Category: Photography

Art supplies and Turkish coffee in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

Art supplies and Turkish coffee in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

We’ve returned to the US from Turkey, and while I won’t speak for David, I’ve been walking around in a thick fog of jet lag. That fog, combined with a healthy dose of cultural shock, has left me feeling unmoored and dislocated — suspended between two worlds. So before my heart settles completely, I wanted to write a blog post about some of our final experiences in Turkey, in a city called Kahramanmaras.

In Kahramanmaras, we were fortunate to have both Khalid and Ezgi Içöz with us. Ezgi is an art therapist from Istanbul, and she and Khalid paired up to create a fantastic series of art therapy sessions for the kids:

Ezgi during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, by Mieke Strand

Ezgi during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

Khalid during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

Khalid during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

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Students during an art therapy session in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

A student describes her drawing during an art therapy session in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

A student describes her drawing during an art therapy session in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

While Khalid and Ezgi were hard at work, David was taking portraits of other students on the roof of the school:

David photographing on the roof of a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

David photographing on the roof of a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

David also took photos of the kids coming into the school after break. They lined up like a choo-choo train and sang a song while entering the building.

Kids at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, by David Gross

Kids at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, by David Gross

Here’s one more photo David took of a group of girls inside the school:

Students at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by David Gross

Students at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by David Gross

We’ll add another blog post shortly to wrap up our final thoughts on our trip. After that, we’ll be focusing on creating the eBook and sending out our kickstarter rewards. Stay tuned!

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are fortunate that our friend Khalid has been leading many of our recent art sessions here in Gaziantep. Khalid has a true gift with children. His words transform their faces into delight — it is quite something to see. We’ve been recording video of him for the eBook, and we’ll be posting a few clips here. The first one, below, is a short example of Khalid instructing the kids on how to use a brush. (The video is in Arabic, but English speakers will get the general gist of it. We’ll be adding subtitles later.)

Khalid is also a photographer, and he took some photos of some of the children peering into our classroom from the courtyard. I really love them. He’s graciously let us share some with you here:

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Thanks again to Khalid!

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

Happy New Year!

We’ve taken a holiday break from the blog, which means this post will be long and chock full of photos! We are now in a city about 4 hours north of Reyhanli, called Gaziantep. I’m really enjoying this city–the people are warm and welcoming.

Our friend, As’ad Sieo, connected us with a wonderful Syrian school here; its name translates to “Friendship School”. We’re also incredibly lucky that another friend, Khalid Eid, has been teaching art classes for us at this school. Khalid is a natural-born teacher, with an energy that the children love. The moment he begins speaking in a classroom, the children light up with joy. It’s magical to watch. Below, I’m posting a few photos of Khalid in action, but I’ll be posting some video clips of him as well in a later post. (Khalid’s also a photographer, so I’ll post some of his photographs in the next post, as well.)

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

A student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

A student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Here are a couple of the paintings from the art sessions:

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

David’s been making many portraits at this school; I’m including a few, mostly of teachers, below. We’re saving most of the photos of the kids for the book.

Manager at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Manager at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Teacher at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Teacher at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Class of students at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Class of students at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

I’ve started working again with my digital camera, photographing the city and the neighborhoods where the students live. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to take the school bus home with one of the girls at the school (and Khalid, who is also a fantastic translator). Below are a few photographs that I took on the bus ride:

Students from the Friendship School getting off the bus after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Students from the Friendship School getting off the bus after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Friendship School bus dropping kids off after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Friendship School bus dropping kids off after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

View from the Friendship School bus in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

View from the Friendship School bus in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

View from a neighborhood in Gaziantep in which many Syrians are currently living, by Mieke Strand

View from a neighborhood in Gaziantep in which many Syrians are currently living, by Mieke Strand

And last, but not least, I’ve been going out photographing in the streets of Gaziantep to document city life. I’ll include just a couple here:

Gaziantep at night, by Mieke Strand

Gaziantep at night, by Mieke Strand

Portrait of a man from Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Portrait of a man from Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

We’ve taken a short, holiday break from Inside-Outside, which has allowed me to process the film I’d taken so far. In the spirit of our last post, here are a couple of the portraits I’ve made in Reyhanli:

Syrian girl in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Syrian girl in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Syrian teenage boy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Syrian teenage boy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

We hitched a ride one day with a boy collecting recyclables with his mule and cart. Here’s one photo from that memorable journey:

Smoke break, by Mieke Strand

Smoke break, by Mieke Strand

And my last photo in this post is in honor of my eldest nephew, Esteban. Esteban is currently a huge fan of  Barbapapa, a French cartoon character whose name means “cotton candy” (literally “daddy’s beard”). This one’s for you, Esteban:

Cotton candy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Cotton candy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

A few days ago, we asked you, Dear Readers, whether you would like to see some of the photographs and drawings from our project now, or whether we should instead unveil them all for the first time in the Inside-Outside eBook.

