Installation view of YILDIZ MORAN’s “A Mountain Tale” at Istanbul Modern, 2018–19. All images courtesy Istanbul Modern.

A Mountain Tale

Yıldız Moran

Istanbul Modern

Yıldız Moran’s exhibition, “A Mountain Tale,” presented by Istanbul Modern, comprised
86 black-and-white photographs, taken over the 12 years of Moran’s photographic
career, which began in 1950. The show was part of Istanbul Modern’s efforts to remember overlooked figures from the cultural history of the Turkish Republic. Despite the brevity
of her artistic activity, the exhibition drew attention to Moran as the country’s first academically trained, lens-wielding female artist, who pioneered the medium as not just a utilitarian method to engender visual records, but a creative outlet that can encapsulate unique perspectives on people and places. 

Moran was raised by scholars. Her uncle, Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu, was a renowned art historian and arguably her chief formative inspiration. He provoked her to pursue an education in the United Kingdom. There, she discovered her calling in photography while working as an assistant to photographer John Vickers, famed for his portraits of stage actors and shots of theater productions, cutting her teeth at The Old Vic in London. “A Mountain Tale” displayed two photographs from her three years in the UK. London, England (1951), for example, depicts an English-language sign for a showroom behind a man reaching for an exotic pineapple at a street market. 

YILDIZ MORAN, Füreya Koral, 1955, archival pigment print, 100 × 100 cm.  

In 1954, Moran returned to Turkey. Among the early works included in the exhibition, Prince Islands, Istanbul (1954) shows an elderly couple, posed outside the front door of their home. Their expressions, bordering on hesitance and bewilderment, suggest that, at the time, being approached by a young woman with a camera was still an unusual phenomenon. Nevertheless, as Moran continued her practice, it became clear that her strength is in capturing intimate portraits that show her connection with her subjects. This is evident in Özdemir Asaf (1955), of her husband, and İnci Moran (1955), of her sister, both taken in the studio that Moran had established on the top floor of Istanbul’s Maya Art Gallery. Moran also continued to capture photographs outside of her studio. She approached Füreya Koral (1955), portraying the first modern ceramicist in Turkish art history as she focused on shaping a new piece in her workshop.

During her first year back in Turkey, Moran worked as a set photographer, accompanying her uncle, İpşiroğlu, to archaeological excavation sites in Cappadocia as he shot the first Turkish documentary, Hittite Sun (1956). Using a portable six-by-six Rolleiflex, which enables eye contact with subjects, she also traveled solo to detail the lives of local communities in Anatolia, creating some of the images for which she is best known. The central subject in Yıldız Moran’s Shadow (1955) is a lone mule, captured in sharp focus while blurred figures board a bus in the background, and children run from the silhouette of the artist-documentarian, which looms over the bottom right portion of the image. The components convey the cross-currents of modernity and tradition, nature and technology, while the sense of motion eternalizes Anatolians as a people in transition. An unflinching witness of mid-20th century social change, Moran also aimed her camera at the male-dominated workers’ cafes of Ortahisar, the same year Anatolian women welcomed her to photograph them reveling in local festivities for pieces titled Cappadocia (1959). 

YILDIZ MORAN, Yıldız Moran’s Shadow, 1955, archival pigment print, 100 × 100 cm.  
YILDIZ MORAN, Yıldız Moran’s Shadow, 1955, archival pigment print, 100 × 100 cm.  

Moran’s personal approach to photography extended to her images without people. An untitled 1955 photograph of the Anatolian town Alanya shows a bird’s eye view of the Mediterranean sea, its water dappled with curvilinear forms—a motif that she repeatedly transposed in her shadow-laden sketches of paths, sticks, beams, threads and tracks. While not known as a political artist, Mount Ararat, Ağrı (1956) points to a potent symbol of the Armenian genocide, whose survivors included Yousuf Karsh, a portrait photographer she had admired since apprenticing at The Old Vic.  

YILDIZ MORAN, Mount Ararat, Ağrı, 1956, archival pigment print, 100 × 100 cm.  

In 1962, Moran quit. After marrying the famed poet Özdemir Asaf, she became a fully devoted wife and mother to three sons. “You are one half, I the other,” she translated from Asaf’s poem, 360 Degrees (1964). “Then the two of us become one whole / Unperceived by all.” The sole extant photograph with the couple in the same frame is from 1978, three years before Asaf’s passing. 

“A Mountain Tale” charted Moran’s artistic maturity—a journey that took her from the UK to the heartland of her country, convening the faces of cosmopolitan workers with the ancient lives of Anatolia. 

Yıldız Moran’s “A Mountain Tale” is on view at the Istanbul Modern until May 12, 2019.

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