Istanbul isn’t just any city: it’s alive. It pulsates and changes, and sometimes stands still. It is these short restful moments that he tries to capture in his work.
Tuna, this is your first time in Germany. How would you describe the colours of Cologne?
I haven’t been able to see too much yet; but what I could feel right away was the tolerance of the people. It is wonderful. The people of Cologne are very friendly and accommodating. Everything seems so civilized and orderly. The city has something fairy-tale-like. This can’t be compared to Istanbul. But the dome really cast a spell over me.
And, purely from a visual point of view – in terms of colour?
Cologne seems melancholic and not highly-saturated – most likely because the sun shines less here than in Istanbul. But pale colours and melancholy can also display many shades of colour.
Following the Academy, you worked commercially, including for well-respected magazines. You worked in fashion, and even food photography. And now you are trying to capture the colours of Istanbul. Why this change?
I have always been obsessed with creating my own projects: for example, styling and putting make-up on a friend of mine. But then I didn’t have a stylist or a make-up artist on hand. I came up with everything myself, experimented a lot and then captured it in portraits.
I didn’t want to work according to set parameters. I wanted to create something original. The hectic fashion industry is not the right place for artistic experiments. One has to work through set jobs, which are not necessarily challenging. Luckily, I was able to use the money I made to realize my own ideas and didn’t become jaded. I don’t have to think about work and money all the time anymore.
Do you see yourself as a photographer or as an artist?
As an artist. As a photographer, one principally portrays reality. Today anyone can take pictures anywhere, whether it is with a camera or a smart phone. Through the advent of social networks like Instagram, photos have become even more short-lived. As an artist, I’ve been able to polish my own style and pictorial language. But the use of light is important. I think that my work has taken on a unique character.
When you look at your own photos, especially when you see the colours of Istanbul, what style do you see?
The colours and the colouring of photographs are very important stylistic devices for me. I worked for a long time on and with colours. This isn’t just colour corrections. I paint with a brush on canvas. My photos can’t be sorted into a specific time or era and that is exactly what makes me happy in my work. My goal isn’t to depict reality. I want to show what I see in my thoughts. The timelessness of my photographs is my way to show this.
What do you feel when you see the colours of Istanbul from afar?
I feel something sad. For this project, I moved around Istanbul for many months and saw how the city is losing its character. New buildings are sprouting up like mushrooms and one tunnel after another is being dug out. The city is downright perforated. In the course of this, nature is being forced out. It feels like part of me is being ripped out. Istanbul is going through a lot at the moment. Crowds of people are trampling over it every day and do not respect its history of thousands of years. Of course, I want to show the positive sides in my work. However, I am very worried about the city. It is losing its cultural diversity and its rich colouring. On the other hand, I do have hope. When I think of what this city has gone through throughout history… maybe it’ll manage this time, too.
You speak about Istanbul, as if you were speaking about a human being. It sounds like you gave the »Grande Dame« of the Bosporus a fresh and colourful outfit and a lot of make-up? Does this come from your portrait work?
Yes, that may be true. I don’t like to see the same things all the time. This is why I have to give Istanbul new and fresh make-up. Of course, I am careful to preserve the original colours. I do not play with colour saturation very much. Light plays an enormous role. And clouds – they create the lively atmosphere.
Do you already know what path you would like to take in the future?
I have arrived at a point where my work and my art have blended into one another. I used to have to do what the agencies and magazines asked me to. Today, they give me the freedom to incorporate my own ideas. That has given me a different level of confidence. It was a long and hard road to get here. But I did it. In the future I would like to work exclusively as an artist.
We are saddened by the information of Tuna Yılmaz’ death in 2016. We hope that with his work the artist will be remembered by many people.
Interview: Ayten Hedia