|If we accept that a photograph is both an object and an image, it is interesting to analyse, in a particular photograph, which side of this split personality takes precedence, which of these personae manage to grab our attention, or are we looking at something that is inherently and irrevocably schizophrenic? Like a stopped clock that is right twice a day but only for an indistinguishable second, this conundrum leaves us dangling in an ontological and temporal limbo, it’s only rescuer the prompts of intuition. Consequent upon which side of this split our interpretation falls when viewing Ebru Erülkü’s Ravens Flying Upstream, 2005 we might or might not be viewing, rather than a photographic image, a retrospective painting of The Great Fire of London, with St.Pauls Cathedral standing defiantly against the conflagration that seems to lap against its stone bulwarks. This image, that has suffered a catharsis of its own, stripped of its nascent analogue identity, has been digitally dressed up to kill all the expectations that such a stereotypical view of London might invoke. We could be looking at a Roger Fenton print of London from the 1850’s here - cloudy through entropic decay - whose sepia tones have been ignited by the white heat of technology, metamorphosing it from antique object to contemporary image. Alternatively, to bring its hypothetical origins more up to date, it could have risen from the tomb of that currently neglected genre, ‘pictorialism’, from the Edwardian era. This was a time when photographers such as Alvin Langdon Coburn, Hugo Henneberg or Vladimir Jindrich Bufka were offering their hazy, utopian visions of landscape and city alike, in response to the French Impressionists, whose utopian renditions of reality were being painted in response to the rise of photography as purveyor of ‘visual truths’. These rituals of parry and counter-parry between the practitioners of painting and those of photography continue right up until the present day - witness Erülkü’s distinctively painterly interventions here whose mien is the product more of a cumulative process than the photographic moment.
Ebru Erülkü, a stranger to London in 2003, did the usual grand tour of the tourist sites and sights. She then felt moved to release these places, such as the London Eye, Tower Bridge, and St.Paul’s Cathedral from those visual prisons of ubiquitous post card images that so efficiently rob them of their individuality and their history. Using analogue photography she has digitised the resultant images, has given them a thorough re-working with the help of ‘photo-shop’, coaxing them to bleed into a utopian, and sometimes dystopian, impressionistic world of fantasy.
Some of these photographs soothe, some threaten, as the demeanour of her oeuvre hovers and oscillates between the painted worlds of J.M.W. Turner and John Martin, between the sublime and the abject. Ominous skies that promise the worst that global warming can unleash, are relieved only by pools of dazzling apocalyptic light. In Erülkü’s, Blackfriars Bridge, the City of London perches precariously on the arches of the bridge, as the Thames below lures our gaze through its luminous skin (the ripples transformed into a velvet integument through the effect of long exposure), into its Stygian depths beneath. This image, set in cold monochrome, but riven by the radiant red elements of the bridge’s pillars and girders that glow in the dark, is user friendly only to the gothic phantasist, and is a document to none but the most inveterate nihilist. Worse weather still is threatening to sunder all in its path in her image, Tower Bridge, here the clouds seem to have transcended the meteorological, they appear to be infected by Satan’s hordes as they gather and stoop menacingly down as if to snatch Tower Bridge from its moorings. A diabolical rather than a divine light seems to freeze and paralyse this scene with its fierce brilliance. This is not digital trickery for the sake of it, but a pushing of possibility’s envelope into areas that we can all cognitively manipulate - memory and imagination sparring to take a part - and as each and every viewer offers his or her own closure, we can create our own individual variations here, strike our own interpretive stance.
Why? Why should Erülkü wish to create fantasy scenarios out of standard panoramic views of London’s riverside scenes? To quote her, she hopes that “The absurdity of the image may make us question things or structures that we usually take for granted”. Not only do we grow tired of the familiar, but we tend to cognitively filter it out, push it to the periphery, ignore it. These timeworn scenes inevitably change by degrees, just as we ourselves change imperceptibly, but we have grown weary of the familiar facades and forms and we allow any changes to pass us by. When our expectations are rudely transgressed, however, in the way that Erülkü has done through the interpretive excesses of her images, we are obliged to take stock and re-invent (transform) our tired responses to their sources. She unapologetically, epistemologically, trips us up and charges us to get back to our cognitive norms whichever way we find easiest.
Roy Exley, London 07