The fire of resistance is burning strong in Istanbul but, as photographer Emine Gozde Sevim finds, the drive for a life of freedom extends beyond boundaries.

The fire of resistance is burning strong in Istanbul but as photographer Emine Gozde Sevim finds, the drive for a life of freedom – unmarked by maddening world events – extends beyond boundaries.

When I was 15, I moved from Istanbul to Arizona on a scholarship. Almost everyone I met there had a hyphenated identity.

I’m not fully Turkish myself, as my maternal grandfather is from Afghanistan, so I could relate to that. Then 9/11 happened.

It felt like a historical breaking point, as if the world was somehow separating. Since I didn’t speak English well at the time, that whole period was marked by images for me.

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The school had a special programme called Project Period where students could focus on learning new skills. I was drawn to photography, falling in love with the process of the dark room and how it slowed time.

In a country like Turkey, being an artist isn’t really a way of existence; it’s seen more as a hobby. But now I couldn’t imagine living without it.

Years later, I was reading a lot about Egyptian history when the revolution began. I felt drawn there, not with any project in mind, but just to witness what was happening.

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When I first arrived, everything seemed fast and colourful. I started making these videos that, to this day, I’m still editing. But at some point the experience changed and photography felt more appropriate to communicate that time.

There was a tension in the air: a feeling of historical change emerging while everyday life went on all around us.

I felt those same impulses after returning to Turkey, in 2013, to take care of my paternal grandfather.

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The country had experienced a bloody history leading up to the coup of 1980. The response of my parents’ generation to that turmoil was, ‘The safest way to survive is to be apolitical, to just go about your life.’

It was a politically silent place. But when I went to Turkey right after Egypt, people were unhappy. Historical places were being destroyed and laws were being passed that impinged upon personal liberties.

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Even if you stayed apolitical as a citizen, it was right there in front of you. I kept telling my friends that something was going to give but, because I lived in the US, they said that I couldn’t know.

In May 2013, a sit-in opposing the removal of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park led to a violent crackdown by police, sparking widespread unrest.

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The protest continued peacefully and, when I left Gezi Park on the night of the 30th, remained joyful.

But the police came the previous two nights, burning tents, so I knew that if they came again the crowd would react.

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And that’s what happened. Being invisible was not the status quo for this younger generation, and so the country’s problems exploded over a park in the city centre.

I’m 30 now and for the last five years, or maybe even since 9/11, our lives have been marked by these events. History is moving forward but humanity is not. It seems like such a madness and I don’t see an end in sight.

As a result, I think my visual language has become more impressionistic. Whenever these images start a dialogue with people I wouldn’t meet otherwise, that feels magical and I’m grateful for it.

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It encourages me to continue exploring the world this way because, even in the most horrible situations, I meet people who have hope. And I think in the very essence of it, I’m searching for hope too, as selfish as that may be.

I think there’s a significant group of people who just want to create and to have some sort of normalcy as human beings.

No matter where you are in the world, there is so much fear that it’s easy to forget there are people who just want to be able to live and love.

But I’m encountering them wherever I go, whether it’s in Egypt or France, so I know they do exist.

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    Homeland Delirium by Emine Gozde Sevim

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Check out Emine Gozde Sevim’s online portfolio.

This article appears in Huck 57 – The Documentary Photo Special IVSubscribe today so you never miss another issue.

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