The reply was a resounding “now”! You asked, and we shall deliver. (Again, because I am shooting film, the photos in the post are all by David.)

We’ve been working most recently with a Syrian school in Reyhanli. The directors, teachers, and students at the school have been incredibly welcoming and generous with their time. The first two photographs below are of the director of the school and his wife. We can’t thank them enough for their generosity and warm welcome.

Director of school for Syrian children, by David Gross

Director of school for Syrian children, by David Gross

Wife of the Director of a school for Syrian Children, by David Gross

Wife of Director of school for Syrian Children, by David Gross

The next photograph in today’s series is of Tamador. Tamador provides psychological support to the students in addition to teaching. She has been leading art sessions at the school for months, and she had generously lent her time to leading sessions for our project as well. Tamador is constantly working, busy, on the move, and she has a fantastic, fantastic sense of humor.

Tamador, by David Gross

Tamador, by David Gross

And finally, here are two portraits of children from the school.

Girl at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Girl at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Boy at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Boy at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Now, for the drawings. Each session that Tamador has led has had a different focus, and the drawings reflect that. In the first drawing below, Tamador had the child draw his vision of Syrian before, during and after the war. This is drawing is more abstract than many of the others, and it is also one of my favorites. (Please note, I’ve blurred out the children’s names on their drawings for the sake of privacy.)

Drawing by child at Syrian refugee school in Reyhanli

Drawing (Before/During/After the War) by a boy at Syrian refugee school in Reyhanli

In this painting, the upper left corner (all in black paint) is how the child thinks of Syria in the past. As he explained, there were all different kinds of people, different religions, different ethnicities, but people didn’t really see each other as different. In the center section of the painting, the boy shows Syria as he sees it now. Differences are very clear, and they are keeping Syrians divided. His hope for Syria’s future is in the lower right. He expects people in Syria to still see their differences, but to nonetheless live together in harmony.

The next three drawings come from a session dealing with stories of loss. They are particularly heartbreaking. The children we’ve met have seen and experienced more than any child should endure.

"Black clouds. A mother crying for her son, baby, and sister. She lost 3 family members." Drawing by Syrian girl.

“Black clouds. A mother crying for her son, baby, and sister. She lost 3 family members.” Drawing by Syrian girl.

"Two planes drop bombs on the people. The children are crying, and the father has lost his hands." Drawing by Syrian girl.

“Two planes drop bombs on the people. The children are crying, and the father has lost his hands.” Drawing by Syrian girl.

"A girl at her father's grave." Drawing by Syrian girl.

“A girl at her father’s grave.” Drawing by Syrian girl.

And I’ll end on a more uplifting note. This last drawing shows a Syrian girl’s feelings toward Turkey, her current home. She felt that Turkey was the only nation to really help Syrians, and was clearly grateful for that help:

Syria and Turkey. Drawing by a Syrian girl.

Syria and Turkey. Drawing by a Syrian girl.

As always, we look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

Reyhanli by David Gross

Reyhanli by David Gross

Much to my delight, it snowed here in Reyhanli on Wednesday. It was beautiful, and although the snow in the streets melted quickly, the surrounding hills remained dusted with white.

Snow in the Syrian hills above home construction in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, David Gross

Snow in the Syrian hills above home construction in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, David Gross

And of course, as beautiful as it is, it also makes life incredibly difficult for all the families who are living here without heat, not to mention those living in nearby camps. This thought reminds us that the hurdles we face in doing this project are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

But speaking of hurdles, our latest minor challenge has been power outages. Although we have no idea if this is related to the snow, the power was out in the entire city of Reyhanli for most of Wednesday and Thursday. The streets, however, remained active with life, including these two boys we met making the most of the weather:

Turkish boys pose with their snowman, David Gross

Turkish boys pose with their snowman, David Gross

It snowed again today, and we were worried that we wouldn’t have a chance to work (in part because of power outages, and in part because the school we are working with is closed on Fridays). We started the day by walking through Reyhanli as it snowed (I’ve been shooting primarily with film lately, so this blog post will contain mostly images by David):

Mieke in Reyhanli, David Gross

Mieke in Reyhanli, David Gross

As we were walking, David’s phone rang. It was our friend, Mohamad, and he had arranged for a group of boys to participate in an art session at a nearby tea house. Our friend, Tamador, was available to lead the session. We were so thrilled.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, both Mohamad and Tamador are volunteer teachers at the Syrian school that is working with us. Tamador also provides psychological support for its students, and she was leading art sessions with the children before we arrived in Reyhanli.

