EK Interview: Murat Germen

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom

Murat Germen is taking art to the next level.  Each of his series has such a concise philosophy to it that you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you like his art and haven’t read gone to his site and read his thoughts.  He’s got a couple good ones below though so in the mean time you can check out his interview:

Who are you?  What are you about?  Can you do a handstand?

I was educated as an architect and practiced architecture some for a short while, discovered it wasn’t good for me. Photography was an obsessive hobby during my late high school years and I wanted to try to place it in the center of my life, making a living out of something that I was passionate about. It did not happen very quickly, yet I was patient. Now I make my entire life out of photography; teaching it at Sabanci University in Istanbul, practicing it professionally for commissioned shoots and finally using it as an expression tool in my artistic practice. I am an artist represented by three galleries; C.A.M Gallery in Turkey, ARTITLED! Contemporary Art in the Netherlands and Rosier Gallery in the U.S.A.

I am sort of a free-minded guy, never had careerist inclinations. Ability to program my own life to the maximum extent possible, with minimal external pressure, was always my main priority in life. Running on three different tracks (artistic, academical, professional) enables me to absorb pressures, impacts coming from each of these tracks.

I used to do a handstand:) I started practicing yoga several months ago and I am after a headstand now:)


How did your curriculum at MIT challenge your perception of art, of the world through art, and your approach to art as a medium of expression?

I am from the seemingly small group of people who think engineering and art are not contradictory. What I value in engineering are discipline, serious approach, determination, long-term planning, dedication, etc. What I value in art, on the other hand; are serendipity, naivety, casualness, relaxedness, freedom, lack of ulterior motive, anti-determinism, etc. I believe it is possible to catch, create intermediate points in between these two realms and MIT offered a suitable milieu for this. My favorite profile is an engineering type of person with creative skills / mind and MIT became what it is thanks to such people (there are not that many by the way). I think the education at MIT has an obvious influence on what I am doing right now.

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


Do you think there is some inherent disconnect created between the viewer and the situation when seen through a lens?  Do you think people can remember, or perceive as well, as fully and as vividly when they are recording a situation as when they are simply experiencing it?  How do you see the trade-off, the idea that we sacrifice the moment, or some degree of it, to capture the experience for the long term?

There is obviously a difference between perceiving the world through the naked eyes and the lens(es). There is the danger of missing the “carpe diem” mood when you photograph, since your senses start to apprehend differently. Despite all this, I personally see the camera as part of my body, almost as a prosthesis. The fact that I am using a lens to see things, does not minimize my awareness of the present and the usage of the lens is not meant as a future projection of “I will look at this later…” On the contrary, looking through the lens links me more to the present and augments my experience of the local environment; I see things that I do not otherwise see with the naked eye. Of course, this fact does not make me ignore, miss the pleasure of experiencing time and locale with bare eyes / nose / ears and enjoy the view, air, sound, odor without making any recording…


How do you see the present obsession with manipulation of image, of the idea that the presentation of oneself is superior and that the physical manifestation is somehow subordinate, in terms of today’s society and culture?  How do you see this idea expressed in the world around you?

The image is inherently manipulated, as it is the representation of what it describes / renders and it is not the real thing itself. Manipulation of information, visual and / or textual, has always been used by the ideological systems, much before digital image making was available. It is great that the ease of manipulation in the digital platform made us question the genuineness of images. Before digital, we did not question this enough; but manipulation was still there, maybe more latent, leading to the impression that the content in created analog images was “true.” Now, with the advances in digital image making, people started to distrust images, much more than they did before. I see this as the positive outcome of the present obsession with manipulation of image.

Previously images were manipulated by states, institutions, governments, dictators and they all lied to us by creating false, fictitious official histories supported by appropriate images created by assigned professionals. Today, amateur individuals have the power of making their own manipulations without consulting instrumental professionals and sharing them instantly online. These individuals (including myself) are currently writing a collective visual, social, cultural history which is not totally dictated by the systemic institutions. I find this as the positive outcome of the current situation.


