Aslı Baykal’s Darkroom follows a group of children involved in the Sirkhane Darkroom After-School Photography Workshop—an itinerant arts organization that dedicates itself to teaching children across Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, about self-expression through photography. The traveling darkroom is currently fundraising to support its efforts. You can follow the project on their Instagram. Shot by the accomplished photographer and filmmaker Gillian Garcia, this warm portrait of a close-knit community living in a conflict zone premiered at MoMA’s Doc Fortnight last year.
Mostly composed of scenes in which children are either running around or messing around with old cameras and microphones, Darkroom draws attention to how games and analog technology can re-introduce a sense of intimacy to those facing the destabilizing whiplash of displacement. When one kid is asked, “What kind of photos will you take?” and he responds, “All of them,” it becomes apparent how powerful the action of taking pictures can be for those actively invested in imagining a new world for themselves.
“As Serbest Salih, the founder of the Sirkhane Darkroom workshop, recounted once, while developing their photos in the darkroom, one of the kids exclaimed, ‘Bismillah!’ as the photograph started to appear on the paper. They believed it was some sort of magic. I was influenced by the magic they saw.” ASLI BAYKAL
While editing, Baykal imagined the “darkroom as a portal to an abandoned village taken over by kids with cameras.” Her approach to the film engages that sense of play by including field recordings captured by the kids from the workshop and channeling a freeform style of filming inspired by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Kiro Russo. Darkroom’s magic is both a testament to Baykal’s ability to funnel her influences into the creation of a form-busting film and the involvement of everyone who participated in making it a work of art that simultaneously acknowledges its many authors while stressing their unity.
Aslı Baykal is a Turkish visual artist and film curator. Her work is expressed in films and photographs, ranging from documentaries to magical realism in fiction. Her work addresses layered social issues and collective histories embedded in personal journeys using a sense of humor that highlights the subject instead of disguising its gravity. She has collaborated with musicians such as Sampha, Nick Hakim, Princess Nokia, Karen O, and others. More recently, she started AIRTIME, a new alternative streaming platform, and is in the process of developing and raising funds for a short documentary called Spiral about the women in a sunken ancient village in Turkey.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.