After working at various areas of visual design, photographer Yiğit Günel decided that he had to focus on photography, an art he had met in his childhood. While doing advertising agency and newspapers, he also participated in important projects such as “34 Women 34 Portraits” and “Lost”. He is providing professional photography services to various agencies and clients through his own studio in Beyoğlu since 2007.
Who is Yiğit Günel, how would he describe himself?
I studied Journalism in Anadolu University. Those years I was really involved in monochrome and the dark room. Social documentary photography was my focus. I finished my master’s degree of Visual Communication Design in Bilgi University and graduated with a photo journal book. I worked as an art director at a few advertising agencies. I opened up my own studio in 2007. Under the name Mushroom Design, I provided photography, graphic design and graphic animation services to the advertising industry. Then, instead of undertaking all these different services by myself, I decided to focus on one of them: photography.
When and how did you first meet photography?
Actually, you could say I was a free-rider regarding that. My folks introduced us when I was born. You know that second bathroom that serves as storage in most of your houses? In ours, in was a dark room. I had the advantages and the disadvantages of being the second generation. Photography never seemed like a profession to me. It had a feeling similar to going shopping. Still does. With each frame that I shoot, I carry the feeling of going home with an extremely expensive and beautiful toy – a piece of time.
Photography is so vast – how did you decide on which area to focus and specialize in?
I wonder if I have decided at all… I constantly try and learn. My center of attention varies from time to time. I do have a stance in my professional life but that has been created by the projects I shot for and the great people I have worked with. I directed them; and they, me. Did these make me specialize in anything? Time will show. But it is now beauty that attracts me; photography must contain a nuisance, must tell a story. My new goal to focus on is story.
Which do you like better; studio shots or outdoor photography?
Studio is an empty canvas given to me with tons of paint. And outdoors is a huge playground. I enjoy both, separately. Studio symbolizes my inner world whereas outdoor symbolizes my belief that coincidences may cause miracles.
Advertising industry is very competitive, does this apply to advertising photography as well?
Of course. Both industries contain fair and unfair competition. But every photographer does not take every frame. You have to turn yourself into what is demanded. So I believe in photographers creating their own style. Seems right to me. We have to free ourselves from the cliché way of thinking “everyone has become a photographer”. The industry actually is very small, there are very few real clients. Of course, since every job gets done by “someone we know” in our country, professionalism is very underrated. Instead of portfolios, networks are discussed. Still, competition always nourishing. As a photographer, I am always competing with myself. I don’t mean that as a snob, but rather as someone who has difficulty appreciating his own work.
How do you spend an ordinary day?
The moment I arrive at the studio, I prepare myself a nice cup of coffee. Along comes chitchat with the studio crew. After a few correspondences, I start going through my to-do list, prepared and waiting for me since the night before. Of course I pick a music to suit my mood and retouches, selections and revisions begin. On the other hand, I am always excited about shooting days. To me, preparation is far more important than the actual shooting. So I can say my days are spent mostly working. I always have to be prepared, ready. I like indulgences, and I love the home life; so I made my studio like my home. I believe in work hour balance. I like to set time apart for myself, usually as much as I work. Even if I get home at 2 AM(which is very rare), I cannot go directly to sleep. When I get home, I either get a book or have a movie list in front of me. As if these are my obligations, I cannot go to sleep without finishing those. If I am in no condition to do either one, I take the long way home to spend some time alone with my motorcycle and get rid of the stress and fatigue of the day.
Could you tell us about a few projects?
I try to produce photography works apart from advertising as well. I do have a few projects going on, actually. “A Short Visit” is one of them. A sentence of Eliot’s summarizes this project for me: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T. S. Eliot In my trips abroad, I follow indecisive people, surrounded by unfamiliar places. This double foreignness attracts my attention. My being a foreigner as well overlaps with their momentary feeling of loss and for a second, we are at the same place. That uncanny feeling joins us. “Lost” is a series of 10 images consisting of soldier portraits; in which I bond close to 1000 soldier identity pictures with the number of dead soldiers between 2002 and 2012, disclosed by the government. Each page that accompanies the related image has the year and the number of deaths. The images of those years carry that many portrait photographs. The faces get unclear as the number rises, symbolizing the way war makes us lose our identifications.
What kind of a preparation do you go through, before undertaking a project?
Advertising projects require an immense preparation period. This process that we undertake along with the agencies really affect the outcome. Therefore, pre-production meetings are very important. The three sides really need to understand each other so that I can carry that understanding to my shots. That is why each advertising project requires many meetings beforehand. Changing things at the set or fixing things post-production is not really my style. I enjoy setting the shot up in my mind before arriving to the studio, deciding on the details slowly. This also applies to personal projects. I have many notebooks in which I scribble constantly. These ideas then develop into projects by time. The others wait their turn, or disappear. I love keeping journals. Feels much more sincere than the digital environment. I share my notes with people I can trust and get their opinions. Even though photography seems like a “one man job”, at the end of the day, it is planned by and carried out by many people.
How was the idea behind “34 Women 34 Portraits” born?
I guess we could say by Kenan Bahadır Derre finding me and spreading his excitement for this project. He set me totally free and asked me to come up with an idea. On an ordinary night while I was trying to decide whether to hold an exhibition or not, a friend got attacked in Cihangir for no reason at all. I had witnessed a case of violence against women, which I was bothered by since many years, and decided to do something. That feeling of breathlessness gave me the theme and the main idea for the exhibition.
How do you like İstanbul? Do you have secret escape routes to take pictures?
Alleys of İstanbul intrigue me more than the main streets. If I am looking for a subject, I either go to crowded places or places with no one at all. I am not a person to hunt for pictures with my camera at hand. If I see something I am interested in, I take my time and investigate. It could take 1 minute or 1 week. Watching is what I do the most. I like to stand still and melt into places. And İstanbul has plenty of these places.
Shall we talk about your future projects?
5 years ago, I could have given a much stronger answer to this question. These days, the national circumstances make me miss the past rather than plan for the future, giving me the blues. Of course, I do not lack goals. I have plans of a solo exhibition; since 2 years I have been saving ideas and they are about to get somewhere. Works are piling up. The time will show – isn’t time all we have, anyway?
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