Jakob in British Journal of Photography

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Jakob in British Journal of Photography

The December 2015 issue of British Journal of Photography features an interview that writer and photo critic Taco Hidde Bakker had with me about my project Jakob.

 

ACTING OUT

An interview with photographer Goran Turnšek about his project Jakob.

By Taco Hidde Bakker

 

In the mid 1990s Goran Turnšek moved to The Netherlands from

Slovenia to study modern dance and choreography. When he graduated

from the Theaterschool Amsterdam in 2000 he won the Philip Morris

Dance Award for his final show, but despite his success, and although

he’d built up his dancing career for more than a decade, he began to feel

dissatisfied with it. In particular he was disenchanted with the fleeting

nature of performance, so he turned to photography and its potential for

preserving the moment.

Studying at the Amsterdam-based Fotoacademie from 2011-2015, he

began to marry his love for image-making and dance, evolving an

idiosyncratic style which can be seen in his project Jakob. Inspired by his

late grandfather Jakob Emeršič, who was killed in a hunting accident in

1993, the project shows Turnšek re-enacting his grandfather’s gestures

in his former home; the book dummy helped him graduate with honours

from the Fotoacademie last summer, and was nominated for the Unseen

Dummy Award. Even so, for Turnšek, it’s not just a photographic project.

“I’m curious to whether the dance world would also be interested in this

work,” he says. “For me this is choreography too, except in the book

format.”

It’s also more than an intellectual exercise, because Turnšek was close

to his grandfather as a boy. “My grandfather had quite an influence on

me at the time of his sudden death,” he explains. “After his passing I was

determined to escape into dance and art. I was very driven to move on. I

had to win. Dance was already part of my life as I did ballroom dancing,

and my granddad was a tailor and made costumes like the tailcoats I

needed for dancing. Funny enough though, he never saw me dance.”

Turnšek was prompted to start making the images when his grandmother

Maria died; moving into his grandparents’ former home in Zabovci in

Eastern Slovenia, he tried capture both the place and the memories it

evoked. “I went back to photograph memories, as it were,” he says. “I’m

also interested in the smells of the place, how things feel like, such as

fabrics, furniture or the floor. I played a lot in this environment as a child,

it left traces not only on my retina but in the fabric of my bodily

experience as well.”

In dance these physical memories can be expressed but only for a

moment, photography can make a longer-lasting record, but it can only

show the way things look. For him, the solution was to mix the two. “With

dance one expresses everything through the body, but that body can

store a lot of past experience,” says Turnšek. “[But] to me dance is

limited because you show something within a very short timeframe.

Photography is a good medium to solve this problem.”

Through the series we see Turnšek dressed in one of his grandfather’s

old suits, doing everyday tasks such as cleaning, gardening, decorating

and getting ready for a hunt. There are eleven scenes in total, each

recording a mini-sequence of shots, which give the photobook the feeling

of a short novella. “Some photos show Jakob’s absence, but others are

much more staged,” says Turnšek.

“It’s important for me in the edit to show that the book’s not about me, but

more about me employing my body as instrument to imagine someone

else, just like actors do in theater. Because I was – or still am – a dancer

I payed a lot of attention to body language in these photos. Some of

Jakob’s movements are still clear in my memory.”

Turnšek’s face is left largely unseen, except for occasional glimpses

sidelong or in the mirror. He relied on camera timers and cable releases

to take the photographs from behind, sometimes getting his father to help

him out. “I’m not identifiable in the photographs in which I perform the

way Jakob stood or walked,” he says. “I quickly dismissed the frontal

photographs. It has to do with engagement too. When you could only see

the protagonist from behind, you’re not easily being drawn into the story. I

thought it’d be important to arouse curiosity to who that person is.”

For Turnšek this anonymity also implies a critique of dance, which

focuses on the movements performers channel rather than their own

personalities or ideas. “Dancers aren’t the goal in a performance, rather a

medium,” he points out. “It’s my personal struggle. Some dancers have

no trouble at all with their trained dance bodies, but I have to move on

with it. I’ve found a way to give my dance body a goal…so the project is

also part research into the anonymity of the dance body in general.”

“It’s a different way of working, more about movement from the one pose

to another,” he continues. “There’s no dancing here but the dynamics for

me were also in the working process – sometimes I’d run back and forth

from pose to camera and back to the pose which then worked out

differently.”

Turnšek found the suit he wears hanging in Jakob’s wardrobe; slightly too

big and somewhat wrinkled. It hints at the impossibility of fully

representing another. His memories of his grandfather are also fading, he

adds, so while some of his gestures are well-remembered, others are

interpretative or even improvised. “In the studio where Jakob worked I’ve

tried to reproduce movements I’d still had stored in my memory,” says

Turnšek. “[But] sometimes movements arose spontaneously.”

“Then there’s the scene on the balcony – I almost fell off it as a baby and

my grandfather saved me but, because I was too young to remember it,

it’s a scene I only know through stories. I tried to imagine and re-enact

how Jakob used his body to save me from falling down.”

Turnšek jotted down many scenes he could play out and record, but

quickly found he didn’t want to shoot them all. “Each room has its own

story,” he says. “It’s a big house with many rooms – more than eleven, but

for my story it wasn’t necessary to shoot a sequence for each of the

rooms. My questions was whether to make a Russian novel or rather a

novella. I had chosen for the latter and the rhythm of one day became the

thread for my book: getting dressed, drinking and eating, working in the

garden, and so on…”

The house is now up for sale, hence Turnšek is thinking about returning

to the idea to construct a sequence about his grandmother Maria before

the premises will be sold. “I think I’d like to play my grandmother myself –

in the vein of Cindy Sherman, or I’d ask my cousin whose body is similar

to my grandmother’s,” he says. “But I have to try out and discover if a

book about Maria really will bring something extra to the story.”

This interview appeared in print, in a slightly different version, in the

 

December 2015 issue of British Journal of Photography.