Vanishing Point

by W.M. Hunt

Van·ish·ing point, noun,

1. a point at which receding parallel lines seem to meet when represented in linear perspective.

2. a point at which something disappears or ceases to exist.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The artist sits. The music begins to play; it’s “Keith Jarrett at The Blue Note”, and the volume is turned up. The artist takes a seat on the divan directly in front of the speaker. He sits just so and listens intently. The writer follows suit. There appears to be some unspoken tea ceremony-like ritual to this. They are in the top floor salon in the artist’s Istanbul studio. They both listen.

After the music has established itself, the artist asks the writer if he notices how the lead shifts from the piano to the bass to the drums and back, artfully improvised.

The song is a classic, but it’s the jazz, the interpretation that the artist responds to, and this strikes the writer as how he approaches his photography.

Ahmet Ertuğ is the artist, and he seeks the sublime, which offers the possibility of transcendence, of disappearing. He loves architecture, Classic Roman and Ottoman and Byzantine. He trained as an architect and practiced as one for a number of years then gave it up for photography.

He is a formalist, and he loves structure domes and columns, and deep perspective, the way the eye speeds towards an unseen vanishing point, traveling to a separate dimension. He looks for and photographs places that are sacred and secular temples of splendor where he responds to the matrices of line, an extraordinary intersection of curves and vectors. The artist also likes the explosion of detail in decor: mosaics, frescoes and painted ceilings, ornate moldings and pilasters.

The artist, the photographer, makes his negative, a large one, 8 x 10 inches or 20 x 25 cm with a large format Sinar p2 view camera, a modern generation of his other classic antique cameras with dark wood housings and brass lenses. It weighs over 20 kilograms and must be unwieldy when combined with a tripod, both bulky and balky. With a light meter he sorts through the highlights and the shadows of the

space in front of him to find the medial reading to determine exposure time. He gets his reading then “adds a little”, finessing the work based on experience, imagination and intuition, like a baker who doesn’t time the cake but can smell when it is ready.

He looks at the focus to find the optimum spot. There is very little depth of field. This is why he likes to shoot down from above the horizon. He is ordaining the unique marriage between light and time and focus. It is all analogue, working just like his 19th Century predecessors.

Yes, it is film. The artist has more confidence in the old technology.

At the the back of the camera, the rectangle beckons, literally. The image is upside down, and he is under a dark cloth. He searches for fullness in the frame: magic and the balance. Sometimes it is uncanny, the symmetry. Click.

The exposed films are developed in France in one of the few labs still capable of doing this, and the results are returned to Istanbul. In the home studio these get scanned on a sophisticated drum scanner, and the analog film is converted to a high resolution digital image file. The raw image is fine tuned for color and contrast adjustments in the computer by his assistants to his precise description. They become the Keith Jarrett trio managing the colors and amplifying or muting the light, which will yield delight.

There will be a final scan that gets printed, mounted and framed or published in one of his lush, luxe books.

The finished image is a revelation. It fills the quadrangle exactly. He plays all the right notes, he weaves the perfect carpet, he fills the glass full to the brim, etc. You scan it with your eyes, registering the information of the piece: a library, a theatre, a mosque. You search the matrix: the interplay of angles, the curves, the perspective all meeting, and the details and the color drawing you in closer. Sometimes there are bold swathes of negative space. The viewer becomes conscious of how every inch of the image is accounted for. There is nothing random.

When the writer or the viewer encounter the final product the book page or the framed print, there is the initial impact of the work’s monumentality. The eye goes in low and to the middle and moves along the central axis. It scurries through, scrambling to devour the detail, the color and the line. We may discover a long library hallway, a domed mosque, or a theatre proscenium framing the view exactly.

This is unusual because most often the experience of looking is momentary, quick , like the shutter of camera. We see it, and we’re done. The experience here takes longer. It is meditative and considered.

Later the artist is eager to show the writer a special lens he uses. It is German, a 120mm Hypergon made by Goerz during 1910-20’s. The ingenious star shape fan in the center was designed to equalize the exposure from the center to the edges. It has a tiny propeller in the center of it that spins. This changes the optics; it prevents the light in the center of the image from flaring, from receiving too much.

It is ingenious. The artist is at work, seeking what Edmund Burke described as “an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling” 1

1 – Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1757.

See the complete essay here.