A type of magic: Serbest Salih on Sirkhane DARKROOM

The city of Mardin, in Southestern Turkey, sits just a few kilometres from the Syrian border, overlooking the Mesopotamian plain. Like many people living arriving into Mardin from Syria and Iraq, I first came from Aleppo in 2014 to escape the war. Being situated near the borders of both Syria and Iraq, the city has been a melting pot for people fleeing these conflict zones, as well as people from across the region: Assyrians, Iraqis, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians and Turks.

We founded Sirkhane DARKROOM in 2017 in order to find a way of empowering children living in region surrounding Mardin, many of whom have grown up surrounded by violence, poverty and war, with little or no access to cultural opportunities. The children are taught how to shoot, develop and print photographs. In doing so, they are able to tell stories about their lives and the world around them. Analogue photography is a universal language: no matter where a child comes from, they are able to express themselves.

In 2019, the darkroom became mobile, and I travelled from village to village all along the Turkish-Syrian border leading workshops with young children between the ages of about seven to seventeen. By 2020, when the pandemic started and children had even less access to education, this mobile element was critical.

Each time I begin working with a new group of children, I encourage them to take their cameras outside and explore their surroundings and imaginations. The children create stories, play out scenes, and really explore their imaginations within the space of the frame. I see how photography opens up a world of spontaneity, fun, and magic. These photographs show the world of the children as they truly see it: punctuated by play and surprise.

When I show the children how to develop their photos, I am always awe-struck by their reactions as they watch the photograph as it begins to appear on the paper. Many of them really believe at first that it’s a type of magic. But through practice and experimentation, this developing becomes as much of an important part of their learning as taking the photos themselves, giving them a technical and practical education.

When you look at these photographs collected together, you see children sharing with us true moments from their lives: moments inside their homes, with their friends, with family. These aren’t the photographs adults expect to see from children who have grown up surrounded by conflict; they aren’t photographs of trauma or sadness. Instead, they are a testament to the resilience of the childhood imagination, the healing power of photography, and the enchanting perspective of childhood.

Serbest Salih's text from i saw the air fly by Sirkhane DARKROOM.

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