Orhan Cem Çetin at Sanatorium



Orhan Cem Çetin, Breathless, 2014, fine-art pigment print.


In this uneven but mesmerizing exhibition of photographs, Istanbul native Orhan Cem Çetin explores the workings of memory and the shifting filters of perception. The title of the series on view, “Silver Planets,” refers to the silver bromide used in printing black-and-white photographs, and the works begin as what the artist refers to as “special snapshots”: black-and-white analogue photographs of singular moments in the lives of the people around him.

Digitally recomposing, collaging, and colorizing these images, Çetin imbues even commonplace happenings with a sense of mystery. Many works juxtapose seemingly unrelated details, leaving the viewer searching for narrative connections. Perspective is distorted, and faces are often invisible, falling outside the frame, turned away from the viewer, or obscured by shadow. The mood swings from sorrowful to celebratory, and from tense to quietly meditative, as in a picture of hands wrapped around a glass, or one of a vaporous cloud exhaled by a hookah smoker.

Lending these slightly blurred and grainy studies a ghostly quality is the artist’s inventive use of color. After transferring his compositions to paper, Çetin accents them with dyes while the print is still damp. The spills and pools of muted secondary colors, reminiscent of those in old hand-tinted photographs, highlight some visual moments and obscure others. Because the flow of the thin dyes is not entirely predictable, the results verge on lyrically abstract.

Despite this, and despite the range of events pictured—from a girl catching a bridal bouquet in For Me Only to a huddled group of young men wearing gas masks in Breathless (both 2014)—a political tone prevails. It is particularly evident in an image of a crowd of people, their mobile phones held high, that might well have been taken at a rock concert. The work’s title, Stop, and the gallery’s proximity to Taksim Square, however, suggest that the true subject of the picture is the recent protests at Taksim Gezi Park.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 108-109.

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