February 29, 2016
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.
“Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”– Ibn Battuta
It’s true – I’ve had the fortune of traveling all over the world from a very young age, and most of the time I cannot write down my experiences for weeks or months after my return. Throughout my travels, I meet certain people that make my time even more precious, and here I have the pleasure of introducing to you all a true storyteller.
Last year, I studied away in Florence, Italy for a semester. I did not know anyone who was going to be there, all I had was a list of five names who would be my suite-mates. I sent off friend requests via Facebook to get to know (by stalking their profiles) the gals I’d be spending the next 3 ½ months with. My roommate, Madison McCormick, was late to the game in responding because she was in Morocco. Riding camels and exploring the world. Over the course of the semester, my first impression of Madison remained the same, if not grew over time: I was in awe of this smart and embracing lady, who said yes to every adventurous opportunity no matter how busy she was.
Now, back in New York City for our senior year, Madison has created a sticker initiative to bring to light the European Refugee Crises. What she is doing and what she has accomplished is quite impressive, and now you’ll get to see what she’s been up to and how you can get involved from my conversation with Madison while she was conducting research in Greece.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Madison McCormick and I am an NYU Senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Global Liberal Studies and a Master’s degree in International Relations. I am originally from California, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I am passionate about all things travel-related, from meeting new people to learning about and living in new cultures. I also have a deep passion for french fries …
Recently I have been very invested in a personal project of mine, a sticker activism research project that has taken me to Turkey and Greece this January to study street art in times of crisis.
- How did you become interested in street art?
Having lived in small suburban towns for most of my life, the move to NYU Paris my freshman year was really a shock, in a good way, and opened my eyes much more to the world around me. You could say that my small town ‘bubble’ had been popped. So from the beginning of my NYU experiences, I traveled and explored new cities in Europe and the United States and came across beautiful and intriguing works of art on the streets. I have also always been one to notice the little details; from a small stencil painting in an alleyway to a dumpster dive treasure on the side of the road, you can bet I have spotted it. My fascination in street art took a more specialized turn two summers ago when my friend and I began to collect and search for interesting stickers in lower Manhattan on street signs, telephone poles, mail boxes, etc. From then on I began to collect stickers during my travels and keep them in my sketchbook/journal. I would also begin to notice the same stickers in different cities, so it was a way of having some familiarity and comfort on the streets of an unknown place.
- What brought you to the attention of refugee crises?
I spent my junior year at NYU Florence and became much more aware of the European Refugee Crisis as it was in the news each week of the boats arriving and/or sinking on the southern coast, really heart breaking news. NYU Florence also offered educational dialogues on this topic and I attended them to learn more.
- Now, you’ve traveled an impressive amount within the past four years… Is there a certain city that stands out in your mind for its street art?
Yes, I have been very fortunate to have studied abroad for two years and travel while doing so. I have pretty much loved everywhere I have been and each place is unique in its own way for street art, but I would have to say that Athens and Copenhagen stand out the most to me at the moment. Athens because it is so saturated with all kinds of graffiti, tagging, murals, poetry, propaganda, etc. and carries a lot of political and social commentary and this has all emerged in the last 5 years or so since the financial crisis. In Copenhagen, there is a self-proclaimed ‘free neighborhood’, Christiania, that is pretty much as close as it gets to a hippie commune. I love the street art there because it is so free and colorful and emotionally expressive, much less political.
- Why use the medium of stickers to bring awareness to such a political and social statement?
I think that stickers are a seemingly harmless form of street art and can be used in various ways to spread whatever message they carry, if they have one at all, and spark dialogue. For example, a sticker can be stuck on a pole next to another sticker belonging to a leftist political party and if it is in support of the same message, they both are now in dialogue with each other. Now if that sticker was instead placed on top of the other sticker, then this would be considered ‘crossing’ and would be more of conflict. Stickers can also have a place off the street, like on one’s laptop case. Say you are sitting in a cafe typing away on your computer and the person next to you asks where you got said sticker. You would then be able to refer them where to find and learn more about the sticker, like the Instagram page for my sticker for example, and you are also engaging in a possible discussion about the sticker’s subject matter. Lastly, stickers can be easily commodified, which has been a negative outcome – street art becoming a market- in most cases. However, if the stickers are sold to raise money for a specific fund, like mine are, then this furthers the politicization of the sticker and draws more attention to something that is the size of your palm and can easily be overlooked. Stickers are small in scale, but they are not bound by physical space and can be spread quickly!
- What was the inspiration behind your first series, “Crumbling Borders”?
As part of my thesis, I felt it was necessary to participate in the street art I am researching and so I chose to do something that touched upon the Refugee Crisis because it has been something that has resonated with me for a while since studying in Florence. I realized that this issue is massively important, nonetheless relevant right now, and felt very distant and out of touch from New York. So, I felt that it was important to use street art to literally make this issue visible on the streets in the form of stickers.
- Do you think that in combination with the use of social media your project has been given more attention from when you started?
Yes absolutely. I had always intended to use Instagram for this project because I am researching how street art and artists have cultivated a new ‘imagined community’ (s/o to theorist Benedict Anderson!) where localized street art made for a specific community can become global with the touch of a button through Instagram. So, with the @TagAndSeek instagram, which is ultimately named after the fact that I ‘tag’ stickers and those who come across them ‘seek’ to find out more about the sticker through the Instagram page, I have drawn the attention of a much larger, global audience that grows every week.
- Where can someone go to learn more about refugee crises, what your initiative is all about?
I am in the process of creating a website, but until then, the best place to go is the Instagram page: @TagAndSeek. I have been posting my process tagging the sticker around the world as well as providing education information on the Refugee Crises and outlets for people to learn more if they’d like.
- Are you selling your stickers?
Yes! I was hesitant at first to sell them because of the whole ‘commodifying street art’ thing..but then I figured if people were willing to spend a little money on these stickers, I could make it go a long way and raise the money for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Rescue Committee – two organizations that are on the grounds helping with the crises. I am selling the stickers for $1 each and all proceeds go towards these two organizations. Additionally, if anyone wants to tag their city and spread the message of #crumblingborders, then I am more than willing to send some stickers their way. My friends have been taking the stickers with them in their travels and I will be reposting them all on the Instagram page. I am really excited because this project is becoming very much global!
Make sure to follow Madison’s journey through her Instagram account, @TagAndSeek.
And we need YOU to keep this going to make a wave within the street art community and get Madison’s message out there! If you’re interested in tagging your streets, message her through TagAndSeek’s Instagram to purchase stickers and donate to the cause.