© Robert Rieger

Interview with Eylül Aslan

Istanbul born artist Eylül Aslan has started with photography at an early age as a way to escape the patriarchal system she was born in. Having been introduced to feminism and human rights by her politician and activist mother, she took on photography to express herself and created a visual world of her own. Her art has taken her to Berlin, Germany where she continued to live and work for 5 years until recently when she finally moved to Vienna, Austria.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a Turkish photographer, currently living in Vienna, Austria. I am the mother of a 2-year-old. I like going to the cinema, to the flea markets and sitting in cafés reading a good book. 

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Istanbul, Turkey and lived there for 22 years until I moved to Berlin, Germany.

Why and when did you move to Vienna?

Having had 5 years in Berlin I realized I wanted something different from the city I choose to live in. Getting pregnant has changed a lot in my life so I was thinking more about the future and decided that Berlin wasn’t for me anymore. When I started to think where could be my new city, it was automatic that it would be Vienna as my son is half Austrian.

How is the current situation affecting you and your work as an artist/creative living in Vienna?

If I am being honest, my daily routine has not changed that much as I have a 2-year-old, I am at home most of the time. He usually decides how our day is going to be like. So, it is nothing new for me to do things according to someone else's needs. Maybe that is why it has been "easy" for me to stay at home the last 3 weeks. 

We are lucky enough to be home, most people are not. There is so much financial inequality in the world that I can only hope such a global change will finally make some people realize we are doing some things wrong. And this experience can be seen as an opportunity to recognize our priorities, shop locally, show respect to nature and to take care of our personal hygiene, to support each other...

Naturally, I can't make any photoshoots and that is going to cause a decrease in my income but I am still grateful to live in a country where the government at least tries and support the creatives. I have usually shot at home also, so I simply continue doing that. 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in photography?

Everything happened kind of out of my control actually. It was never my intention. I felt stuck growing up in our patriarchal society and I, for example, could not just wear what I wanted to in public (I mean a basic short skirt etc.) and at home I did that and took photos of myself. With the help of the internet I was able to share my photos with others. And people who were already in the business wanted to help me out so I started working as an assistant and then one thing followed another…But I would say the motivation to express myself and to feel free was what made me take photos in the first place.

How would you describe your creative process?

I usually take photos when I see something that I like. But sometimes I get ideas and then I take notes in a little notebook I carry around, and when the time comes I take those photos. I hear often that my photos look very staged, as if I had a lot of preparation before but usually that is not true. I take whatever is available to me. I really enjoy photographing myself and people I actually know. I shoot on film but also digital. 

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

Yes, it definitely does! As I always work with daylight, it was a big challenge for me to take photos in Berlin because it was usually cloudy and dark there. Now living in Vienna, this is not really a concern of mine as it is usually bright and sunny. In Istanbul I never had that problem. And I am a very sensitive person, very emphatic and if people around me are happy in general I can work better myself. Living in Vienna has made me realize that much more. In Berlin it usually felt like people were not so happy with their lives, it felt more like everyone was in a transition, looking for something, not so certain about their lives.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Vienna? 

Well, the foreigner’s office is taking incredibly long to issue a working visa for me, so that is a big challenge. It is really insane how slow they are. It has been almost 4 months since I gave my papers. And also finding models (in the streets) is not so easy. Whenever I see someone interesting that I would like to photograph at another time, so I give them my card and nobody has contacted me so far. In Berlin people were much more open-minded to such projects I think. So, if you are reading this and you are in Vienna, contact me :)

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Vienna?

I would say so, yes.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

Yes, I think so. But it is also about working together with city councils. For example, instead of having ugly advertisement posters in the city they could work together with artists and art would not only have to stay in museums or galleries and could reach everyone in the streets.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

My latest photography book Trompe L’Oeil (which is about the perception of beauty ). For my project I met 20 men on Tinder and I asked each of them which parts of their own body they felt were the most beautiful and which were the least. I also asked them to do the same for my body, and photographed all the parts. 

In the future I am planning on doing two projects about Turkish restaurant culture, it will be more documentary photography than what I usually do.

If you could add or change something about Vienna, what would that be?

I would want to have many more cafés and restaurants that are international.

Describe the perfect day for you in Vienna.

Sleeping in, waking up by myself after a good night’s sleep. Having breakfast in a café, sitting on the schanigarten (which is where you sit outside, it is a terrace instead of cars parking on the street) drinking good coffee, reading a book. Seeing some exhibitions, having a small snack at Trzesniewski in the 1st district. Then maybe meeting a friend and going shopping for some vintage clothes or furniture at a flea market.  Having sushi for dinner and then going to a concert or to a bar and then maybe going dancing.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

I would really like Torbjørn Rødland to photograph me. Other than that I think the list of people I would like to photograph is really long…

What do you do to switch off?

I lie in bed and think of watching a cloudy sky and the clouds are slowly drifting away.

What Does Home Mean to You?

I am not entirely sure what home means to me, I think I am still struggling with that question as I have had three different countries and cities. It feels like all of them have parts of me and so many memories that everything blends in together somehow…But maybe what home means to me is to be able to lie down in a bed and immediately fall asleep feeling safe. If I have that somewhere, then that’s home.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Vienna evoke a personal smell to you?

I may be a bit too fresh in Vienna to already choose a smell for it. I would say Istanbul has for me the smell of the sea, Berlin smell of Döner.

What is your favourite time of the day?

Oh, just right before sunset.

If you weren’t living in Vienna and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

There are so many places I still haven’t visited…but from the ones I have, I would love to live in Tokyo! And that’s because I love how the city is so crowded, yet not chaotic at all. And people are extremely polite even when it is jammed. I love Japanese food and tea. I love the fashion style of the people of Tokyo. And it has a lot of vintage stores.

city window views

A personal view of the city during these current times

See Eylül Aslan's citylikeyou profile page here


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