A few years ago, we featured Sirkhane Darkroom, a photography project led by Syrian photographer Serbest Salih. Its aim is to help and support children affected by war and violence find healing through analogue photography workshops. "I believe photography is a powerful tool for self-expression, especially for children who have had to leave their homes and maybe suffering post-traumatic stress from their experiences."
Sirkhane Darkroom refers to the workshop project; Flying Darkroom, on the other hand, is the ongoing fundraising campaign for the mobile darkroom. This enables the team to travel from one village to another so that they can conveniently hold the workshops to as many children as possible. However, there is no funding for this, and they constantly need supplies for printing and developing. You may find more details about the fundraiser here.
Recently, Sirkhane Darkroom also collaborated with MACK Books to create the photo book, I Saw the Air Fly, which Serbest talks more about in detail in this quick interview.
Hi, Serbest. Since you're doing on-the-go workshops, how did you cope when the pandemic happened?
We continued our workshops via online workshops with the support of German NGO welthungerhilfe and BMZ, but after the situation got better, we started our face to face workshops. With fundraising campaign donations, we were able to get a small caravan and we turned it into a mobile darkroom. Now we are travelling from village to village and making workshops with children.
Can you tell us more about the photo book in partnership with MACK Books? When did you start working on this project and how did it come together?
At the beginning of the pandemic, MACK raised awareness for our project and fundraising campaign, and we were constantly in contact with each other. Late in March, they proposed the collaboration. We were very excited about this, so I directly had a workshop with the children and I shared with them the idea of the collaboration. They were also very excited about it! Also, all the photos in the photobook were selected by the children.
The photobook was designed and worked on by really amazing editors: Liv Constable-Maxwell and Morgan Crowcroft-Brown (Editors of MACK). The photobook is about seeing through the eyes of the children and celebrating childhood. In these images, produced by the project’s young participants, the city of Mardin and the vast Mesopotamian plain beyond become a backdrop to the miraculous dreams, games, and discoveries which play out within the space of the frame.
In occasional moments, the war nearby is hinted at: a fighter plane enters the frame of an otherwise clear sky; a child peers out from inside a UNHCR box. But rather than reiterating scenes of suffering and trauma, these images depict their environment afresh through the unmistakable, wonder-filled gaze of a child: a vision punctuated by surprise and play, in which friends and family are captured mid-flight, upside down, leaning out of windows, and whimsically disguised.
Your experience working on this project must be very memorable, any favorite moments you'd like to share?
There are a lot of memorable moments—I’m always learning something new from children.
Support Sirkhane Darkroom and the Syrian children by donating to Sirkhane Darkroom. Follow Serbest Salih for more details about this ongoing fundraiser. You may also purchase their photo book through MACK Books.