During my work on my thesis on the dialogical image in 2010, I could not escape reading Roland Barthes. He taught me how one photograph can keep you in its grasps with its truth (the punctum), and be a lie at the same time (the studium).
The media theorist Vilem Flusse discussed the theme of the untruthfulness of photography; he emphasizes that the untruthfulness of photographic images can exist merely by the grace of their invisibility. We do not see the manipulation, and that is why we cannot experience that a photograph represents someone’s vision of the world, and not the world itself. The two-facedness of photography, in addition to its untruthfulness, also characterizes its seductive power. I am (as a viewer) both tempted by the reality that presents itself to me and by the way it is presented to me. World Press Photo in its essence, the photograph as a monologue, magically entering my consciousness and from that moment on, manipulating my viewpoint. Flusser speaks of images which place themselves between the world and me and which stand in the way of my view of the world.
My principal question is: Can a photograph take another position?
In Ahmet Polat’s photos I came across such a different point of view, which I lovingly started to call the dialogical image. In actual fact this dialogue has two important connecting moments. It is a photographic image with which I can enter into a dialogue (or rather, with whose maker I can have an imaginary conversation about the views of the image) and it is an image that allows me the space to become part of the photographs world. When the image invites me to enter the image, I can be present in it, explore it and question it. Polat’s photographs allow this kind of space.
The photograph on the cover of The other Kemal is an image which slightly leans to the left. On the right of the centre there are two chairs seen from the back. In the right chair is a woman with a headscarf. She is looking towards her left. We see her face in profile and her left arm reaching out. The chair on her left is empty. The chairs are standing on a strip of hard surface with boulders. The rest of the image is made up of water and sky.
It is not the possible symbolism of the image, but the place that has been saved for the viewer to become part of the image, and perhaps even more the somewhat uncomfortable feeling the photo gives the viewer, the sloping ground, the idea that the chair is not placed very firmly on the ground, which create a dialogue with us the viewer and the image.
The photographs in The other Kemal are all slightly unfinished, slightly unbalanced, out of focus in some places. They never offer a focused view of the person in the portrait as objects, but they ask you to become a subject with them in their world, because this is what Ahmet does himself. He is not looking from the outside in, but from the inside out. His perspectives betray his presence in the space where the photograph was taken. He is researching Turkey from the inside out. It is his Turkey, and if the people look into the lens, they betray to us his self-evident presence. He is one of them.
If then we are also close to the subjects, it is so close that it becomes a case of us sitting almost next to them, becoming part of their world. There are only a few images which show a deviation and which do give us a clear view from a distance. In one of these images, and not by accident, bars have been placed between us, the viewers, and the person in the portrait. And then there is a second image, just as frontal. A man sitting on a wall, his hair hanging like bars in front of his face. In both images the people in the portrait are looking straight at us. We are not looking at them, but they are looking at us.
Back to truthfulness and the lie of photography. Polat is not in search of a polished reality, which may be clear. In the Turkey he portrays there are no Facebook portraits; the people in the portraits are in their usual environment. No ‘pretty image-making’, no well-balanced, well-lit, neat compositions, no blinding colours. At the same time Polat makes clear that it is not reality itself that is presenting itself to us, but reality as it presents itself to him. And in doing so, to us, at that accidental moment in which he, and after him we, are witnesses.
In the introduction, Polat himself is saying it in simple words: ‘I try to put into photos what I see.’ His view offers an outlook from the inside out, an involved, exploring and penetrating view.