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Mobile Classroom Teaches At-Risk Children the Art of Analog Photography

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Syrian photographer Serbest Salih has set up a mobile photography school that introduces vulnerable Syrian, Iraqi, and Turkish children to analog photography.

Currently based in southeast Turkey, Salih is a 27-year old photographer and the director of Sirkhane Darkroom, a mobile analog photography school currently active in Mardin Istasyon, an impoverished neighborhood in Turkey which is close to the border of Syria. It is run in collaboration with Sirkhane Social Circus School.

Although the area is beautiful, it has been affected by war and violence which has had a tremendous effect on children in particular. To try and make a change in young people’s lives, Salih’s photography school aims to give kids an opportunity to learn how to “create beauty and joy out of the darkness of their past and present.”

“Photography as a pedagogic method, enables children to, first of all, know themselves better,” Salih tells PetaPixel. “It is an incredible and effective method of teaching children coming from difficult conditions, new ways of thinking, creativity, and being playful while expanding their perspective of their surroundings.”

Salih set up the school in 2017 in the Istasyon district of Turkey, but soon realized that the project needed to go mobile in order to provide its services to more kids in need. In 2019, he went fully mobile by using a caravan that was turned into a darkroom. The program is set up to visit a new location every three months.

The decision to teach analog and not digital photography came down to Salih’s belief that this type of photography is more tactile. Each roll and image requires careful consideration which he believes cultivates imagination. He says that learning to work with film also enables children to better understand the photographic process from start to finish.

Photo by Beyan, age 13, Syria
Photo by Ahmed, age 10, Syria
Photo by Ahmet, age 15, Turkey
Photo by Ali, age 12, Turkey
Photo by Amne, age 13, Syria
Photo by Bdullah, age 17, Syria

In addition to learning photography, Salih says the children in the program also develop other life skills such as socializing, improved physical coordination and concentration, and it gives them a tool to help express their thoughts and emotions in a meaningful way.

Photo by Rümeyse, age 9, Turkey
Photo by Samit, age 14, Turkey
Photo by Sözdar , age 12, Turkey
Photo by Zeynao, age 13, Turkey
Photo by Haci, age 17, Turkey

The project has successfully worked with numerous children from impoverished areas and needs to continue to raise funds for equipment and materials to ensure it can provide sufficient photography tuition going forward.

Photo by Melik, age 14, Turkey
Photo by Cane, age 8, Syria
Photo by İbrahim, age 13, Syria

Those interested in the project can visit its Instagram and the Sirkhane website. Any who wish to help out can see the most recent list of needed equipment on the program’s support page.


Image credits: All images courtesy of Serbest Salih and used with permission.

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