Bittersweet Fruit: Turunç - Solène Gün

by Maitreyi Maheshwari

Named after a Turkish bitter orange, Turunç is a photo series and publication by Solène Gün, produced for her graduation project from École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) in 2019. Having grown up in the suburbs of Paris, this project, which documents fragmentary glimpses of young men of Turkish and Kurdish origin in the ‘banlieue’ of Paris and Berlin, is for the artist a way to pay homage to the men of her culture. Solène turned to photography as a way to tell stories. Having grown up hearing the tales of her family and heritage from her father, who collaborates with her on the texts for the book, this project became a way for her to know her own culture.

Vibrant colour photographs are mixed with black and white images printed on orange, recalling the fruit this series is named after. Cutaways of clasped hands, men gathered at night around shisha pipes, details of cars and motorbikes, a photograph on the screen of a phone, rings on a man’s hand, a rug hanging out of a window to air in the sun, using a medium format analogue camera Solène’s work attends to the details of the world she observes. Her photographs capture the symbols and gestures that bind a community and reflect the fraternity between the men she photographs. We rarely see whole faces.

In a conversation with her about the work, she explains, ‘People living in the banlieues and immigrants in general are, in a way, cast aside by society. Not seeing faces brings a tension to the work. It opens a debate about identity and this space between how you are perceived by others and who you are. I wanted to play a bit with this schizophrenia of identity because we are not as people see us.’ This tension ripples through the series of images which switch between serious and composed to playful, revealing Solène’s personal connection to her subjects. She lived within the family of some of the young men she photographs, gaining a closeness to her subjects, absorbing aspects of their personalities and reactions to inform her images. Spending days with them, she would wait until they were no longer bothered by the camera before starting to photograph, focusing on moments and gestures that may look incidental but felt important. Through these depictions of each individual man the artist also draws out their links to Turkish and Kurdish culture as it exists in these host countries.

This context is seen clearly through the photographs of tower blocks, playing fields with stacks of goalposts, graffiti tags and bedroom interiors. Breaking up the portraits to create a rhythm in the flow of images, this urban environment is, for the artist, as forgotten and overlooked as the people who live there. There is an ambiguity to the work which, while seeking to disrupt stereotypes, forces the viewer to question their assumptions. A photograph of a man clasping a bag of ice to his ear, hints at an idea of violence we associate with these neighbourhoods from media coverage of them. But Solène laughs as she tells me, ‘it was just really hot that day. We were in the middle of a heatwave. But a lot of people have asked me if he was punched. There is unconsciously this link with violence when we think about those places.’

Turunç builds on Solène’s other projects and student work which focused more generally on her identity and origins in the suburbs of Paris. In an ongoing project Chevilly, she returned to her childhood neighbourhood, another neglected suburb, reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances and photographing them in their daily surroundings. An older series, Calle 815, was shot on an art school trip to Cuba, where she was drawn to a community project offering boxing training and much more of a supportive social education to young boys. In both works we see a fragility: of children training in a raw space intended for adults; and of youth making the most of a bleak environment.

A recurrent theme throughout these series of works is a focus on representations of masculinity. She has often photographed women in the past but these works have rarely been shown.Working with women helped her to understand how to work with others especially from an immigrant cultural background, but Solène’s own lived experience saw her surrounded by men. She drew on the strength of the women in her own family to pursue projects that encouraged her to take an interest in the people she encountered every day and which could, as she describes, ‘break the borders between men and women, which we find everywhere, not just in my culture’. She also wanted to use her images to convey a sense of solidarity. ‘I think it impacts us as women when men are stereotyped like this because it can be a father or a brother or a husband and we know it’s not their reality.

Women are also directly impacted.’ The misrepresentation of one, feels like a misrepresentation of all. Solène’s work thrives on her interactions with the people she meets, representing both the bitter reality of their experiences of a society that might neglect or vilify them, and the sweet joy of the friendships and community they nevertheless manage to build.

About Maitreyi Maheshwari

Maitreyi Maheshwari is the Director of FACT, a Liverpool based organisation for the support and exhibition of art and film that embraces new technology and explores digital culture. There she manages an ambitious artistic programme that connects with science and digital technologies to engage people with some of the most pressing challenges of today. Maheshwari has a degree in History of Art from Edinburgh University and a research masters in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the London Consortium, Birkbeck College.

view the work in Foam Talent 2021 Digital

This article is published in Foam Magazine #58: Talent.

Foam Talent is supported by the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation and the VandenEnde Foundation.

 Foam is supported by the VriendenLoterij, Foam Members, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, the VandenEnde Foundation and the City of Amsterdam.

In 2021 Foam receives additional support from the Mondriaan Fund and Kickstart Cultuurfonds.