Creative Tracks Series - Beyond the platform : Özgür Atlagan

Özgür is part of Torun, a publishing house of photographic books in Turkey. He travelled to France to take part in the Cosmos Arles Books, with the support of the RCF/Creative Tracks mobility grant.
What is your professional background?
Before being a cultural entrepreneur, I was and still am a visual artist. I studied communication, design and cinema but my first profession is producing artwork. After finishing my MA in visual arts, in 2011 at Sabancı University, I produced works on my own and collectively. Now I also prepare my PhD in design.
How and why did you start your cultural venture ?
First of all, the book medium has many opportunities in terms of communicating your message and your work. There are not many independent spaces to show your work in Turkey. Book publishing is something that you can control from every stage: from publication to distribution. Making books nowadays in Turkey has a transgressive aspect because of the political crisis.
Our venture started through the independent space Torun in Ankara created by three colleagues, but after five years of activities they had to close down the space. Cemil Batur Gököçeer, who is a grantee of RCF, suggested to transform it into a publishing house, and then I joined him. The contacts and the network were already established and people around us were trying to make books, so we did it.
Can you describe the publishing sector in Turkey ?
The publishing sector is traditional in Turkey, meaning that there are big publishing houses that publish literature. But there are just a few publishing houses that are open to artistic books and their services are expensive for an independent artist.
Most of the time the artist has to do it himself so we decided to work together as a collective. There were many trials, some good attempts, some not so good. But we are trying to do it together as a community of artists and photographers.
What is your strategic approach to inserting your venture in the local cultural market ?
We had to build our own relationship with printing houses and establish our publishing house. The maximum number of copies that you can print is 1 000 to 5 000. These kind of books are characterised by a small print run so we need also to establish the distribution system. Most bookstores do not sell these books because they do not have the customers. So we sell them in meetings or in dedicated shops. These channels do not allow sustainability, this is why this kind of publishing houses is looking for other funding (institution, university, European funds).
What impacts do you anticipate at a local level ?
The impact would be that more people would be interested by this kind of production. We were talking about setting up a cooperative model so we can be a wider group and we can buy our own printing machines. The equipment is not easy to access and it is expensive. Moreover we would like to reach a bigger community of artists and then it would be easier to distribute this kind of books and create an audience with interactivity between the readers and the makers.
What are the next steps/hurdles for the development of your project ?
We are trying to complete 2 books and 2 others are are printed in small edition. But it is not easy to make a book, it takes a lot of time. The printing process is very complex. Mistakes happen. We went through a learning process. It would have been easier had we been trained on the printing process.
However the next big step is to create an online platform, so people can buy books, in particular from aboard. But this is mainly to show what kind of production is made in Turkey. We don’t have a store so this would be a display.
How do you include global exchanges in your development strategy ?
First of all we are open to publish international artists but before this step we need to stabilize our activities and be more organised at a technical level.
Then it is very important to go to international fairs, like the one in Arles, the one I went to thanks to the RCF grant. One of my colleague, Cemil Gokceer met a publisher in Italy who told him that he participates in 10 or 15 events a year. For the moment, this is impossible for us to do this because we do not have the funding to travel. We try to go to 3 or 4 events a year so we can meet publishers like us. Then we have this dream of doing a publishing festival in Ankara (not just about books, but also music, films).
Photography and photo imaging, Publishing and journalism, Words and books

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