Children between the ages of five to eighteen living in Mardin and producing analog photography get their star turn in Istanbul at Kalyon Kultur.
Her Yerde Sanat Dernegi (Art Anywhere Association) was set up in 2012 to offer kids from varied backgrounds ––Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and refugee children–– an artistic meeting platform.
According to the Sabanci Foundation which selected them in 2018 to their Changemakers programme, it was founded in 2012 by Pınar Demiral and her friends, including Serdal Adam.
Serbest Salih, 27, is a Syrian photographer who attended Aleppo University between 2012 and 2014. Because of the war in his homeland, he sought refuge in Turkey and has been in the country for about six years, having made Mardin his home.
According to Salih, “the association aims to make the lives of children and youth in the area more beautiful and more meaningful by taking the peaceful, harmonious, happy and open minded nature of childhood.”
Moreover, the association “tries to reduce the effects of fighting, war and poverty on children and offers them social support by arranging activities.” These activities are carried out via three entities: Sirkhane (the circus school), Muzikhane (the music school) and Darkroom (the photography school).
Serbest Salih is the director of the Darkroom. The Darkroom, once set up in the Istasyon neighbourhood in Mardin is now a travelling photo workshop.
Sixty children who have attended workshops of the Darkroom are now participating in a group show called ‘Bir de Buradan Bak’ (Look at it This Way, an invitation to adults to see things from a child’s perspective). The exhibition will run through January 3, 2020 at Kalyon Kultur in Nisantasi. It can be visited every day except Monday from 11 am to 9 pm.
The exhibition is curated by Sezgi Abali and Sinan Eren Erk. Talking to TRT World, Abali says the pre-selection for the show was made by the children, and that they received fewer than 200 photos.
Abali and Erk reduced the number to around 100 photos, and divided the photos into four categories: Home, Stranger, Together, and Amidst. “We didn’t do the hierarchical curatorial discourse; we allowed the photos to ask questions as the children tried to make sense of the world around them.”
“We achieve being in the moment best when we are children, without travelling into the past or future,” the curators say in a written statement. “In this magical frame dreams and reality can easily come together. The memory of a childhood toy, a song we’ve heard when we were little, a moment of reflection in the mirror, and maybe a patchwork of moments like a dream whose beginning and end we can’t remember all become equals on paper and take on different meanings for each of us. They are amidst crowds but are unique.”
“In order to be a good photographer,” Salih says, “one must learn analog photography first.” It was with this thinking that he set up the Darkroom in Mardin in 2017 in the south of Turkey with a friend, giving workshops to kids whose ages range from five to eighteen.
The Darkroom is an analog photography studio supported by people and private aid organisations such as Germany’s Welthungerhilfe which helped for the first 10 months.
The kids receive analog cameras and black and white film, and set about taking pictures of their daily lives and whatever interests them. They come from varied backgrounds: there are Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and refugee children who take part in these workshops.
“During the pandemic,” Salih says, “we couldn’t hold workshops in person anymore but we still continued online with the children.” He says the workshops cover basic information such as analog film, composition, framing and the like.
The kids take a camera and b&w film, shoot for a couple of weeks, then come back to the workshop and tab the film. Some of them learn how to make pinhole cameras.
Salih says the reason he wanted to hand out cameras to kids and bring them together via art is because he realised they weren’t interacting at all. “I wanted the language barrier to be insignificant,” he tells TRT World.