Berin Golonu

University of Rochester, USA.

Berin Golonu is a Ph.D candidate for Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester, USA.

Visual Narratives of Demographic Shifts in the Middle East and Turkey

"The history of photography has paralleled the history of modernity and the formation of the nation-state in the Middle East and Turkey. It has been used as a mode of communication in the construction of social knowledge within and about this region. In addition to reading historical accounts, my dissertation undertakes an investigation of this region’s photographic history to display how its image-makers chose to represent themselves and their societies to one another and to the rest of the world. If the history of the development and use of photography in Arab lands and in Turkey can reveal to us the cross-cultural traditions of global modernity, then perhaps it can be used as an alternative historical model to replace the dominant model of Western art history.

The earlier photographic documents I examine are attributed to the studios of Orientalist photographers Pascal Sebah (Constantinople), Abdullah Freres (Constantinople), Felix Bonfils (Beirut) and Alary and Geiser (Algiers). My research into the more recent history of the region investigates vernacular uses of photography found in collections of personal photographs, the archives of portrait studios, and commercial imagery so as to locate personal narratives that can parallel authoritative, historical accounts. Here I take inspiration from and further contextualize the working processes of contemporary artists such as Akram Zaatari (Beirut) and Tayfun Serttas (Istanbul) who perform a redemptive read of historical photographs. They unearth found images that reveal lacunae in histories of representation and they inscribe the latent content of these images with critical narratives. My research into these artists’ projects and working processes intends to highlight diverse models of identity formation that existed before nationalist discourses forcefully imposed models of social unity. My dissertation’s ultimate aim is to counteract limited perspectives on the Middle East and Turkey that stem from either the Western imagination or structures of authority within the region by focusing on narratives of difference that can articulate future possibilities of social change." (Berin Golonu, 2012)