Both Mohamad and Tamador also work for the Maram Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by a group of Syrian-Americans to provide aid to Syrian refugees, both within Syria and here in southern Turkey. The Maram Foundation has been incredibly supportive of our project, and we are most grateful. We are also incredibly grateful to Mohamad and Tamador for their help and hard work. They have done so much for us in such a short amount of time, and we cannot thank them enough. !شكرا

Thanks to Mohamad and Tamador, the class today was wonderful. Here’s a photo Tamador took of David with the boys:

David with a group of boys from Syria, by Tamador

David with a group of boys from Syria, by Tamador

It was a really good day! We’ll share some drawings, and perhaps some photos, in a later post.

I’ll end with one of the few digital photos I’ve taken recently, of a new playground in Reyhanli:

New playground in Reyhanli, Mieke Strand

New playground in Reyhanli, Mieke Strand

 

Görüşürüz! -Mieke !إلى اللقاء

We wait for Mohamad to call us this morning. It is difficult to wait, feeling like we are losing time. Then, too, there is the fear that someone will change his mind and refuse us access. We depend on others’ good graces to do this work, and we seek to make the best of our time.

Yesterday was sunny, and Mieke searched for locations around the school to shoot using light bouncing from nearby buildings.

Test photo of David, Mieke Strand

Test photo of David, Mieke Strand

Test photo of David, Mieke Strand

Test photo of David, Mieke Strand

The buildings are so close together that it is hard to find such light — mostly, the sun hits the top parts of a building and the side streets are left dim. After a few test shots, Mieke decided on a few places that might work. A scowling young Turkish woman interrupted us to ask what we were doing there, taking pictures next to her building. My Turkish failed, but strangely, she spoke some English, and we were able to explain we were taking pictures of children at the school downstairs. In the end, she smiled and let us be — but a minute later, an angry, large mustachioed man started screaming from the fifth floor “No Photo!” I got angry but Mieke hustled us away, figuring we had finished our work anyway.

I hate it when random people decide to get in my face about shooting a picture of, say, a corner of a building. Perhaps that’s an American attitude, that I have “the right” to shoot on the street. Why would he be upset? The woman had told us that she was worried about people coming and going around their building, what with all the Syrians around. Perhaps he wasn’t happy about the extra 100,000 people who had come into the area in the last year. Perhaps he was simply the local jerk — every building has one. I hate being shouted at.

Reyhanli from the window of the Alice hotel.

Reyhanli from the window of the Alice hotel.

Today, however, the weather is cold (32°F/0°C) and the sky overcast. Mieke will have to rethink where she shoots, now the sun is gone. Perhaps it will give her more locations now she is free of the harsh, sharp sunlight?

I have been studying my pictures, seeking advice from friends. Do the backgrounds work just right (no)? Should I tone down the gel on the flash (yes)? After so many years of doing this, I still worry each morning about whether I’m getting good pictures. Truth be told, it’s hard to get a good picture, and  I should be happy if I get two or three good pictures  from each shoot.

Last time, we brought oil pastels for the children to draw with. They give brighter, stronger colors than colored pencils, and the new artwork they created under the guidance of the psychological support staffer is horrifying, but now it is also very colorful. This morning, I am ready to show the kids how to use the bright gouache paints we bought, and perhaps they will draw some happier thoughts or memories. That’s not up to us, but we know the right exercise could bring out something other than grim scenes of destruction.

So, we head out — I’m carrying the light stand, flashes, cameras, paper, paint, tripod, etc., in two packs; Mieke has her gear in a small backpack, and for once, I’m envious of the simplicity of the heavy Hasselblad camera.

We walked across the street to the felafel & hummus joint that has served us well, and we ordered only hummus and tea for breakfast. They heat the bread on a radiant space heater. Meanwhile, a traditionally dressed Arab man in a keffiyeh and robe strode in and took a table above and behind us. Over time, a number of young men in dark leather jackets joined him. Two young men sat at a table near us, one limping on his prosthetic leg. The second saw Mieke cradling her tea for warmth and laughed while pointing and gesturing for his companion to look. Since neither of us speak Arabic, we have no idea what is going on.

This is the curse of going to a new place without knowing the language.  We can get around in five languages, but now we are in a Turkish/Arabic town, and we cannot follow anyone’s conversation. When your falafel joint turns sinister, filled with scowling, young men of fighting-age, the lack of comprehension is less exotic and more worrying.

The phone rings with today’s news — we will go to the school at 2:30 for a boys’ class. So, this morning, since it is too cold to go outside, we write these blog posts.

Görüşürüz!  -David

Our posts on the blog will most likely be fewer and far between for the next couple of weeks due to unpredictable internet service. In particular, it can be hard to upload photos, so I may stick to writing short updates with fewer photos for the time being.

