Syrian paper collectors find refuge in photography in Adana in Turkey’s south

Syrian paper collectors find refuge in photography in Adana in Turkey’s south

Zeynep Bilgehan – ISTANBUL
Syrian paper collectors find refuge in photography in Adana in Turkey’s south


On their days off, Syrian refugees who live in the slums of the southern province of Adana shoot photographs and practice photography with Mustafa Gülek, a freelance photographer.

The youth, who have fled the war that has destructed Syria and sought safety in the industrial town of the south, use their only day off in the week to see the world through an artist’s lens with the support of 57-year-old Gülek.

“These kids had never held a camera before,” Gülek said.

But now, the kids cannot wait to go out and shoot.

“It was not easy to get through to the paper collectors. They are a closed community. I have tried hard to convince them on the activity. I finally promised them we would work on a short movie together,” he added.

The short movie the teenagers are dreaming of producing will be titled “Love with Paper.” The film will tell about the struggles of children who have to live on the streets.

However, the dream to produce the movie came after a certain point. At first, the group of 15 told Gülek their eyes could only see garbage and paper. But Gülek was determined to change that to give them a fresh perspective on life.

Yet, Gülek said the students only took photographs of garbage the first time they held a camera.

“These youth do not have to collect paper all their lives. They live like this because they have no other choice,” he added.

When the youth have time, the group visits a park in Adana to learn photography techniques from the freelance photographer, who has become an activist with this project.

Gülek says he does not expect them to become as successful as Ara Güler, the world-reknowned Turkish street photographer. However, “they can just have a hobby that relates to their daily lives,” he said.

Some members of the group have already achieved that and have begun to dream of a better, more colorful future for themselves.

After joining the group and becoming a regular, Hüseyin, a 17-year-old Syrian from Aleppo, said he now wants to become a wedding photographer.

He makes 25-30 Turkish Liras a day and loves to take photographs of the sea.

Hüseyin lost his father in the war in Syria and looks after his siblings in Adana.

“The Syrians were a very closed community when they first arrived. They could not get along with each other either. They were unwilling to give photography a try at first,” said Orhan Akkurt, a paper collector from Adana.

“Now, we are coming together through the photography lessons. We are socializing. We become excited about going out to shoot on our days off,” Akkurt added.

He said they had come a long way in two months with a single camera.