Candid photos are inherently rich, they contain emotion and expression without trying, without the need for posing or set dressing or wardrobe.  Why do you think that so much of photography is concerned with posed shots?  With models trying to look their best, or trying to look their worst while simultaneously looking their best?

I believe this is related to your previous question. Starting from the very early days of photography, posed photos are partial manipulations of subject, setting and time combinations. Some of posed photos are made to convey the “ideal” situation to be envied by consumers. Posed images are effective tools in convincing the society to go towards a preplanned direction and this is why so much of photography is concerned with creating them…


What has your ongoing ‘Humanscapes’ series shown you about the human condition, about human emotion, that you did not know, or did not notice in such frequency or knew but somehow ignored because the thought existed in some small corner of your mind?

Humanscapes is totally focused on capturing candid facial expressions and the series reminded me to observe our equalities, similarities. There are many different races, nations, ethnicities, individuals on earth. They wear, eat, think, live, work differently; yet, the face expressions like happiness, fear, awe, embarrassment, daze, frustration, grief are all the same. When it comes to facial expression we are all alike; we all laugh, grin, get excited, fall in love, sadden, get confused, flirt, empathize, gaze, desire, glare, fear… Our faces are like our naked bodies with no garments on.

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdomart blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


Have the images in ‘Obscura Lucida’ been manipulated?  If so, what did you do?  Why do you think that scenes of human structures, common public areas, completely devoid of life, are so entrancing?

No, they are not. They are almost as they came out of the camera, excepting minimal adjustments of highlights / shadows and such, using Photoshop’s Camera Raw interface that you use when you open RAW files into Photoshop. They are excessively overexposed images of nighttime, in other words, they are lucid images of obscurity. Nighttime is known to be deserted, lonely, scary; I actually like this abandonedness of nighttime, it enables me to have a smoother interaction with the city. Starring actors, i.e. people, leave the scene and they leave the man made, i.e. the decor, alone. This is how you find the opportunity to concentrate on the peculiarities of the urban environments and there remains almost nothing from the daily hubbub to distract your attention. Yes, the night can sometimes be dangerous and / or scary; yet the night is also calmer, more minimal and clearer…

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


Do you think humans are concerned, if subconsciously, or at the very least interested, in their impact on the world?  In the magnitude of the change and manipulation they have applied to the world around them?  To such a degree that we are consumed by the idea of what would happen to all of these changes, these architectural achievements, if we were to disappear?

Years ago, when I was a student, I was highly motivated to have an impact on the world with my creations, writings, ideas and so on. The more I grew the more frustrated I got from mankind’s unbelievable persecutional, brutal potential. It seems there is no way to prevent various nations from fighting with each other and I gave this very ambitious objective up. If you take the world as “nature” in general, it is already quite rich in many terms and does not need much change. On the contrary, it needs preservation of the status quo. Nature to me is the biggest impact itself on the world; if something / somebody is to change, it is the nature that will change us and not us changing the world. Nature seems to be able to cope with all the human aggression; it adjusts, adapts itself and warns us with disasters even if we do not seem to learn lessons. Instead of making a personal impact, I am now trying to make my own humble contribution to the world by attempting to lessen personal usage of earth’s resources and minimize individual greed…

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


In ‘Muta-morphosis’ which axis did you chose to manipulate each specific piece around?  Were you surprised to see which features became dominant, and which subjugated?  How do you see the works in ‘Muta-morphosis’ as a depiction of the cities each piece describes?

I chose the horizon as the axis of manipulation. The reason is, we usually extend our perception sideways from left to right and not from top to bottom. Though the earth is round, we happen to reside on a very small portion of it and see it almost flat. This is probably why ancients believed the world was flat as a tray.

Though there are vertically oriented city parts like Manhattan, cities usually grow horizontally. This is why a very large percentage of panoramic photos are made horizontally. The idea in the Muta-morphosis series is to be able to fit as much urban content as possible to a display area visible with naked eye in a single look. It is possible to say that this series fits multiple gazes into one.

