An intimate portrait of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Berlin

An intimate portrait of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Berlin
Turkish-born photographer Samet Durgun discusses his collection of portraits of queer refugee and asylum seekers seeking to build a better life for themselves in Germany.

Samet Durgun discovered a love of portraiture more than 20 years ago after first picking up the family camera to photograph his younger sister. “Since then, taking pictures with people came to me organically with whatever camera I had in hand,” he says.

A few years ago, Durgun’s friend encouraged him to purchase a camera of his very own, launching him on a quest. “I went deep into learning the theories and history of the medium. The more I knew, the more I wanted to learn,” he says.

Photography quickly became a meditative practice. “It offers me a possibility to stay present, whether walking in the streets or interacting with people,” he says. “I get incredible satisfaction from looking at the pictures, contemplating, connecting them, connecting to them, and letting a story and beauty unfold.”

In due course, Durgun understood that the root of photography lay deeper than the surface of the world. “What if photography is more about listening than seeing?” he asks. It’s a question that lies at the heart of his new book, Come Get Your Honey (Kehrer), a collection of portraits of LGBTQ+ refugee and asylum seekers seeking to build a better life for themselves in Berlin.

As a queer Turkey-born artist of Abkhazian descent who was raised by a single mother, Durgun understands the struggles that émigrés face. “It was hard for me to feel at home or safe,” he says. “I feel solidarity with people who left their homes to arrive in Berlin due to their gender or sexual identity. I wanted to express my urge to be understood by telling their stories.”

Inspired by artists including Zanele Muholi, Susan Meiselas, Nan Goldin, Mitch Epstein, Ryan McGinley, and Tyler Mitchell, Durgun draws what he describes as “bits and bytes from each artists’ superpowers: their courage, openness, softness, precision, articulation, balance, playfulness, resilience, dedication”.

But, as Durgun notes, “My true inspiration comes from encounters with people I meet and stories they share. I have a deep respect for people whose identities are so intricate and layered that the struggle and the power of resistance become invisible to those who have access to anything they don’t: having a family, job, education, physical or mental safety, language, or wealth.”

For Durgun, photography is an opportunity to connect across the divide, build community among those on the margins of society. The book is not only a space for visibility and representation – it is also a tool the asylum seekers can use to help build their cases for refugee status.

“Some asylum seekers wait for their refugee status for years, while others get theirs in a few weeks. Some have to prove their ‘transness,’ ‘queerness,’ and lived experiences [to the judge],” Durgun explains. 

“The book helps demonstrate that the gender binary is a social construct, that there is not one way to be queer, trans, or gender-nonconforming, and people have their own valid reasons to arrive in Berlin.”

Come Get Your Honey is out now on Kehrer Books.

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