Profiling Photographers: Emine Gozde Sevim

Pasted below is a letter that serves as the introduction to Emine Gozde Sevim's "Homeland Delirium", which won her the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund in 2015. 


This is the hardest letter to write.
Words can’t do justice where justice has been abolished.

I try to hold onto my memories with photographs. It is the only way to paint this phantasmagoria we’ve been living in. Their prose born out of abstraction, to photograph is the only way I know how to exist.

As though forcefully we are being awoken from a dream, the more lucid we become, the more we face a nightmare.

Time loses all its sense. From one day to the next, I no longer know the difference.

In the stream of photographs, I wander through the landscapes to belong. The more I want to belong, the more I am estranged. The more, still, I fall in love.

My heart palpitates with the sound of the leaves in a city with seven hills. Like all loves, at first we give ourselves to a child’s innocence forgetting all the pain we felt before. Wanting to believe is perhaps man’s worst enemy.

Soon after, the fog surrounds us.
We retrieve as a matter of survival.

We begin to accept that we don’t belong in this world we are born into.
We are still kids.
We can’t stop believing nonetheless.

We continue loving behind curtains, under the covers.

Snow covers the hills once of our beloved city not long ago.
Even the snow doesn’t visit us much anymore.

As it melts, everything changes again from what we know.

My time comes again.
I wander to places once again in search of some hope.

I traverse mountains and valleys. I touch the borders of forgotten people.
Dire landscapes, I find, still have hope.
I, in need of it, breathe it in.

But time doesn’t wait for us.

Soon after change comes again. Hundreds die in the bottom of the earth.
Every time hope appears in our sight, someone turns off the lights.

We are too young. The length of this struggle is beyond us.

Still I mark frames of things I want to remember. I am gone once again.

Ring of the telephone leads back to the images and a dark night begins.
Someone once again turns off the lights.

I keep going forward and backward to catch my breadth.
Hundreds die, again.

We wake up the next day in a different world. There landscape is painted with green and red. Bridges that once connected us become landmarks. History is dismantled. No longer can we ask the question of belonging. This feels like the longest night.

From ashes we rise as though all that came before never happened.
Is this just another attempt to believe?
Myth surrounds us.

Beneath our new shirts we bear scars but we can’t dare to speak. All we need is some time, simply some time.

This pain is as old as our history.

We can’t stop believing but my heart now lives in fear of the ground beneath me dissipating forever. I fear I won’t be able to fall in love again.

My memories now seem so far away, and my photographs a lie.

I, like you, get chipped away in a world that I no longer recognize, to which I feel I no longer belong.

Desire endures.
Desire takes over.

Summer days begin to hold more rain than before.

The World finishes its tour and nothing changes for the better.
The music in our heads is nearly silenced.

Let them talk what we can do in our privacy, or what we can’t while tourists travel beneath the sea.

When all things turn quiet at night, and time feels still, lives are those built upon exception as we continue spinning towards delirium in each other’s arms.


Emine's ongoing body of work about the Middle East has been featured in many international exhibitions, as well as winning numerous other awards and recognitions. She was listed as one of the 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch by PDN in 2016.

Gulf Photo Plus: The introductory text to Homeland Delirium is described as a letter. Rather than explaining the project, the letter is a deeply personal account of a country struggling with change. Can you put Homeland Delirium into context? Why was it important for you to document the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul?
Emine Gozde Sevim: I didn't set out to photograph Gezi protests. I was in Turkey and at a moment that seemed so much larger than me as an individual. So first, it was an intuitive approach to understand it. Photographing is the only way I know how to process what goes on around me. In this way, more than a photographer or a documentarian, I see myself as a storyteller of times we are living in because it is the only way I know how to survive as an individual. For this, I believe finding photography saved my life. I will never fully understand it but at least I can ask questions in the trenches through being there. Of course, then, when things happen, we have a choice to go there, or not. For me, it is out of curiosity. It is out of engagement. It is not protests but life, and living, that I care about. Overall with this work, and so far with all the work I've made, I've tried to tell this existentialist story. I've heard plenty of discussions about my work, about its nature, that it is political. It is neither me, nor my work that is political but it is the nature of times we are living that I capture that are inherently political that comes across. So for me, the context of the work is two dimensional in one way, yes, it becomes a document of today but on the other hand, it is a document for the future, a window into the past about scenes of this surreal world, and in the case of Homeland Delirium across the geography of Turkey of the past few years.

GPP: We're especially interested in the interplay between text and image. The letter is poetic, the images are almost surreal. How do you understand the relationship between text and image in this series?
Emine: One of the things I struggle with the most, because I find it key to setting the tone of the work as a whole, is the dimensions of it. Photographically speaking, this could be framing. What is inside and what is outside of the frame. Or for instance whether it is in color or in black-white. With words, it is more difficult, especially in documentary photography. Do we give plain information? How much can we employ words before text becomes too didactic to accompany the photographs? Can text and photographs dance in an unspoken harmony? I believe I can't plan any of these choices from before starting the work if I want to stay sincere, and vulnerable, in the process. It is always an unknown determined by the content. And this is the point I understand about the artist's pain that has been talked about for centuries. The process of creation is consuming, full of heartbreaks and rejuvenations along the way. And as individuals, I find, I have no control but simply I need to let what has to come out, pass through me and come out.
 
GPP: Homeland Delirium won you the Magnum Emergency Fund Grant in 2015. How did this award help you to continue exploring the socio-ethnic fabric of Turkey?
Emine: Magnum Emergency Fund Grant first gave me at least some of the means to go to an area of Turkey, the southeast. And only in the aftermath I realize even more that this was a big chance at the time that it happened because now the places I photographed then were living the last moments of peace as weeks after my departure the peace process was broken. Not only working in current conditions would be nearly impossible but for me the photographs I was able to make there during this time gained even more value as last traces of peace. 
 
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