Friday, 21 March 2014

Life without a lens: Sebnem Ugural"s pinhole photography

In a world where images can be taken and uploaded around the world in seconds,

Ugural’s pin-hole process seems neanderthal. The half a dozen beautiful,

ghostly photographs she shows me are the results of hundreds of failed

images. Depending on the light, she will sit for a self-portrait for up to

30 minutes before processing the film in her bathroom in her Hackney flat.

“Usually each photograph takes 45 minutes from start to processing”, she

says. “Sometimes I use two different cameras at the same time – but

generally I can create five or six images a day.”

When it works, as Ugural’s work demonstrates, the results are deeply

atmospheric and show all the marks of their creation: the beer can images

curve the surroundings they capture, a sunny day leaves a contrast worthy of

noir cinema.

When it doesn’t, it is a day wasted. Ugural once meticulously set up a camera

with 21 pinholes, with only two photos as a result. Smiling, she explains:

“You learn through the process, so your purpose becomes the process instead

of the outcome. What can I do? if it doesn’t come out it’s fine, I’ll try

something different.”

On a sunny day, an exposure will take two minutes to complete (Sebnem


Ugural is self-taught, which may explain her relaxed attitude to failure.

Originally from Eskisheir, Turkey, she has worked as a freelance

photographer since 2006, but moved to the UK in 2009 to complete an MA in

Human Rights. Ugural also volunteers for a number of NGOs, helping the

plight of women from different communities seeking refuge from war-torn

countries and domestic violence. Most recently she worked on the advice team

of Solace Women’s Aid, a grass roots charity in London, talking directly to

women in need on their phonelines, or sometimes just listening, she says,

“because sometimes there is nothing to say”.

This background resulted in her inclusion in the Spirit of Womanhood

Exhibition,. Organised by the Women’s Interfaith Network to celebrate their

10th anniversary, the show is on at London’s South Bank and includes

narrative pieces from women around the world.

Ugural’s work considers her studies, but reflects on womanhood by being a

mirror of herself, too. “I describe myself as a woman”, she says, “but I

like to take self portraits to understand myself better – not only

physically but psychologically as well”. The long exposure times capture

every movement of her sitting – from walking over to her pose after opening

the pin hole, to constantly adjusting her posture.

“Pin hole photographers have to learn how to be patient. Nowadays we are in a

rush all the time. But there’s an unpredictability of the photography”, she

says. “It’s like life, you don’t know what to expect.”

The process differs with every different camera and lighting condition

(Sebnem Ugural)

WIN’s Spirit of Womanhood is on at gallery@OXO on London’s South Bank



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