Sirkhane Darkroom Fundraiser: Mobile Darkroom School for Children near Turkish-Syrian Border and Iraq

Serbest Salih, a photographer from northern Syria, opened a mobile analogue photography school for vulnerable and underpriviledged children in south east Turkey, close to the Syrian border in 2019. Now his school, called the Sirkhane Darkroom, is seeking to expand its programs and workshops through a fundraising campaign. The aim of the campaign is to provide more services to local and refugee children in remote areas that have especially suffered under Covid-19 from a lack of access to education and opportunities.

Serbest tells me that the mobility of the Darkroom project is key because it can reach children in more remote villages forced that have less access to cultural opportunities and as a result, are to grow up faster. He says, ‘We give children a chance to hold a camera and express themselves with photography.’

Mobile Darkroom – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

The Darkroom is a program under Her Yerde Sanat – Sirkhane Social Circus School. Sirkhane’s mission is to ‘provide a safe, friendly and emracing environment for children, who are affected by conflicts. We replace their damaged childhood with joy and enrich the children’s imagination using magic of social circus pedagogy. Children have the opportunity to collaborate and form friendships with one other, beyond gender, social and cultural differences. In doing so, they manifest peace, harmony, open mindedness and cheerfulness in their local and global communities.’ (source: Sirkhane website)

Sirkhane works in Turkey and Iraq, providing services for children in centers located in the Mardin province as well as more remote areas through mobile units, one of which is the mobile Darkroom unit run by Serbest.

At the Sirkhane Darkroom, children learn the entire analogue photography process, from taking photos that are meaningful to them, to developing those photos and then printing them. ‘They learn how to create beauty and joy out of the darkness of their past and present’ (source: Sirkhane Darkroom).

Class near the mobile darkroom

Mobile Darkroom – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

‘We initially started this project as a therapeutic process for children traumatized by war and violence, but when we began observing the incredible works of art created by our children, we realized that we are training outstanding artists of the future, which brought a different energy into our classes and to us’ (source: Sirkhane Darkroom).

Students in darkroom learning to process and print analogue film photos

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Students in darkroom learning to process and print analogue film photos

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Students in darkroom learning to process and print analogue film photos

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Students in darkroom learning to process and print analogue film photos

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

To make the project more sustainable and thereby bring the program to more remote locations, the school has brainstormed different ways to do this. One of them is the use of pinhole cameras as they are inexpensive and easy to make and repair. They have also used social media as a way to communicate around the world and share the work of the project.

The Sirkhane Darkroom project constantly needs equipment, chemicals, cameras, and support. ‘With your support and even by donating a small amount to our campaign, you’ll make a clear statement that you believe in us, in our children, and in the power of arts in bringing change to the world.’ – Sirkhane Darkoom

Children pose with cameras during darkroom workshop

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

children pose with images they made in darkroom workshop

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Serbest shares a little of his background and how he came to start the Sirkhane Darkroom. He says at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, there were many displaced people that came to Aleppo where he was at the time and through meeting them, his interest in photography started to grow. He is enrolled in a course to study photography at Aleppo University in Syria. After graduation, he returned to his hometown of Kobani. However, shortly after, ISIS started attacking closer to his home which included attacks on civilians. Serbest left for safety in Turkey and started working as a photographer with NGOs and other humanitarian organizations such as Welthungerhilfe (a private German humanitarian non-profit) there.

Serbest teaching a class of students

Learning about photography – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Girls pratee printing photos in darkroom workshop

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

children practice printing photos in darkroom workshop

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

children practice printing photos in darkroom workshop

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

portrait of a girl holds a camera to her face to take a photo

Darkroom Workshop – Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

To demonstrate the impact of the project, Serbest held six workshops near the Turkish and Syrian borders and presented the children’s results in a show on World Refugee Day in partnership with UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) Turkey.

Teaching a darkroom workshop

Teaching a workshop at Sirkhane Darkroom, Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom.

Teaching a darkroom workshop

Teaching a workshop at Sirkhane Darkroom, Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Two girls practising at the darkroom workshop

Practicing at the workshop, Image provided by Sirkhane Darkroom

Here are some of the wonderful images taken by the Darkroom students.

young child in field with high grass in the foreground

Photo taken by Darkroom student – ​​Image provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

young child running through high grass in a field

Photo by Sabri, 12 years old – Image provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

hand holding a flower in a field with a brick wall in the distance

Photo by Betul, 8 years old – Image provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

cat under car with child on side of car

Photo taken by Darkroom student – ​​Image provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

young boy with young cow outdoors

Photo by Yasin, 12 years old – Image provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

selfie on film of two children outdoors in the village

Photo by Asi, 11 years old – Image provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

MACK Books, established in London (England), published a book including over 100 images from Sirkhane Darkroom students and text written by Serbest called ‘i saw the air fly’. Check it out at this link here. ‘Full of laughter and joy, i saw the air fly is a testament to the unfailing resilience of the imagination, the healing power of photography, and the enchanting perspective of childhood’ (source: MACK Books). All proceeds go to the Her Yerde Sanat-Sirkhane Social Circus School non-profit.

photo of cover of 'i saw the air fly' book on white background

Image from MACK Books – Cover page of ‘i saw the air fly’

Image taken by Abdo, 10 years old from Syria

Image taken by Abdo, 10 years old from Syria, provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom.

Image of snowball fight in Syria

Image taken by Ceylan, 15 years old from Syria, provided by the Sirkhane Darkroom

To find out more information about the Sirkhane Darkroom and support the fundraising campaign, check out the website here.

To stay up to date on social media, check out the Sirkhane Darkroom’s Instagram page here and Serbest’s Instagram photography page here.

All photos provided by and used with express permission from Serbest and the Sirkhane Darkroom.

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