Tuesday, December 20, 2011
YASAR MELTEM: A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH A PASSION FOR CHILDREN
SHE IS out to portray the hospitality and humorous nature of the Africans in contrast to the Western press that believes that the only news on the continent is when there is a civil war, a natural disaster, a drought and famine, where people look unhappy and devastated.
“I want to show them (people in the West) that African people are amazingly funny, hospitable and humorous under normal conditions and any condition contrary to what I have listed above would make anyone unhappy and unfortunately most of the photos taken in Africa belong to those sad moments,” Yasar Meltem says.
Meltem’s exhibition of her African works titled “Bright Faces from Africa” was held at Aznavur Art Gallery in Istanbul from September 29 to October 9, 2011. She also plans to exhibit her work in Brussels in the first quarter of 2012.
Meltem’s photography obsession is limited to people and especially children where her passion for the ordinary young ones is vivid with messages of innocence, naivety, compassion, love and care. In the picture on the right Meltem poses with Muhammed, a Tuareg boy taken in Timbuktu, Mali in 2010.
The love for children is what drives her concentration on the young people and this was testimony of her pictures she exhibited at the MishMash Gallery in Kampala on June 26, 2011.
“I love playing and talking to children. They are so much fun. They are full of surprises. They are lively, playful and easily excited. And if you are quick enough to capture the moment, they give you the memory of amazing moments of the time you share with them,” Meltem said.
“I am not a professional photographer. Naturally, I want to photograph the moments I enjoy the most. And the moments I enjoy the most during my holidays are the times I spend with children. I also like talking to children. In a foreign country, you get to learn very interesting – be it funny or tragic facts about that county from a child. You learn things that no guidebook or mature person would tell you.”
“I also like physical acts like playing with them. If you tap a child on the head, from nowhere you can start a tag game instantly and many will join. However if you do it to an adult, you are in trouble! They are fun and I love having fun with them. With children I feel free to do whatever I want,” she added.
“Most of the time I am taking photos of children, their parents are with them. Because I don’t want anyone to walk from the bush or from a house and ask me as to what I am doing there. I befriend the parents or relatives of most of these children to make sure they don’t have a problem of me taking photos. But my passion for children is far bigger than adults. I think I am a child myself stuck in an adult`s body.
Meltem cannot stand the accusation of exploiting children. “People accuse other people for many things in life. However my conscience is very clean. First of all, I never make money from children`s photographs. Photography to me is not about making images; it is also about making friends. Secondly, I don’t force them to be in my photos or I don’t change the way they are. I never told a kid to do something that he/she was not doing. I never told a child to wear or undress something so that it would look nice in my photos,” she argues.
“Thirdly, the streets in Africa are full of children. If you are taking photos in Africa, it is impossible not to take children photos. Take Uganda for example: the average age in this country is 17. So the average age of someone I photograph on the streets will be automatically under-age. I love taking photos of old people but where do I find them?”
“I like the bond between a child and a mother. I believe it is a miracle giving birth, a very difficult miracle and yet women especially in this part of the world are not scared at all to do it many times! That is very brave.”
Meltem came to Uganda six years ago, to see the gorillas and has been living here ever since. “In January 2005, I came here on a safari to see the gorillas. I had the most amazing time of my life. I had a chance to see how gentle, kind and happy Ugandan people are. I fell in love with Ugandan people and the beauty of this country. On Uganda’s Independence Day that year, I came back to live here.”
During the week, Meltem works as head of corporate finance with Icemark-Africa Limited in Kampala, but in her free time on weekends and holidays, the only numbers she cares about are the aperture and shutter speed values of her camera. To her photography is a hobby and does it for free. “Photography is not a field I know how to make money,” she says.
As a very patient photographer who can wait for days, interacting with people first before she even takes the camera out of its case, Meltem emphasizes that she is not out there just to take photographs. “I am out there to experience a different life, to observe something that I have never seen before, to enjoy a different person/life other than myself. If I want to talk to them, I have to be patient to understand them. If you have a camera with you, after a while it is them who want me to take their photographs any way. So my pursuit for getting to know people turns into photography.
“I want to take photos of what is beyond the faces,” Meltem says. “Most people look `at` the photos. I want to take photos which people will want to look `into.’ I believe a camera can capture thoughts and it is those photos which managed to capture a thought or a feeling are the best! And also as it is a frozen moment in time and it is that moment I preferred to take that photo, my portraits are more about me rather than my objects.”
“I like getting closer to my subjects physically and mentally. And personally I will not take a photograph of someone unless I somehow have a liking for the person and I want to remember him/her for the rest of my life,” she adds.
Meltem’s other interests are African art and fabric, travelling and getting to know as many people as possible. Although she has held exhibitions in Uganda and Turkey her plans are to publish her collection of pictures. “Instead of exhibitions, I want to concentrate on a photography book about mothers and their children in Africa. I respect the mothers in this country and in Africa so much and I truly think mothers are really struggling very hard to take care of their children and it is basically mothers who raise them.”
Meltem, who was born in Adana, Turkey, studied Political Science and Public Administration at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Then she obtained a master’s degree in Banking and Economics from the University of Wales in (U.K.) in 1996.
Her love for photography began in 1995, when her brother bought a very cheap 35mm manual Zenit camera from the Russian Market in Istanbul after the USSR collapsed. Her first pictures were those of three kittens in her balcony playing with their mother. One of the photos came out really nice, but the rest were either dark or out of focus. As they say, the rest is history.
If her tiny camera had not been stolen from her luggage at Nairobi airport in 2005, she would never have upgraded to her fist Nikon and then an interest in photography. “If they did not steal that camera, I would have got very annoyed and got promoted to my Nikon which inspired me to start taking photos again from 2008 onwards,” she says.
Meltem, who has taken pictures in Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mali – has no favorite picture yet.
“I enjoy taking photos in Uganda the most as this is my home and I know people a lot better than I would know in another country. I can read them, I can have a lot of fun with them as I know how amazingly fun loving and gentle people Ugandans are. I don’t like taking photos of children with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes. However if that is the case, then it is the way to photograph it. But as Ugandan people are fun people, I enjoy being with them and taking their photographs.”
Watching people in action is what she finds most interesting in the art of photography. “I like watching people. I like how people act, what they perceive of themselves, how important they find themselves, what their motive is. I like human psychology. I can watch people for hours. With photography, I am not only watching people and keeping those images in my head, but I am also carrying those images back home,” Meltem said.
“And I enjoy looking at them at home recalling the moments when I took them. Some trying to look serious, some cool, some funny, some dominant, and some subservient, among others. It is so much fun capturing those moments of watching people. I am also very impressed the difference between color and black and white photography. I find black and white images very capturing,” she added.
She observes that, due to lack of financial means, equipment and training, photography in Uganda is not where it is supposed to be. “It is most of the time not Ugandans taking photographs of their country and people. But you need a camera, a computer/laptop and some other equipment to do it. Unfortunately it is not a cheap hobby. By the way, I am not trying to say that a good camera makes a good photographer…”