We are now in the town of Reyhanli, near Turkey’s border with Syria. According to another group working with Syrian refugees in the area, the official population of Reyhanli has doubled from 30,000 in June of this year to over 60,000 now, due to the arrival of refugees from Syria. Who knows what the actual figures are, but it’s clear that the small city has experienced a huge population shift in a very short time.

We were incredibly lucky to connect with one of Ferdi’s Syrian friends in Reyhanli: Mohamad. In addition to doing IT & graphic design work, Mohamad is a volunteer teacher at a local school for Syrian children. Thanks to Mohamad and the lovely staff at his school, we were able to hold our very first art session in Reyhanli on Sunday. Mohamad’s friend Tamaldour, who teaches & provides psychological support to the school, ran the art session for us. We’re hoping to hold a few additional sessions at their school this week, and perhaps venture to another school or two in the area.

All of my photographs from the day are on film, so you’ll have to wait to see those. But David’s work is digital, so I’ll upload one of his photos from the day. I’m including just one photo for now, since uploading can take so long.

Mohamad in Reyhanli

Mohamad in Reyhanli, David Gross

This is a photo that David made of Mohamad. It illustrates the lighting techniques David also used in photographing the children.

We also documented the drawings that the children did. Here is one from the session:

Drawing by Syrian child in Reyhanli

Drawing by Syrian child in Reyhanli

The drawing depicts a helicopter dropping a bomb on the child’s hometown in Syria. The stories the children tell are awful, and it’s hard to listen to them. But it feels important to bear witness at the same time.

We’ll post more soon, as our internet allows.

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

Istanbul at night, Mieke Strand

Istanbul at night, Mieke Strand

At long last, we are leaving Istanbul tomorrow for Antakya, in Hatay Province. Don’t get me wrong, Istanbul is an amazing city. In many ways, I feel lucky that we ended up staying here as long as we did.

Istanbul stairs, Mieke Strand

Istanbul stairs, Mieke Strand

But I’m looking forward to arriving in Hatay province. We have a number of potential options set up for working there, and we’ll post more once things are definite. For now, here are a few parting shots of Istanbul.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

David in Istanbul, Mieke Strand

David in Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

Istanbul, David Gross

Istanbul, David Gross

As I discussed in an earlier post, we’ve run into more logistical hoops in doing this project than we had hoped. In fact, part of the challenge so far has been figuring out which permissions we actually need to get, and from whom. Bureaucratic details make for a lousy blog entry, so let me just say this: it’s been difficult for me, as a photographer, to spend so much time discussing the project, and so little time making photographs.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Therefore, I approached our meeting this morning with frustration and mild annoyance. We were meeting with an organization in Istanbul that provides legal services to refugees in Turkey. (In this post, I will not be naming the organizations we consulted. The politics surrounding everything to do with refugees is so sensitive that we’ve decided to keep their names off this blog post.)

A boarded-up house with young children living in it, most likely a Syrian family, David Gross.

A boarded-up house with young children living in it, most likely a Syrian family, David Gross.

As it turned out, we finally found answers to many of our remaining questions. We also got important contact information for people working in Gaziantep, in South-Eastern Turkey, where there is a large refugee camp, as well as a large Syrian population living outside the camp. And, it looks like we might be holding our first art therapy sessions early next week. Finally!

131129-MS-1368

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

In fact, things seem to be coming together for our move to southern Turkey. We met again last night with a German journalist who covers the Arab world for DPA in Germany. She is looking into connecting us with a school she supports in Gaziantep, which would help us enormously.

Birds at sunset, David Gross

Birds at sunset, David Gross

The photos I’m posting today are from a walk David & I took this afternoon, once the meetings were finally over. It is such a relief to me to walk and photograph the city after all the negotiations. I’m looking forward to starting the art therapy and photography portions of the project…soon.

Recycling, Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Recycling, Istanbul, Mieke Strand

One additional note: we’ve managed to weave our way through the intricacies of a foreign bureaucracy only thanks to the help of a few wonderful folks. In particular, Ezgi Içöz has helped us enormously this week. Ezgi, in case loyal blog readers have forgotten, is a Turkish art therapist who did her educational training in San Francisco. She speaks perfect English, and has done a lot of work translating for us. She is also the reason we were finally able to get the meeting we had this morning, after trying for several weeks. And she has provided incredible moral support from the beginning. We are so thrilled to be working with her. Thank you Ezgi!

A cat sits on a wall in Istanbul, David Gross

A cat sits on a wall in Istanbul, David Gross

And finally, thanks to our friend George Georgiou for sending us a link to this article in The Guardian on the crisis that Syrian refugee children are facing today. It reminds us why the work of therapists like Ezgi is so important.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke


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