Child photographers offer alternative glimpse into life on Turkey-Syria border

The world is often shocked by images of children in war zones, and the Syrian conflict has provided many. But in one photography school in south-eastern Turkey, not far from the border with Syria, the children are behind the lens too.

“Sirkhan Darkroom” is a school that offers film photography workshops for both local and refugee children.

Teaching digital photography could have been easier, as it does not require as much sophisticated equipment, but film photography gives far more opportunities to learn, the school’s leader explains.

‘‘Analogue photography is the departure point that helps children to know themselves better and to grow in self confidence’ says Syrian refugee Serbest Salih, the director of “Sirkane Darkroom” and a professional photographer.

In the classes, the children learn about all the elements of photography production and storytelling, such as the rules of composition, different aspects of working in the field, developing negatives and printing them in the darkroom. Children also have a camera for one week to work on their personal projects independently.

The school is mobile, moving from one area to another every few months. The classes are currently on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. The school director is now moving them online: next week he plans to send the cameras to children and give instructions via messenger application.

Sirkhan Darkroom was founded and supported by “Sirkhan”, humanitarian organisation whose mission is to help the most vulnerable children affected by conflicts and war through music and arts. An online collection of donations and equipment has been also launched for this project.

For the children from vulnerable social backgrounds, living in the region with the limited learning and cultural opportunities, this workshops becomes something bigger than simply training in visual arts, Salih explains:

“Children can improve coordination, concentration, social skills, and team work. They adopt universal values and develop healthier personalities.”

Sometimes, the children’s photography art is acknowledged by their consecutive families with the children being asked by adults to take their portraits.

The student’s projects have become a vivid documentation of life in eastern Turkey through the eyes of children, as they focus on the subjects they find the most remarkable.

An exhibition of work was held in the local museum in Madrin. Contrary to what you might expect, the photographs are full of children’s smiles. They don’t focus on the hardships of the refugee camps and vulnerable neighbourhoods, yet still offer insights into the locals’ life circumstances.

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