Let’s Meet Up With… Akın Çeliktaş

Turkish photojournalist Akın Çeliktaş is the name behind the winning photo of the sixth edition of Pride Photo Award. His image, taken during this year’s banned Istanbul Gay Pride march, speaks of the right to individual freedom as well as freedom of press. Ivana Babic talked to Çeliktaş about his winning photo and his work as a photojournalist.
 
 
Banned LGBT Pride in Istanbul © Akin Celiktas
 
 
What inspired your passion for photography? How did you start?
Actually, I studied Interior Architecture for 5 years. One day a friend of mine, I don’t remember which one exactly, gave me a camera. That guy completely changed my life, as I gradually realized I wanted to tell photo stories. My parents were not too happy with that decision at first, but I still disenrolled from my faculty and decided to study photography and video instead. Now I’m studying at the Communication Faculty of the Bahçeşehir University.
 
 
Did you work on anything similar to the winning series before and how did you get the idea?
Through my work as a photojournalist, I have witnessed many protests and social events which include violence, bans and political power struggles. In that way, this photo is similar to my other work. I always try to show the depth of the issues through my photos. Through my photographs I try to echo the time and culture in which they were taken. To me, this award means I have succeeded in doing so and that brings immeasurable happiness.
 
 
Could you describe the moment when you took the winning photo? Could you tell us about the atmosphere on the streets?
I had only one or two seconds to take this photo because the riot police were running after the LGBT activists, to take them into custody. They failed and, when they were falling back, I was waiting and I pushed the release button at the right time. I wanted to show the situation in my country, where there is no respect and no tolerance for the LGBT people, which I think is ridiculous.
 
 
Fireworks at an anti-government protest in 2013 © Akin Celiktas
 
 
How was the photo received in your own country?
The daily newspaper I work for did not want to publish my photo and I was crushed because I think this single image tells the whole story of the ‘security concerns’ regarding the ban on the Istanbul Gay Pride. It made me feel like I was not allowed to tell a story and that my photograph is rubbish. However, this was not entirely unexpected, because police violence against the LGBT community is bad PR for a pro-government newspaper such as this one. Then a friend told me about Pride Photo Award contest and I decided to apply. I wanted the world to see the reality in Turkey.
 
 
What do you feel are the biggest issues for the LGBT community in your country? Are those issues different from those of other groups?
The biggest issue is anger towards LGBT’s. They are being seen as ‘other,’ as second-class citizens. The issue runs deep in Turkey; there is no sexual freedom. My mission as a photojournalist is to be the voice of the people who don’t get to say what they want. In my photographs, I have tried to expose this anger towards the LGBT community, as well as segregation.
 
 
A worker cleaning the blood after the suicide bombing at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport © Akin Celiktas
 
 
Have you got any plans to continue with similar topics?
If you live in Turkey, you know there are many topics regarding the gay community. There’s anger towards them and homophobia, people that are forced to be sex workers, transgender murders etc. I will always try to show not only what’s it like, but that it mustn’t be like that. Being human comes first and is most important.
 
 
What are you currently working on?
I’m not currently working on a project. When I have a budget, a visa and some time, I want to tell a visual documentary about anger against the black community in the U.S. Day by day the anger intensifies all around the world and we must do our part to stop it, to remain humane.
 
 
Interview: Ivana Babic

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.

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