The Havana 7 club fellowship: interview with Ali Taptik

We have been writing already in the past about the The Havana 7 club fellowship, a great collaboration with the great photographer Elliott Erwitt and the Havana Club. The fellowship is giving an annual award to a great photographer willing to travel to Cuba and create a reportage, to capture the soul of Cuba, like 51 years ago Elliott Erwitt did.

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Finally the winner of this first edition has been revealed and we had a chance to get an interview with Ali Taptik.

Ali Taptik is an artist, photographer and PhD Candidate in Architectural Design at ITU from Turkey.  Taptık has published several books including Kaza ve Kader (Filigranes Editions, 2009); Depicting Istanbul(Akin Nalca, 2010) and There are no failed experiments. (Atelier de Visu, 2012).

When did you start to think about photography?
My uncle gave a Fisher-Price camera when I was five.  I try not to think about photography so often.

What does photography mean to you? and which kind of photography do you like more to work on?
Photography is an exciting technological tool that allows me to show what I see to other people. Kind of photography that anyone with a camera can do. I think the whole genre issue in photography is a dead-end topic. I create stories with visuals and I mostly use photography as it is the most free and accessible medium.

 What does it mean for you to win such an important prize connected with Elliott Erwitt? Is it something you have been working hard to achieve?
The fellowship has an exciting structure, that invites a long term involvement for the fellows around the heritage of Elliott Erwitt’s work from Cuba and I am honored to be the first fellow. I think in the upcoming years we will see the fellowship becoming an important archive on contemporary Cuba.

Have you ever been in Cuba before? From Turkey to Cuba is a big jump, or did you find any common elements?
It was my first time in Cuba. From Turkey to Cuba it is geographically a big jump. But moreover it is culturally, economically and politically a big jump and there is not much in common. Yet I think the pressing issues that we, citizens of the world, share like global warming and lack of resources is much more on the surface.

Did you get any inspiration to Elliott’s past work? Or you just wanted to have the freedom to explore and do something that has never been photograph somehow?
Elliott Erwitt’s humble way of being humorful and still presenting those he photographs in dignity is an important inspiration. But my approach to photography is fundamentally different then his, so I felt quite free to drift through the streets of Havana.

 Your work has a strong relationship between landscapes and architecture. When you had the opportunity to travel to Cuba in July, what was your first impression about Havana? Was it something you have been thinking of, or totally different?
You might have noticed that one day after I arrived in Havana there was a coup attempt in my country. On the other hand I have been feeling part of a global crises of resources and polarization between different groups in the society. In Havana I felt like I was in the future. The limits that we think don’t exist in our everyday life as privileged individuals are much more perceivable. So when you see the warm day to day interaction of people in Havana, I feel hope for the rest of the world. At the end when we arrive in that future we will learn to take care of each other.

Your work is not just about landscapes and buildings but more deeply into the relationships between people and their environment. Was it hard to find these connections in Cuba, or it’s a place with an easy access?
The fact that I don’t speak Spanish was a huge problem. Nevertheless, an amazing young cinematographer helped me in everyday life. And when he was not there I interacted with people nonverbally. Gazes and gestures makes things much easier than words time to time. On the other hand, I think one can easily feel that Havana citizens are rather bored with photographers, mostly amateurs who come in bands like colonizers to take pictures without really interacting with people.

When you take a portrait, what is important for you to show, and in particular with the portraits you took in Cuba, what did you want to communicate?
A portrait is collaboration, you approach someone to reveal and present themselves, perform themselves. So some people helped me by sharing their presence for my short story.  I don’t want to communicate something directly in such cases I want to listen and rephrase what people want to say.

Do you think every photographer has a photo-mission since the beginning, or something you discover step by step?
My mission would be then is to quit Photography I guess.  (Laughs)

What’s next for you now?
My PhD Research is about developing artistic strategies to understand and analyze Vernacular architecture and developments in urban settings.  The main focus of my work thus shifts to a more research based sphere. Besides this I will be developing a last chapter in a series of narratives on Istanbul, which focuses on ideas of progress and reclamation.

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