Interestingly and to my positive surprise, skyscrapers happened to be the most subjugated building type. Skyscrapers are phallic symbols of capitalist power and they are not humane at all in scale; I must say I was really satisfied with this result…

Not all cities react the same way to horizontal compaction. Resulting partial amorphization that is obtained after my “muta-morphosed” interference, works better with metropolises like Istanbul that are already collage-cities. The alteration causes an intensification and this augments the perception of urban intensity.

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


In the description of ‘Aura’ you address trends, and themes that are vogue.  What trends in art do you think are in vogue right now?  How do these trends represent social undercurrents or themes that are presently in or out of the spotlight?  How do you think these themes will change in the next couple of years?

Looking at what is currently happening in the art scene, it is obvious that art is a bourgeois entertainment and a prestigious toy of investment for capitalists. Artworks of selling artists are treated as stockholdings and people do not talk much about artistic merit. I do not think this will change soon and this is why I am not thinking of counting solely on art to make a living. I am selling well now, both nationally and internationally, but I am very well aware that this is not in my control and may not continue to be so in the future. The situation is such that this market can decide to dump you out of the blue, in a night, if you do not follow the “necessary course”. I always avoided the necessary courses in my life and I am not going to fall into this trap just for the sake of making more money from art. Works sold or unsold, I will always remain as an artist since this is my only area of freedom…

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


How has Istanbul, Turkey contributed to your personal experience and your development as an artist?  Had you been there before?  How did you decide to move there and what do you think of the city now?

Istanbul is chaotic in the positive sense. It is multi-layered, full of surprises, vibrant, lively, unforeseeable, puzzling and tough to deal with: Fantastic environment for an artist… I believe one has to feel “incomplete” even at relatively mature ages in order to be able to make continuous progress (I am 47 now, born 1965). Moreover, I never strived to be part of any political, cultural, social, ethnic, national majority; I believe one has to stay in minority for the sake of continuing his / her marginal presence. I suppose it is the marginal approaches, and not the main-stream ones, that change the world. Istanbul provides you with these two: It is an incomplete city and there is always something to add to it; plus, it has such a tiring variety of majorities that it is not difficult for a decent mind to feel as minority.

I was born in Ankara when my family was there on duty. The family came back to Istanbul when I was 7 years old and I was always in Istanbul since then (excepting roughly 5 years abroad spent for education and post-educational professional practice).

Istanbul is getting more and more exciting every year, with an amazing amount of dynamism in the arts, culture, music and gastronomy scene… It seems it is going to be quite hard to get separated from this weird place, in case I have to.

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom


Who would you count among your top three influences?  How are their voices manifested, represented or reflected in your work, your approach and your ideology?  Why were they so influential to you, how did they reach you on such a deep level?

In general I do not tend to give specific names in such cases, since one always forgets an important name, source, dimension, influence… I can easily say that German photography as a whole is a big influence. The reason is, there are numerous photographers with various approaches and these are usually quite progressive both in terms of concept and technique. I am not among artists who center their work around a single theme, style, approach, concept during the entire life. When I can manage to change the course of what I am doing I feel like I can transcend myself and refresh. German photography encompasses a large range of visual languages and I guess this is why I am interested in its manifestations.


What are you working on now and what do you hope to finish before the year is done?

I always like to work on 2-3 series concurrently, since it widens my perception. If you have just one thing in your mind and dig into it obsessively, the range of your consciousness diminishes. I already have a few ongoing projects visible on the web site. In addition to these, I started a new series where I am intending to merge two different realms of representation together on a single plane. Title not yet clear…


What was your favorite book in elementary school?  What do you think that says about you?

Albert Lamorisse’s “Red Balloon.” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Red-Balloon-Albert-Lamorisse/dp/0385003439) To me, the balloon represented disobedience, constant motion and its color the energy necessary for struggle.

art blog - Murat Germen - Empty Kingdom