A peaceful notion: Ceratonia Celebrating the new Leica Gallery in Istanbul with Alp Sime's images

Alp Sime (b.1970) completed his formal education at Boston University School of Fine Arts in 1996. In 2002 he opened his first solo exhibition named “Ramora”. The series of images he shared, taken during a terrorist attack in 2003 caused heated debate among the media and the art world. The following years the exhibitions “Istanbullu”, “Parallax” and “Going somewhere?” helped him gain international recognition among prominent art circles. For the opening of the new Leica Gallery Istanbul, Alp Sime exhibits his new work titled “Ceratonia” shot with the Leica M8.

Please share the background of this project: Ceratonia. What does it entail and what were your objectives?

“Ceratonia” means carob or St. John’s bread. A tree that also grows in the geography I live in. It turns out that the seeds of their fruit are always equal in weight ,wherever you maybe and no matter which fruit of which tree you pick them from, they weigh exactly the same. For centuries people used it as  measuring unit for precious little stones, like diamonds. One carob seed weighs one carat. It sounds like the name of some foreign country “Ceratonia”. A peaceful nation I think.

Talk about your digital vs film photography. What draws you to shooting in film or digital when using your Leica equipment?

Shooting against the light is when an analog Leica truly shines, it gives a wider tonal range than a digital sensor, any digital sensor. Mostly I grab the Monochrom especially when I need to work with high ISO’s. Digital cameras also help you assess how a project is shaping during work, that’s very helpful. There are occasions when I need to work only with an analog Leica just because it is less intimidating, people mostly assume you are some harmless eccentric. Switching  back and forth between film and digital is easy with the M system, they are practically the same camera. One 28 and two 35s rotate between the two bodies and my left pocket. This is pretty much how I’ve been working since the Leica M8. If you miss a shot with these instruments you get angry with yourself, with others you may or may not have a right to curse the camera.

The image with the boy wrapped up in a cloth is very compelling. What’s the story behind this image?

I made that picture in a village outside Istanbul, he really hated getting a hair-cut but didn’t make a peep. I think I know what makes it compelling; it’s that “one thing” but I never found the correct word for it. A quality I notice after the photograph is made. It’s an image that’s in the process of melting , a play on time and perception. The painter Jean-Francois Millet’s works have this quality with abundance, the filmmaker Kurosawa too, in Rashomon especially. In Kurosawa’s case it’s reversed, he builds a certain stillness with the moving picture instead, but the result is the same feeling-wise. It’s impossible to hunt for this effect. It’s either there, within the picture or it’s not. This phenomenon adds a hypnotic quality and pushes certain images to stand out.

You place several themes in your images, like humor, irony and even sarcasm. Some of these elements are quite related to street photography as a whole. How do you conceive your style?

The manner I work in is closer to photojournalism. I’m a “Documentary Photographer”. These labels come handy when you need to or end up having to interact with people.  “Documentary” certainly doesn’t explain the whole thing but it’s usually a good start. Sometimes it makes things easier for the viewers also, it gives an idea about certain rules and methods you follow.“ Documentary” covers a wide range, friends won’t one day come to you and ask “Wait, you are not a nature photographer! What’s with all the trees and the mountains? Is it art? Are you making art now?” It’s just a title that gives you freedom.

The photograph of the fish, as if it was floating in thin air, feels like a mix of fine art and abstractionism. What’s the story behind this image?

There is a cute little public park on the asian side of Istanbul, it’s usually empty. One time I came across this big aquarium there and thought “That doesn’t look right”.There were other fish in the tank too, swimming in circles ,but this one thought I was kind of interesting, so we shared a moment. A friend who lived close to the park told me that they are constantly dying from the changes in temperature, she said that they seem to change the fish more than they change the water. Normally the stories behind don’t interest me all that much but I’m not sure if I’d use this photograph if I didn’t hear that.

You studied abroad and have returned to Istanbul. How do you compare photography education in Turkey with the US?

I really don’t know the difference between US and Turkey when it comes to education in photography. I never enjoyed the classroom education and I don’t visit schools. My first photography teacher at high-school was a hateful man, him I remember. Prof. Ulrich Mack was my last teacher and that was in US I worked as his assistant for a two terms during my senior year. He would yell at you or give a bear hug when you’d least expected it. He was born a teacher and a photographer, a rare combination I believe, photojournalists are not the most patient people and teaching needs patience. He protected me against a few useless Professors I didn’t get along with and helped me focus on photography. Teaching is a talent, bad students know this better.

What do you think the Leica Gallery will mean for new and seasoned photographers? Do you think the community will grow?

The local community from what I can tell is already big and this location will be another home for the serious ones. It will be a blessing for enthusiasts and pros alike. I got to know the people involved in the project, they want to do it right and also do it with some style. Their love and respect for photography is absolutely genuine.

What are your expectations of your show at the Leica Gallery?

I got what I hoped when they decided to open with me. It’s a great honor. Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, Oskar Fuchs , Kayhan Gürbüz and Yasemin Elci have been an absolute joy to work with. I will get a real kick out of watching them tour the exhibition and smile.

Thank you Alp!

To know more about Alp Sime’s exhibition, please visit the Leica Gallery Istanbul website.

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