Women of Karadeniz are strong

A Closer Look at the Work of Cansu Yıldıran

By Refik Akyüz

From the series The Dispossessed © Cansu Yıldıran

The Doğu Karadeniz region, also known as the North Eastern part of Turkey, is aptly named after the Black Sea. This stunning area is characterised by challenging topography, diverse geography, and a climate that can be quite unforgiving. The prevalence of a strong male culture in this region can be attributed to several factors, and one of them is the influence of traditional gender roles. The societal expectations placed upon men and the visibility of masculinity often overshadow the voices and contributions of women. As a result, women may find themselves with limited opportunities to fully express themselves and participate in decision-making processes.

In this region, people spend their winters in the villages at low altitudes. Once spring arrives, they move to the highlands until autumn, which is the typical behavior of livestock farmers. This lifestyle is gradually fading as the new generation leaves their ancestral villages and moves to cities in search of a new life. However, some families make an effort to preserve it by visiting their family homes in the highlands during summers, as was the case for Cansu Yıldıran.

Cansu has strong ties to the region where their family originates from. However, it was Istanbul where they primarily grew up and developed their sense of identity and values as an adult. Cansu's photographic approach is deeply intertwined with their identity, which strongly influences their artistic perspective. They have a fondness for amplifying personal narratives and unique perspectives. In this way, The Dispossessed appears to be a beautiful tale of reuniting with their family's ancestral land during their summers of youth.

In The Dispossessed, the powerful women of Karadeniz gather under one roof, unveiling their immense strength that is usually hidden from the world. This intimate reunion takes place in a cosy family home, where these remarkable individuals showcase their resilience and determination. Witnessing the unity and unwavering spirit of these women is truly inspiring and serves as a reminder of the indomitable force within all of us. In the highlands, women live close to nature, working on their small lands, tending to their cattle and goats. They also enjoy spending time together in nature on their long walks together and in their family homes.

Cansu's aunt Süreyya truly shines as the central figure in the photograph. Despite the worn appearance of the family house from this chosen perspective, it is the aunt in the meadow who radiates strength and resilience. She single-handedly keeps everything intact and together. She represents other strong women in the family, as if she is protecting the place with her presence. The use of flash creates an effect that darkens objects in the distance, while the fog—one of the hallmarks of this region's climate—creates a sense of uncertainty. Süreyya is also a symbol of other strong women in the Karadeniz region. Perhaps this strength is due to the harsh conditions of the region or in response to the masculine attitude of men.

As an emerging photographer, Cansu easily copes with the difficulties of working on a subject related to their family. Projects based on families can be challenging because you need to maintain a certain level of distance, while also being intimately involved to portray the desired level of closeness. The work, made over several years, begins much like an intimate documentation of their family but evolves into a more poetic and visually captivating language. Many pictures appear blurry and are difficult to understand at first glance. However, when they are viewed all together, they work harmoniously to create a compelling visual narrative. Cansu's imagery in this series, as well as their overall photographic approach, follows the personal documentary style that has become more and more popular. However, in contrast to the often gritty narratives associated with this genre, Cansu's portrayal of family life tells a brighter story.

About Refik Akyüz

Refik Akyüz has been working in the field of photography for over 25 years, as a publisher, editor, curator, writer and cultural manager. With the experience and knowledge gained during Geniş Açı Fotoğraf Sanatı Dergisi (1997-2006), he founded Geniş Açı Project Office (GAPO) with Serdar Darendeliler in 2007 to realise projects in the field of photography and visual arts. In 2021, they launched PLATFORM by GAPO, an initiative aiming to make contemporary photographic production in Turkey more visible in the international arena. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics AICA Turkey. 

About the artist

Cansu Yıldıran (1996) is a contemporary visual artist based in Istanbul, Turkey. Their practice includes photography and video works and often draws from personal experiences and stories. In 2018, Cansu was selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass, and in 2022, they were awarded the Women Photograph Project Grants. Their work featured in many exhibitions, including Foam Explore, Pera Museum, Odunpazarı Modern Museum, Elgiz Museum, and Arles Photography Festival.

About Kısmet

This article was created in light of the multi-year project Kısmet, an initiative created and developed in close collaboration between Studio Polat and Foam. The project is inspired by longstanding cultural, diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Kısmet delves into the diverse and intricate facets of Turkish visual culture, as seen through the lens of different generations of image makers.

This article is part of a series under the name A Closer Look, where a selection of creative professionals, with an affinity for visual culture from Turkey, reflect on an image from one of the Kısmet exhibitions.

Kısmet has been made possible by the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund.

Women of Karadeniz are strong. A Closer Look at the Work of Cansu Yıldıran – Article | Foam: All about photography As part of Kısmet, Foam invited several professionals from the cultural and creative sector to refle [...]
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