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Turkey through the eyes of a Spanish photographer


Anna Serrano is a photographer who has embraced, taken very seriously and even internalized Turkey and the Turks, with a sense of belonging and surrender with sympathy. The smile on her face when she pronounces “Istanbul” explains everything. Here we are with Anna, whom I have the honour of meeting and introducing to you.

– You are half-Roman and half-Catalan. Can we get to know you briefly?

In my passage through this world, I can say that I consider myself Mediterranean. The Mediterranean culture is my identity mark. Barcelona is the city where I was born. My first memories and my childhood garden, under my grandfather’s protective and gentle eyes. Rome is the city where I learned life. It is connected with discovering, when life seemed like a vast and endless canvas that I would paint with excitement. Istanbul is the city that stole my heart, and it’s also the place where I found myself. 

I have lived as well in other places: Málaga, in Andalusia. I also enjoyed the beautiful energy of San Francisco, California, where I spent a year as a high school senior exchange student. On another tune, I also lived a dark and cold winter in Paris, the place of my long walks with my solitude. In Canada, I witnessed the splendor of nature. Maybe I’ve been searching for truth or simply keeping myself busy, but I’ve travelled a lot. I didn’t find the truth, but I learnt. 

I take photos to avoid being cold. It’s my inner journey. It allows me to live several lives in one. 

– If you were the boss, would you hire yourself?

It would depend on the project. If it’s something creative, oh yes. I am a faithful, determined perfectionist with a sense of honour, and I tend to peace more than to war. 

– Send a message to the person you were ten years ago.

Don’t suffer. 

As André Bréton said, in general, despair is not important. What went away, was because it had to go. Never forget to be the hero of your life. Those who want to convince you about the opposite, don’t believe them. If others have done anything to you, it is because you gave them permission.

Adıyaman – Nemrut

– Ara Güler used to say that “It is not going to be the best camera to take the best photo”. As a navigated photographer, do you agree with that? Do you want to add something else?

Maestro Güler was right. A good photo camera will help a lot, but it won’t give soul to a photo that does not have it. Some years ago, I just had finished taking pictures of a famous person, and I was feeling down. He had said: “I only have five minutes for you”. 

So, I was walking uphill, staring at the floor. Suddenly, after turning the corner, I came across my admired Ara Güler. He was sitting at ease in his café drinking tea. 

I slowly approached him and muttered as best as I could: 

“Maestro, can I take a portrait of you? Can I?” 

“Of course, my girl, come here!” 

“I’ll be fast, I promise”. 

” You don’t have to be fast, my girl”. 

At that moment, the whole of Istanbul got a meaning. And I found all my dreams and my grandfather’s eyes in Ara Güler’s eyes. I felt stronger than ever before. And that’s what I would add now: “When you are taking portraits, looking into people’s eyes, there is no need to go fast.”

Dervish

If your photos had a smell, how would they smell?

Like wet soil.They smell like sweat and tears of men and women broken in one thousand pieces. They smell like lemon, like salt on wounds, like freshly pressed olive oil, like wine, like wood burning in the fireplace on a winter night, like a cake baked in the oven, like sea breeze… 

– If it was possible to watch your life before being born, would you choose to come to this world? 

That is one of the most challenging questions you can ask a person. First of all, we should know what the alternative to that is. In my specific case, it went very well until now, though I still don’t know how it will end.  However, I don’t think it is a matter of choosing but honouring our passage on Earth.  Life should be a service to others, to ourselves, to the energy of the universe. We are bridges between shores, lighthouses on stormy nights. If we reframe life like this, our existence takes sense. Otherwise, it is a blind alley, a cul-de-sac, a catastrophe.  

I would put it this way: If there is God (you name it: God, Allah, Energy, Love – I am not talking about Hollywood love, but that’s another conversation), everything makes sense. Without God, there is no sense. 

Cappadocia

As someone half-Roman, half-Catalan and has travelled to many countries of the world, what did you experience in Turkey? What would you like to say to Turkey and the people living here?

Turks and Europeans are two parts of sameness, as in the Venetian and Ottoman past. They look at each other’s faces as if they were looking at a mirror. They smell each other, love each other, hate, seek, blame, fight, desire each other… 

I come from the South of Europe. We are sweet and emotional. This sweetness is slowly disappearing in the West through modernity, and the world is turning into a big supermarket stuffed with materialism. But Turkey still resists. Please don’t change. 

Turkey is my big love. As with all big loves, it is not always an easy road. But we have flowers in our garden. I can only thank Turkey and the Turks for their unfaltering warm welcome, generosity, patience when I make mistakes speaking Turkish, and for everything they have given me without me asking. Most of the time, without them expecting anything in return. 

– Do you prefer to be in the street or the studio?

Both. I cannot be all the time in the street, and at the same time, I cannot stay locked up among four walls post-producing photos. When I take photos, my adrenaline goes up at high speed. When I post-produce, it is an introspective moment. I need both of them. 

– Who would you like to take a photo of you haven’t yet? 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan; a big maestro among maestros.

– Macro, landscape, portrait versus… what? Which one gives you more satisfaction?

I love portraits. It is an honour to be able to contemplate people’s souls. But I like landscape and natural sceneries and urban photos too. 

I love city shooting, especially during that purple hour, just before and after sunset, when the day gives way to the night. That’s a moment that brings out mixtures of magic lights and colours from which the photographer-alchemist prepares her potions. 

Indoor photography also pleases me, and I enjoy analyzing the harmony of light and dark. 

– Why should we choose you to take photos? 

I’m like a vibrating violin string, with its unrepeatable music. Those who vibrate with me will want my photos. They will choose me because they feel at home. And they have found someone who can express and complete what is already inside them. 

– What would the child of your childhood say if she could see you now?

“I want to be like you when I grow up.” 

– What are the keys for an amateur to get into a professional point of view?

Plan and frame your shots into a broader perspective. 

What do you want to tell? What audience does the photo appeal to? Who is your customer? Who are you talking to and why? 

Seek a new perspective, pay attention to composition, use volumes and vacuums, discover how objects and people intersect in photography. 

Find your own style, your signature. 

Nurture patience, perseverance, technique, passion, research and listening.

Believe in yourself but avoid complacency. When the ego melts, vast oceans open, suitable for navigation, as if it were your greatest masterpiece. 

Be modest and expect that you will never reach your final goal. 

Nonetheless, never give up on working, developing and exploring; push on repeating the same thing a thousand times until you get what you want. 

Mardin

– You have essential works both in the field of travel photography and artistically. You have worked on cultural and sociopolitical differences. What do you enjoy photographing the most?

When projects are interesting, they all make me happy, as long as they take me to places I haven’t been before, physically or figuratively. They make me feel full of life. Doing different things stimulates me. There is growth in diversity. 

– Are black and white photos more aesthetic or more emotional? 

Both things, depending upon the photographer. I’d get back to what Ara Güler said about the camera: Black and White will not fix a bad photo. 

Anna Serrano in three words?

Energy. Art. Freedom.

Click to read the interview in Turkish.

Engin Dal

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