Necmi is a photographer from Istanbul who initiated the web-based project ‘The Image is You’. He invites people to email him private stories and concepts of identity transformation and then makes an appointment with them to shoot their photographs. He collaborates with people online until their concepts are ready, then he goes out and meets with them,...

Nesrin No'2 The Image is Me! 1996
© 2002

QUESTION: I am wondering if there is such thing as a private sexual fantasy? I think maybe there isn’t, since we are so influenced for instance, all of us, everywhere, through mass media, internet, television. I assume it is the same here. Sexuality, in an anthropological sense, is a sacred ritual that is passed over from generation to another, which cannot be changed very easily. But, right now with mass media, sexual images are changing very fast. I am curious to know, what kind of information you are getting from these people, are these private fantasies, or fantasies based on media images?

ANSWER: First of all, not all concepts deal with sexuality, but the sexual ones are mostly indeed inspired by media images; but people are still imagining themselves, not someone else, no matter what culture they come from. Of course, people see sexual images every day, be it on the internet or on television. But, the point there is, that someone else is creating the images, not themselves. But when they write to me, they do write what they feel, i.e. they themselves do the imagining about themselves. And the most important thing here is, if I had been talking to them face to face, they would never say the things they dare to write me. And when we finally meet they are relaxed, because they have already told me everything, i.e. they feel at ease with there concepts once they have been put into a written form. In the beginning, they are a bit hesitant with what they write, but after a certain while they feel comfortable enough to start to write a little more, then a little more and in the end, they have said everything. And then I say, “Okay, it’s ready, now we can shoot.”
When the creative part of the concept is ready, we sign a contract. It’s not that I’m concerned about making money, but I don’t want to have any problems later. For example, I don’t want them to come to the exhibition and say that they don’t want to have their picture in it.

QUESTION: It could be, too, that if one pulls out, then another wants to pull out too. You have to be strong with it.

Yes. That’s why what I want them to understand from the very beginning on is, that I’m not into shooting nice pictures or making fashion photos. So I tell them multiple times that the photo is not going to be a one-to-one realization of their concept. In other words, the visualization of their ideas is completely up to me. That’s why the contract is necessary.

QUESTION: Yes, that’s true. But, also, if people look at pictures of themselves, and they see how much they differ from the models, it can be very shocking, I think. Psychologically, it could be very difficult for people.

ANSWER: Yes, they have to take their risks, you know, when they sign on to the project. [laughs].

QUESTION: [chuckles] Yes, but what I think is great is that it’s a collection, so they are not alone in experimenting and contributing. And it’s not like you’re looking for the ‘facts,’ you’re not looking for a specific type of person, are you?

ANSWER: Right, it’s people in all kinds of styles and people in all ages; the only thing they have to bring along is to be open to the project, and if they are, they definitely should be in it. I leave them the entire responsibility for their own concepts. Every time a “model” is hesitant, I remind them that not me, but only they can know what is inside of them, i.e. the fantasy is theirs and it’s them who have the control over it and who can express it. You know, sometimes people are so enthusiastic when they see the website for the first time, that they write immediately. But then, after some mail correspondence with me, they start to think about it in more detail, and in the end, the final concept can in some cases be completely different from the first one they sent me. After fifteen or so mails, people gradually discover that what they are, and what they actually want to be, differ very much. The project simply calls people to look into the mirror, and to say what they imagine themselves to look like. And when they see the gap in between, they say that they can’t go on anymore, because they discover that their life has been permanently manipulated in terms of social, cultural, psychological and even political self-understanding. In other words, they find out that they are not at all what they actually want to or at least want to imagine themselves to be. And this makes them very unhappy and could in the worst case even kill their motivation for the project. But this project is neither meant to be a platform for social self-development nor am I meant to be a psychiatrist. Because that is a problem of different dimension, and can only be solved by the individual itself.

QUESTION: That is what I was talking about, that gap. I think that it’s also the gap between fantasy and reality, that’s the stronger gap. There’s the gap between reality and photo models, and there’s also the gap between fantasy and reality.

ANSWER: With photo models, for example, if I say, “Okay, you are the model, and I will design the concept for you,” then all of the responsibility is mine. In the end, you can blame it on me. But, in this project, it’s your own concept it’s your own ideas about yourself. You can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility, I’m just a model,” because you are portraying your own ideas and dreams.

QUESTION: Yes, but what you are doing is very challenging to people. In a way, I think I know exactly what you’re doing, because I guess I’ve been doing a little bit of that myself. I mean, I don’t do photography at all, but I have been doing a lot of email conversations with people about very private images. It’s very challenging for people to be visible with their sexual fantasies, to perform it. Although I think it’s challenging, I think this is really what’s going on right now with sexual imaging. The Internet is working as a kind of sexual identity engine, and it’s really powerful. What you’re saying now is that since you started there’s been a big explosion of interest. You have to go with that energy; that’s very important. But, I don’t think it’s easy, the whole process isn’t easy.

ANSWER: No, it’s not so easy, because sometimes I feel like a spy. For it’s not only an art project, it’s becoming more than that. I receive a lot of private information about a lot of people that I don’t know at all. Suddenly, they start to think of me as a best friend; they tell me things they wouldn’t even tell their lovers, husbands or whomever. In the end, they expect me to gather all that information together and to bundle it in a nice photo. Sometimes it is hard for me, because I feel uncomfortable to know all their secrets. Of course, when I started this project, I agreed to know their secrets, even though I can imagine that some of them are lies. But even if so, it still may be true that these lies are what they want to be.