Working at TOG as a European volunteer since February 2012, I get to meet many young people living in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey. Most of them have voluntary commitments at TOG or in other organisations. One of these is the YASOM conversation club, that provides free and open to all language sessions in English, Spanish, German, French and of course Turkish. I was helping a friend and fellow EVS volunteer with the weekly French there, but recently I got involved in something completely different.
I am sensitive to my visual environment, hence my interest in photography, that has matured into a documentary blog here over these last four months. I believe that the identity of places and people is shaped by what’s there in the streets: adverts, signs, architecture, clothes, customs, representations.
My friends from YASOM invited me to take part in a social inclusion camp in the Izmir area for the first half of August and looking forward to it, I suggested a workshop on how to read images. They answered fine, do it next week!
A little taken aback, I relished at the idea that it was going to happen. At university my speciality was procrastination, I used to push projects to deadline-close danger zones, finding more sense in repairing bicycles than reading about approaches to European integration. The work would get done, efficiently, minus the passion. But this was completely different. I was the one choosing the subject now.
Over seven days, I brainstormed, browsed the internet, shuffled through my pictures, thought, woke up taking notes of new thoughts, copy-pasted, rehashed, learnt a lot and churned out a 45 slide presentation along with two games on how to read images: Reading Images in Our Hyper-Information Society.
The workshop took place yesterday. As I set the room up, a few concerns arose. Would it all fit in the two hours I was given? Would it be meaningful, or just all amount to an overdose of commonplace information? Whatever. The room filled with a satisfying crowd of 15, I did my thing. It went well, I navigated through most of it without reading my notes, surprised at this, enjoying it and sensing that the audience was catching at least a portion of that enjoyment.
In order to understand how we arrived to our hyper-information society, we first analysed images through history, from palaeolithic art to religious imagery, to the renaissance, to the industrial era, to cubism, advertisement, propaganda and press photography. I tried to address how visual codes grounded in the use of certain colours, shapes and representations were created through time. In other words, how a common visual culture has emerged and evolved, acting as a filter in the way we perceive and interpret images.
The second part of the workshop took a more technical approach, addressing images in terms of aesthetic processes used, purposes, subjects covered, beauty and intrusion, who’s watching who, disinformation and non-information. I wanted to show how a single theme, in the case a pear, could be interpreted and played upon in so many different ways, used to represent a car, a cartoon character, an operating system, conveying the feelings of comfort, freshness or even velocity. Another thing I wanted to question was the acceptability of images in the public space. Whereas graffiti is widely considered to be a crime and a nuisance, a lot of it is art, yet we don’t treat adverts even half as harshly, and they pollute our visual environment ubiquitously.
After a long, windy, debateful journey through history, technique, morality, subjectivity and freedom of expression, it was time to relax and play a game. Four editorial teams from prestigious newspapers get a bundle of stories from their networks of reporters scattered throughout the world. There are 9 stories and only 4 pictures, yet there can only be a story per picture… The second game confronted the team with an even tougher task. Four pictures got through the post, but the stories were all lost. The only option is to invent them. A truly funny moment to show how understanding images is so tricky under pressure and lack of time.
The journey was also one for me. A venture into my personal understanding of how we see things in this world. I enjoyed myself, and I can’t complain. The workshop, overall, was successful. I’ll do it again, in the near future.