Ebru Yildiz is a talented photographer from New York City and the co-owner of the photography studio Brooklyn Grain. Like most other female photographers, she has personally experienced moments of being mistreated because of her gender, however, also like most, it wasn't until she saw actual numbers about the gender gap that opened her eyes. It needed official statistics to make her aware of what is going on in this industry, like so many others. As important as that awareness is, it didn't change Ebru as an artist. She continues to shoot the way she used to and believes that at the end of the day, it is not her female perspective that shapes her work but her personal experience as an individual.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you first fell in love with photography, and how you started your studio, Brooklyn Grain?
I am a portrait and music photographer based in Brooklyn, I was born and raised in Turkey. Music has always been a big part of my life and when I moved to New York, I started going to shows. I was out so often that to give my presence in front of the stage a purpose I started carrying my camera with me and started making photos at the shows. I immediately fell in love with it. I eventually moved from shooting at shows to making portraits and wanted to have a space to shoot in and found the cutest space and that coincided with me starting freelancing full time. But of course, as a freelancer, you always have ups and downs. During one of the down periods, me and my partner Mitchell decided to rent out the studio to the other photographers who need a space to shoot in but doesn’t necessarily have big budgets to spend on studios. That is how our photo studio Brooklyn Grain started.
How is your life as a woman in the photography world?
Of course, there are many incidents that you encounter on a regular basis that are just plain ridiculous. Things like a security guard not letting me in the photo pit for a punk show while letting all these big burly tattooed guys in saying he didn’t think I can handle myself, because the show is going to be rowdy. But I just don't let those things get under my skin. I just continue doing what I am set out to do, in that case going into the photo pit. But to be honest, it is one of those things I have never thought hard enough about up until recently. Mostly because I was just so focused on doing my thing and was not paying attention who is shooting what or who is getting assigned what. It took me a long time to call myself a photographer and when I did, I was just happy to be ‘a photographer’. When Women Photograph started putting out numbers showing the ratio of photos between men and women, that just stopped me in my tracks. The huge gap between women and men photographer is super real, documented and calculated in numbers and presented you in percentages.
There are not as many female/non-binary photographers that are brand ambassadors, not as many bylines. You see big photo festivals that are filled with male photographers, agency websites representing mostly men. It is not because of the lack of female photographers. There are so many. I can tell you for a fact there are so many of us. I just don't think overall female photographers are being given opportunities to advance in their careers.
Having said this, I also would not want to get assignments or jobs because I am a woman from Turkey, I want to get assignments because I am a good photographer.
Could you share any notable struggles or challenges you have experienced when you were still starting out photography/opening your studio? What challenges do you encounter now and how does it compare back then?
I feel like most of my struggles are internal. I am hardly ever 100% satisfied with the work I have done. I always think there is room for improvement and the same goes with the studio. That means to be on your toes all the time, and I think that is what pushes you do better. Of course, getting your name out there is always a challenge when you are starting out. Especially in a city like New York City where there are so many of everything. So many photographers, so many musicians, so many photography studios, just so many of everything. Standing out among them is the very first challenge. But it is not about being better than other photographers or other studios.
How do you overcome these challenges?
Trusting your guts, and working hard.
What motivates you to continue doing what you do?
I just love what I do so much! I feel incredibly grateful to be able to shoot. There are still so many new people to meet and photograph. I am obsessed with light. There are infinite possibilities. The more I learn about light, the more it becomes a mystery.
Who do you look up to or draw strength from?
I think there are so many people I look up to but I can tell you that I draw strength from the fact that every one of us is so unique. We are all a result of the sum of all our experiences, friends, family, people we meet. There is a famous quote by Ansel Adams. He says: You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. I feel it is so true. There isn't any other person on earth that could see what you see and the way you see it. There is something so thrilling about that.
Sex and gender should not be the basis of someone's place in art and photography. What would be your advice for girls and women who are still starting out in the world of photography?
Work hard, be persistent and never give up.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on this year’s International Women’s Day theme “Balance for Better”?
Gender balance is not only a women issue. We all have to do our part to make sure the gap gets smaller and eventually non-existent.