Based in New York City, photographer Ebru Varol brings into focus not just life on the streets but the life of the street. Ebru’s work is acutely aware of how memory fades, and the camera captures just a moment. Her photographs dance between light and dark, to see and experience that moment in its entirety. I got the chance to ask Ebru some questions regarding her work, passion, and what drives her Light.
- Can you recall the moment where you discovered your passion for photography, or when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?
Well, it was after a series of relocations, from one continent to another, moving slowly from East towards the West. I moved here, to New York, from London in 2001, right after September 11th, in a time of grief. While being alone and feeling uncertain in the streets of New York, the only certain thing was my camera. My camera became my best friend, my comrade in arms. I guess if I have to pin down the moment when I discovered my passion for photography, it would be then. Photography came to me as an outlet for expressing my emotional state at that time and it stayed with me ever since. The decision to pursue a career came a few years ago when I realized that my passion, my photography could also possibly be my work and if that was the case, I had to treat it as such.
- Do you have a preference of shooting in color or black and white?
Certain things I see in color and others in black and white. When shooting in black and white, I am looking for light and dark contrasts, which carry so many symbolisms and parallelisms with real life. Black and white exposures with their retro feeling move me from the present to the past and from the west to the east. My color images have a different quality, more meditative. Instead of the contrast’s depth, the surfaces activate sensations and emotions with a more long lasting effect.
- What’s your favorite subject to shoot?
In my eyes everything carries a life of its own, even the lifeless. As a street photographer, I think of myself as a type of 19th century Parisian flâneur, an explorer and observer of the silent. I wander through cities or nature’s paths looking for forms and light. There are several themes that keep coming up in my photographs: windows and staircases, reflections and different textures, mannequins and figurines, locks and keys and other things with an old soul.
- What drives your art?
I am looking at reality through a viewfinder. I see how the light touches forms, how new shapes are created, how reflections change the interpretation of what I see. Then I have this desire to capture these instances, to make images out of them, to have them tell their story, perhaps my story or your story…
- Do your roots in Istanbul impact you as a photographer?
Istanbul is an old city, engraved with history. When you walk on the cobblestones, you wonder who has walked the same paths over the centuries. This connection is present in my images, even though sometimes I need to break away from the past, be in the present and feel the magnetism of the contemporary. Finding my Istanbul, locating that emotional state is an intriguing challenge. My photographs of windows are a good example of what I am trying to say. A window can be anywhere East or West. It’s a window in someone’s soul, memories, fantasies. In certain pictures and certain moments, the camera becomes a window as well, opening and closing, technically and metaphorically.
- Could you explain a term that’s part of your photographical philosophy, “The Light”?
Photography literally means the transcription of light. In the image Reverie, named after the title of my upcoming show, a seated mannequin is contemplating, perhaps daydreaming, frozen in time and in the composition looking outside the window at an old building across the street. The moment the photo was taken the light came through in a certain angle lighting up the window and blending the inside with the outside, becoming one. This is how the story of that image begun, with a spark of light. Its very mythological!
- Where has your favorite place been to exhibit your work?
London, because it was the first city I ever showed my work, and New York because I am having my first solo show here. I feel lucky ‘cause both cities have a highly sophisticated audience.
- Are there any particular artists, photographers or ideas that have fundamentally influenced your approach to photography?
I am very drawn to the works of M. C. Escher, especially in his interest of infinite spaces, geometries and reflections. Edward Hopper’s stillness, his urban scenes and his perspectives of windows with the intense feeling of loneliness fascinate me. Also the works of JMW Turner and his use of light and moving skies are important. In a recent show of his work at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK, he was taking over all my sensations. But André Kertész is perhaps the strongest influence: the way he captured urban life, highlighting the poetic and the quiet. How his images “give meaning to everything” about him and how “to make photographs as by reflection in a mirror, unmanipulated and direct as in life.” All these artists and their artworks inform my work and inspire me, perhaps a little piece of them are found in my photographs.
- Are you interested in other forms of art?
When I was a child I believed I would grow up and become an architect. Life turned out differently, but still in my photos one can see my affection to architecture and the urban environment.
- In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to receive a degree, whether that be a BA or MFA, to be “actually qualified” in order to be successful?
I think a BA and/or MFA degree is very important, but in my case being a self-taught artist, an autodidact, grants me a strange freedom. I don’t have strains, rules or prefixed ideas about how my art should be. But I do not underestimate the academic qualifications. They give you a confidence, a network and a deeper understanding of the art world.
- You received a BA in Business Management, correct? Has that been of use to you for the business side of your work?
Every piece of information and knowledge is useful. My BA in business helps me think of my work in a practical manner, like in the technical aspect where market research is important for the production of the work. Creatively I cannot find any connection between my business training and my photography, other than the opposition of the two: in my artwork there are no constraints, while business is all about rules.
- What’s your advice for someone who would also like to pursue a career in this field?
Take your camera and don’t hesitate. This is your world, this is your work.
Ebru has an upcoming Solo Exhibition entitled Reveries in the Gregg Gallery of the National Arts Club, from February 29-March 12, 2016. The title of this show refers to her creative process during her wanderings through urban streets and nature’s paths.
To see more of Ebru’s work, check out her website.