Photographer Serbest Salih teaches vulnerable communities how the act of documentation can help them to process their own experience.
As the Director of Sirkhane Darkroom, photographer Serbest Salih teaches young people from vulnerable communities – many of them refugees – how to use cameras to process the world around them.
In 2014, Syrian photographer Serbest Salih graduated from Aleppo University and moved to the city of Kobanî, where he began working in the field for a number of different humanitarian organisations.
The work, however, was short-lived. That same year, Islamic State launched an offensive on the Kobanî Canton region, displacing Salih and hundreds of thousands of others as they fled across the border into Turkey to escape the violence.
He eventually settled in Nusaybin, in Turkey’s southeast, an area itself familiar with conflict. For the next few years, he continued taking photos for humanitarian groups, before, in 2017, he became involved with Sirkhane Darkroom: a photography school for vulnerable children of Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish origin.
“In Sirkhane Darkroom, children learn how to take meaningful photos, develop photos and print them,” Salih says. “They learn how to create beauty and joy out of darkness of their past and present.”
Salih, who is self-taught, now serves as the Darkroom’s Director. He knows better than most just how beneficial photography can be when it comes to understanding and processing the world. His aim is to provide a new generation of young people – many of whom have encountered violence, displacement and poverty – an opportunity to experience that too.
While the project began at a fixed location in Nusaybin, Salih was able to take it mobile at the end of 2019, meaning that he can access a number of different communities in southeastern Turkey – close to the Syrian border. “Now I can reach all children in need,” he says. “Every three months, I go to a new location where underprivileged and vulnerable children are living. I use photography and art as a language to [help them] discover and express themselves and their talents.”
Salih teaches all basic camera and darkroom skills, pushing students to go out and document as much as they can. He shares all of their work on an Instagram page that he regularly updates, as well as helping them print work so that they can show friends and family.
The school pushes students to think in new ways, encouraging them to embrace art as a way of narrating their experience. Salih points to how this can impact their home life, too. “Usually, culturally, they don’t allow girls to get out of the house freely. But after seeing the results and how talented they are, they start to support them. They [then] become the family photographer whenever father, or brother, or sister needs a photo.”
For Salih, it’s a case of providing children who would otherwise have little or no access to cultural activity an opportunity to create. As someone who has witnessed the horror of conflict first-hand, he recognises how important photography has been for him in coming to terms with what he has seen and experienced. The Darkroom is about telling different kinds of stories. “I believe children will change the world,” he says. “That is why, as Sirkhane Darkroom, we want to make a better place for all children.”
Donate to Sirkhane Darkroom so that they can continue their work.