Hayal & Hakikat

by Cemre Yesil

The book takes the form of two booklets with archival photographs drawn from the photograph albums of Abdulhamid II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, depicting prisoners from the early 20th century.
Among Abdulhamid’s many interests were crime fiction novels. Abdulhamid II during the 25th year of his reign, ordered all murder convicts in the country to be photographed with their hands showing, in preparation for a planned amnesty. He has been moved by pseudo-scientific information he had read in a crime novel that “any criminal with a thumb joint longer than the index finger joint, is inclined to murder.” To this end, the photographs in the first wall (Hayal) show the subjects’ hands for the purpose of classification. Whereas in the second wall (Hakikat), we see chained prisoners who are all sentenced to death —having nothing to do with the amnesty in question.
The artist’s choice to leave the heads of the prisoners out of the frame, as if they had been cut off by the guillotine, could be interpreted as a brutal act. But in essence, this intervention is actually a gesture to save them; not to re-record their identities as criminals, discarding their crimes whatever they were, but rather to give them a second chance or even to give them back their freedom, and perhaps to try to forgive them. It is obvious that the “Dream” symbolizes the desire of these prisoners to be forgiven. “Fact,” on the other hand, reveals the actual circumstances of the prisoners. The fate of the individual prisoners, awaiting the judgement or forgiveness, remains unknown as no record of the Sultan’s verdict exists.
These photographs shed a comparable light on the troubling era at hand, where the line between ‘Dream’ and ‘Fact’ is often blurred at an alarming level. In a time of repression and arbitrary detentions, these images are like free speech written through history —a silent protest.
Hayal & Hakikat is dedicated to bright people who are arbitrarily convicted or had to depart from this beautiful land in these difficult times that Turkey is going through.