The Visual Memory of Resistance: Visuals As a Means of Confrontation


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Osman Baran Özdemir- a Boğaziçi alumnus, capturing the Boğaziçi Resistance through his camera told us the visual memory of the resistance. 

During the Boğaziçi Resistance which began on January 1, 2021 just after the trustee rector’s being appointed to Boğaziçi University, we have witnessed striking protests and injustice exposed  within the media, through visuals and videos. Then, what visualizing or recording the resistance means? 

We talked to Osman Baran Özdemir- a Boğaziçi alumnus, capturing the Boğaziçi Resistance through his camera about the visual memory of the resistance. 

“An Effort Into a Robust Memory”

Why is visualizing the resistance and capturing it visually/audio-visually important?

To give both personal and practical answers to that question is possible. On the first day of the resistance, I was there with my camera as an impulse. From the first day, we could understand that being present there with cameras might have different functionalities, especially considering that  the media’s entrance to the campus was banned. Since we have previously known the importance of producing visuals which can be circulated  in the media and the social media, from the preceding resistances, I can say that we decided fast to take the liberty of  circulating the audio-visual productions.

What is the purpose of documentation through visuals? Is it either to communicate the happenings inside to outside or to document them for future use?

We aren’t just making audio-visual documentation, indeed. Beginning from the first days, all the statements of various components, initiatives and already active aggregates within the university, the banners as well as the pieces written for reporting are documents. On the other hand, because of the ways they are exhausted and the speed they are circulated, we usually need to circulate them by making their visual copies. Certainly, here the important thing is to impart the happenings inside to the outside.

While we were shooting, we eventually met people who we trusted and could trust and also internalized both identities of a protester and a recorder. At that point, it became a mutual agreement to be captured during the protest: it brought about a discussion on the appearance we would present to the outside as well as our representation and also produced materials which exactly documented the decision-making process itself.  Each of the documents we produced to convey to the outside put on record the effort to maintain the resistance. Even though our goal was making productions for communicating to the outside, I think our genuine ground was the effort into a robust memory. 

“The most difficult thing for me is distance”

So, what is the importance of visuals in respect of generating a memory? Is it making a chronology, remembering or confrontation?

One of the great effects of the intense course of events was actually having no time for interpreting what we feel, what we experience and how we react while pushing ourselves to go on. It might be because sights and sounds have an effect directly evoking different  moments and feelings, so that every time we look at the photos or videos produced during some time in resistance, I observed that we often begin to share that particular moment, the moment before and after with strong emotions which we rarely feel. To approach the situation with a broad and distanced framework provides some distance which enables us to analyze and confront what we have experienced. 

Personally, when the moments I have involuntarily captured- pertaining to the dailiness of the resistance, suddenly appear after months and get shared among us, they make us remember how strong we are. At the same time, it shows us that vulnerability has no weakening effect. The most exhausting aspect of our lives’ passing, for the most part, through maintaining the resistance and being affected by it is our attempt to hide our personal experiences. I want to believe that each and every audio-visual material paves the way for a sharing environment, broadens it and does good to us. I suppose, one of the fundamental elements of archivism is the impulse resulting from that.

The resistance dynamically changes every day. How about documenting such a changeable thing?  Are there any difficulties, facilities or opportunities unique to that?

During the process of documentation, the most difficult thing  for me is the distance. As an individual- being both a protester and  a recorder at the same time, to maintain the protest through keeping a certain distance and to keep a balance between the two is an effort I have attempted for months as well as doubted its success. That is why I have materials in my personal archive,  recorded  nearly from the viewpoint of a protester and a journalist at the same time. 

The distance issue also varies according to the place we are in. When we learned that we were already blacklisted while we were afraid of being blacklisted within the campus, to reduce or increase the distance as we like became easier. While the protests continue in the streets, you see that the distance is not up to you. Since I didn’t have a press card and  I could not easily transition from one little sphere to the other present in the area, I had to be more careful. We already saw that the press card does not solve all the problems or counteract violence and detentions. When the course of events as well as the presence of police and private security reached an unpredictable level, because of the need to change your location immediately, the records I had during the resistance deeply affected the point of view I had with regard to recording in general.

Focusing your camera on somebody who is also recording you…”

There have been visuals which got reactions. I have a question about the purpose of visuals: Is it propaganda or journalism?

I realized that at the beginnings of the resistance, rather than having the intention to use my archive for a particular purpose, I had more simultaneous and reactional records, yet even those could be categorized as  “usable scenes.” At some point, you have the capacity to nearly envisage which scenes draw the attention of the media and the public. Instead of running after those very moments, I am trying to focus on the reality and also what the protest itself wants to spotlight. 

On the other hand, documenting the violence, torture and right violations-whether it has been circulated or not, is inevitably a  protest because it will directly have its part in some sphere of struggle. Since any word presented through a frame includes some material which can be called propaganda, I am not especially considering that while recording. 

When we are about to circulate a material, I think we use some filter to reflect the soul of the day and the protest. I suppose journalism and propaganda intertwine with each other and make the metanarrative of the resistance. To sum up, I can say that we don’t make any special effort for propaganda, since the news itself internally contains the struggle and the right violations,  that meaning/medium is likely to form itself by itself.

You are mostly on the recorder’s side. In the meantime, you are also being recorded. For instance, when the police make a record within the area. What do you think about that?

Especially at the beginning of the protests, given that both the police and we were recording, we had to communicate as well as make feel to others in some way that we weren’t civilian police as well as wouldn’t misuse the documents. Even just the presence of the camera was disturbing.  The most frightening thing for people there was that those scenes might be used by the state in some way. On the other hand, we realized that it could be a delusion. At that point, we understood that we should be careful about recording without harming our friends’ privacy and also organize the public circulation respecting that. 

Directing your camera to somebody recording you is a way to show that you are there and you also see the one who sees you. Surely, you can’t face up to any police, display their scenes and say that you are there but overcoming the perception that only the government has the monitoring part, revealing the archive of the government and expressing publicly under what conditions those scenes were being used in investigations and trials are of paramount importance.

As long as we know that our struggle is right and we are sure that archiving contributes to our memory and experience, I can say that recording is not a concern, rather it provides some material which we can juggle and ridicule.

Are there any future plans for  the visuals of the resistance?

We- as people already recording in the area and knowing each other, have no such an attempt but obviously we have the intention for it. In addition to that, considering people whose recording we weren’t aware of, we are left with an archive project which we don’t exactly know where to start. On the basis of my personal archive, I am trying to imagine what such a memory looks like and how it can be categorized, yet the best way for it is to work collectively and acknowledge the scenes we have.

The first work which I have tried to produce something by turning back to my personal archive and to acknowledge the memory was Atlas- the work I made for Altyazı’s video series called Aşağıdan Yukarıya. It was developed and shown together with Tanık prepared by H. Işık.  During the preliminary process of the videos/films, we have questioned how to deal with that archive and how we remember with as well as without the archive, however, we didn’t know yet how to integrate that material with experience in an appropriate way. That matter and also our intention to make efforts about it extremely inspire me. When we return to our archive, we have the opportunity to evaluate our experience by encountering materials the presence of which we aren’t aware of. When you face those scenes having a place within the archive, you feel that there are more scenes similar to them-waiting for being recorded and experienced.

*June 2022

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