ASIA MINOR
BETWEEN HERE AND THERE

It's something we do every day, and we start as newborn babies: watching facesf faces that talk to us more or less openly about the people wearing them. It is a constant exercise that never fails to hold our interest and is often a source of great satisfaction. This is one reason why the art of the portrait is so widespread - across the globe and throughout history. Every human face is testimony to a past, an individual's entire life up to that moment. It is more than a story; it is a concentration of life experience and an intimation of futures yet to be lived. Better than a book, if you like - something that we as observers flick through in our heads.

This imaginary book opens up first in the artist's mind before it opens up in ours, Portraitists, when they are not working on a specific assignment, choose which features to reproduce and to show to others according to their own personal tastes and inclinations. This is especially what painters of the past used to do; nowadays it is especially what photographers do. Painters used to ask their subjects to maintain a         for a long time, and sessions were often enervating for both parties, producing results that lacked spontaneity. Photographers only need to ask for a few seconds from the people whose soul they want to steal (as those unfamiliar with cameras always feared) and everything happens painlessly and without the filter of unnatural poses.

The risk that accompanies the growing  ease of taking photographs is that the greater quantity of results to poorer quality work that smacks of mere routine. Clearly this happens very often, but thankfully there are still some exceptions.

One such exception is the Turkish photographer Ebru Ceylan, who has shown herself to possess a truly sensitive gaze. Born in Ankara in 1976, she began taking photographs at a very early age, in 1992, and was soon putting on exhibitions and gaining fame as she won various awards. She studied film and television at Istanbul's two universities, Marmara and Mi mar Sinan, and made her first short film in 1998 - Kıyıda, This film was immediately selected for the Cannes Film Festival and was followed by two others: Çukurda in 2000 and Mamak Hikayesi in 2001). She went on to work as both art director and leading actress on two feature-length films directed by her husband, the celebrated film-maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan - Uzak ("Distant", 2002) and Iklimler (Climates, 2008). Lastly, she was author and co-scriptwriter as well as art director on her husband's latest prize-winning work, 3 maymun (3 monkeys, 2008). Her career in film and photography is steadily on the rise.

It is clear from this description alone that there is an essentially narrative thrust to Ebru Ceylan's work, in addition to her formative aesthetic vocation. This is a so reflected in the photographic images she has taken around Anatolia over the last few years. They are, it is true, portraits but it is no accident that they are portraits in a setting.  At the centre of of these works are human figures, or rather individuals, each with their own irreducible individuality. Yet the space which encloses these figures is never extraneous to them; rather it becomes a kind of extension of them (or is it, the figures that are extensions of the spaces?). So in these images the presence of the "earth", understood in all its possible meanings, is powerful, incontrovertible and assertive.

A pre-eminently rural culture permeates Ebru Ceylan's ongoing anthropological reportage on Anatolian faces. We see horses at the sides of dirt roads empty of cars. And other peacefully grazing animals: cows, flocks of sheep. Pastoral farming evokes immediate echoes of nomadism, life on the road, en plein air - where these expressions are not mere artistic or literary references but rather reflect everyday existence. And disturbingly, we come under its inexplicable spell; perhaps because this is where we all more or less come from if we dig deeply enough into the hidden helixes of our DNA.

There is an ancient and inescapable bond between the faces marked by wind and sun and the sun-baked and empty earthy plains, And while this appears most manifestly on the faces of the older people, harrowed by effort and irrigated by season after season of rain, at the same time, much to our initial surprise, it can also be seen on the still tender cheeks of the children, in their precociously adult seriousness, in their small backs already bearing the marks of effort, in their large squint eyes, in the promises of pain to come, Tots, asses, whippersnappers, youngsters: as we look at them, words come back into our minds that we tend not to use any more but which seem to fit perfectly here. The photographer is right to focus attention on them? strewn around in search of affection under gathering clouds; but she is a so right to look at the tired bodies of the old people, infirm from so much grinding work but still with the desire to smile, the men sporting their moustaches and the women protected by their scarves. The young people remain, waiting for something they don't know. And able-bodied men are mostly missing, off in some unknown place.

Faced with the physiognomy of a world, the collective portrait of a slice of humankind, one oneself the question: are the Turks close to us or far away? We have become used to seeing the city of Istanbul as the gateway to the Orient par excellence; but now we realise that the whole great Anatolian peninsular represents a bridge linking the European Mediterranean to the Asian continent - Asia Minor, as we to call it. But it is also a bridge to our more or less recent past, a time when both here and there people had to face up to the responsibilities of everyday existence in the dust and in the fields, between a sweat and a diver a smile and a look of distrust, a question and a shiver, a short chat and a long silence. We, too, like Ebru Ceylan, look at these people from close up, very close up.

Ferruccio Giromini