Inside the Studio: Temel Nal
Temel Nal is a photo artist based in Munich, Germany who has refined an unique photography technique that allows him to “paint” brush-like strokes with his camera. Nal’s photographs show a glimpse into a new reality filled with vivid color that breaks the bounds of the traditional world. Since the beginning of Nal’s photography journey, the underlying tenet has been to free color from its form. Nal’s pieces truly reveal an expressive new reality that seeks to underline the dichotomy between nature and data.
The subjects of Nal’s photography have evolved over the years from focusing on subjects in nature to incorporating more technological concepts and objects in his work, thus allowing him to further explore the human condition in the age of technology. Although present in an age of new technologies, Nal does not utilize computer manipulation in any of his photos. All of Nal’s photographs are captured on camera with his special technique and he does not apply photoshop, touch-ups, or filters.
We recently connected with Nal to talk about his artwork and further explore his ideas regarding the relationship between nature and technology. We also got a first look at Nal’s latest series “Sultans of the Opera” in our conversation.
Read on to find out more in an exclusive interview with Temel Nal.
Your incredibly unique style creates colorful brush-like strokes in photos using only your camera. The photos take an everyday scene and show us a glimpse of a new yet familiar reality. How did you get into photography, and what inspired you to develop your own unique photographic technique?
-As a child, I was never interested in playing sports with other boys like soccer. It never interested me. I was very interested in painting though. Since I was a young man, I would always paint. I was really good at painting in school and I wanted to study it.
Later in life, when I got a job, I didn't have much time for painting anymore. I was becoming interested in learning more about photography though. I began to read a lot of books about photography that gave me different ideas on how I can work the camera because I had to paint an idea with my camera instead of a paintbrush. After two or three months of reading and many attempts of trying different styles, I found something I liked. It was fun to see that the technique I created worked and that I really could paint with the camera and discover new realities. There is no computer manipulation in my photos; it is all captured through the camera. I was excited and fascinated by the new realities that I was revealing through my work.
Are there any new camera technologies that you're utilizing in your work?
-With my style of photography, I could take these photos with an analog camera too. I don't necessarily need to stay up to date with the latest camera technology to maintain my work. I do, however, upgrade my camera maybe every six to eight years because I want to make larger photo prints. My first digital camera was a Canon EOS 300d, and at one point I couldn't enlarge the data enough to make the large-scale prints I wanted. I now use a Fuji medium format camera that allows me to produce really big prints without losing quality.
I have been utilizing new materials and props though in my work. Because I am not using Photoshop, new camera technology, or any computer manipulation, I have to utilize new materials that help reflect light. In my photos I am trying to break the bounds of light, and to produce these ideas, I have I use materials that are supportive of light reflection to support my technique.
Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck appear to be recurring subjects in your photos. Can you explain the characters' significance and story behind why you include them in your photos?
-Growing up, I watched a lot of Donald Duck, as I am a fan of Walt Disney and his characters. A friend of mine got a large Donald Duck figure for me and I had the idea to use it in my photography. I later found a Scrooge McDuck figure and was able to use them both as subjects of my photos and in my “DataWorldSeries.” I used a character who is usually associated with great laughs and fun to ask a question about the implications of the world of data that we are falling into. The idea of that series is to question how much AI and data are encroaching on our everyday world, so I used Donald and Scrooge as innocent entertainment symbols to question the threat of quickly advancing technology.
A very interesting aspect of your work is how you highlight the duality between nature and data. The subjects of your photos are printed on different materials depending on the subject of the photo. Can you go into detail about your decision to print natural subjects like flowers and nature on natural handmade paper compared to printing technological subjects on aluminum?
-Yes of course, I believe that the handmade paper transports the idea of nature more than aluminum. The delicacy and sensitivity of nature is reflected on the material it’s printed on, as the paper is more enveloping, therefore bringing out the sensitivity of the subject in a very precise way. Comparatively, more technical subjects are printed on aluminum which is very harsh on the surface. The aluminum stands for and represents the rapid advancing technology of the cold new world.
The Blue Lady Series marked a decisive change in your approach to photos. In the past you concentrated on natural surroundings for inspiration. Now, the human condition faced by a new age of data and tech has become a driving theme in your work. Can you speak about what motivated you to pursue the dichotomy between nature and technology?
-Just as life develops, so does my career. At the beginning, it was enough for me to find new realities and use the outside world as subjects in my photos. From my travels, going to events, and visiting cities, these subjects were enough for me to explore in the beginning. At one point I began thinking I needed something new. I thought about how quickly technology was changing the world around us and how we at times, as humans, think we are above nature. We may think that we are above nature and can control it, but I don't believe this is the case.
In the Blue Lady Series, I utilized different colored dresses like blue, red, and green to represent these ideas about humans distancing themselves from nature when faced with a data-driven world. The contrasting colors of blue and red dresses in the series represents the distancing of humans from nature. The use of green in this series was meant to represent Mother Nature and the importance of returning back to nature. Our digital world can give us immense opportunities, but there are immense dangers that we need to be cautious of in our future.
Do you have a studio in your home where you are able to capture and print your work? What's your studio like?
-I do have a studio in my home where I take some of my photos, but I take a lot of photos outside as well. My garden is like my second studio because there are vivid colors and lots of light which makes for some great photos. Without the powerful light sources, I wouldn't be able to free the color from its form in my work. Inside my home I have my studio with lots of lights too, but sometimes this space is not big enough. I have often rented studio spaces from other photographers or friends, depending on the project.
I do not print any of my work myself as I collaborate with successful printers around the world in New York, Germany, and Turkey to name a few. I work closely with printers in Munich for example to decide on the proofs we want to print and successfully create my images. I work with printers who only work with top international artists for printing in museums and galleries so they have a huge amount of top-level experience. They are always keeping up with the latest type of paper and informing me on the newest possibilities. There is a very close, symbiotic relationship with the printers at all times. It takes a long time to build these relationships with them, but I had a goal. It was a long process that took years but I remained motivated to work with only the best.
What inspires you to create and continue exploring your craft?
-My brain never stops producing ideas I want to explore in my work. I wish the day had 48 hours because I have too many ideas in one day, but not enough time to pursue them all. It can sometimes be frustrating that it takes so long to bring my ideas to life. For example, I wish that scheduling and gathering materials for photoshoots didn't take so much time so that I could explore more of the ideas I have. I have created entire new series just to pursue different ideas I've had. This constant flow of thought makes me feel young because I am always having new ideas and aims. Recently, I've found it very exciting to work with musicians because I love seeing how they approach creativity. I love collaborating with them and creating a new harmonious reality from our two very different worlds. I have also collaborated with street artists in Berlin to create works. I have loved bringing my unique technique into a very different world of art to create something entirely new.
Can you speak about the latest series you will be debuting soon?
I can tell you that my newest series called Sultans of the Opera is in the works and will debut in the next few weeks. My newest goal is to work together with more musicians, and this series is in collaboration with artists at a music festival in Germany called Music for the One God. This festival seeks to unite all religions through music, which truly resonates with me. In the same way, I think that everyone should drop all the boundaries separating one another and become united. The theme of this series reflects the need for coming together, the East and the West, the Occident and the Prient. This is a topic of great importance to me, especially with everything that’s happening in Europe at the moment.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists who are looking to develop
their own unique style and voice?
-All aspiring artists should find their own way to express themselves. They should be curious and open to new ideas and themes.
We’d like to mention a special thanks to Paula Domzalski for the translations.
You can learn more about Temel Nal and follow his journey via these links: