Serbest Salih Reflects on the Past Year With Sirkhane Darkroom and Their Mobile Photography Workshops

Sirkhane Darkroom is a mobile photography workshop that teaches the basics of film photography to children in remote villages at the borders of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.

We last caught up with Serbest Salih, organizer and lead of the Sirkhane Darkroom, back in 2022 amidst their photobook launch with the UK-based publisher MACK BOOKS entitled “I Saw the Air Fly,” and right as they were preparing to expand into a mobile caravan to reach more communities. The photobook comprised of images captured on film from the various students of the Darkroom. In the year that followed, Sirkhane Darkroom partnered with even more collaborators and embarked on projects that further supported the workshop's initiatives and community goals: to provide creative opportunities through film photography for children who have experienced violence, poverty, war, trauma, and displacement.

These purposeful efforts undertaken by Serbest for the Darkroom have been internationally recognized and celebrated by GQ Magazine, naming him one of the 2023 Men of the Year. This recognition highlights the reach and impact the Darkroom has made and continues to make within various spaces, both near and far from where it started.

Two years later, we got the chance to catch up with Serbest. He told us what the past few years have been like for Sirkhane Darkroom as the initiative further expands and extends its reach to even more communities, introducing children to the magic of film photography.

Credits: Sirkhane Darkroom

Following a devastating earthquake that occurred in Southern Turkey in 2023, Serbest decided to pivot and redirect his efforts and fundraising initiatives to the earthquake and neighboring villages and communities affected, prioritizing the most impacted towns and children.

With the help of trusted partners, supporters, and international collaborators, Serbest was able to extend beyond his reach and reach these communities to conduct photography workshops via a traveling caravan and bring the Darkroom on wheels, now fully mobile. Moreover, several partnerships, collaborations, and efforts were made to support the progress and operations of the Darkroom.

Credits: Sirkhane Darkroom

Across 2023, Sirkhane Darkroom embarked on a partnership with Ithaque Darkroom, a Paris-based gallery, that aligned with their shared goal of empowering youth through analogue photography. This collaboration led to an exhibition: 'Blackbird,' curated by Esin Ayber, Marie Poupinel, and Alexandre Arminjon. The prints from this exhibit were available for purchase with the proceeds going directly to supporting Sirkhane Darkroom's initiatives.

Another print photo project in line with efforts to support the Darkroom was the project with Photobook Cafe and Rapid Eyes.

“This partnership isn't just about selling products; it’s about sharing stories—captured moments and narratives through the lenses of our young photographers. Every purchase directly contributes to the project's sustainability, fueling our ability to provide education, resources, and empowerment to the children involved.” - Serbest Salih

And another photobook was published by DoBeDo in 2022 entitled “Friends No Borders” which features photographs taken by the workshop students.

Credits: Sirkhane Darkroom

At the tail end of February 2024, a documentary short film by Asli Baykal shot on 16 mm, previewed for a week on Le Cinema Club. The film was also screened in MOMA NYC and featured by Kodak Shoot Film on their Instagram. The documentary captures the joy and curiosity of kids in Mardin, a Turkish town located near the Syrian and Iraqi borders, as they experience the analogue photography process in a darkroom. Capturing a motion picture portrait of how the children cultivate and channel their childlike wonder and creative curiosities through the simple yet transformational visual practice of film photography.

Credits: Sirkhane Darkroom

The Sirkhane Darkroom Caravan has been doing an incredible job in achieving their goal and philosophy of providing access to children to learn the ins and outs of film photography and analogue image-making. Every workshop starts with the Darkroom caravan parked within the community and serves as a homebase for the entirety of the workshop, allowing children, mostly between the ages of 8 and 15, to explore and experiment with this incredibly exciting and tangible medium – from browsing through the 35 mm and 120 film format cameras, to taking black and white film photos on their own, to self-developing and even printing.

Afterwards, they get to physically hold the photographs they've taken, show them to their friends and family, and ultimately share their unique perspective of the world — capturing authenticity in all its forms with printed frames that symbolize who they are, where they came from, what they hope and dream for, and all the emotions that come with that. Photography once again proves itself as a means of connection and communication. What’s a more universal language than that of photography?

Credits: Sirkhane Darkroom

Serbest has also shared how time has been a marker of growth for the Sirkhane Darkroom with the longer-term workshops (ever since expanding to the caravan!) resulting in long-term impacts among the students. Previous participants from the workshops who experienced it in their youth and are now in their adolescence have continued supporting the darkroom in their own ways. “We empower them further by offering training to become mentors and leaders within their communities. This initiative not only fosters their personal growth but also positions them as role models. Entrusting them with the responsibility to lead the project in their respective areas is a testament to their development and our belief in their potential to effect positive change.”

Credits: Sirkhane Darkroom

The opportunity to learn and cultivate a culture of growth never stops. Think of the moment "when the student becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the student." Serbest has shared that from all the workshops he’s done and from meeting all the children, he's learned invaluable lessons about photography and it’s meaning and nuances through them. “Each interaction has been a journey into a world of boundless creativity and fresh outlooks, shaping my understanding of photography. Their approach isn't limited by technicalities or conventions; instead, it's driven by emotion, imagination, and storytelling.”

Sirkhane Darkroom is looking to continue and reach even more communities in 2024. They’re always open to support and collaboration. Head on over to their website and Instagram page to see the official fundraising channels.

written by macasaett on 2024-03-16 #people #workshop #community #youth #35-mm #self-developing #black-and-white-film-photography

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