TODAY.AZ / Arts & Entertainment

Rena Efendi: Our Azerbaijani magazines are filled with glamour, there's no place for documentaries

21 September 2010 [09:22] - TODAY.AZ
Rena Effendi has been in documentary photography for eight years. She is a recognized documentary photographer, and has also won the title of photographer of the year in Azerbaijan. She has participated in exhibitions in various countries. In 2007, the U.S.-based “Photo District News” magazine included Rena into the list of 30 most prominent photographers in the world. Her photographs were published in Le Monde, Le Figaro, Liberation, Courrier International, Newsweek, Days Japan, Reponse Photo, Show, Judge, and the Big City. Effendi is the author of gallery.

Rena, can you tell us how long have you been interested in photography? Your pictures are quite impressive ...

I have been seriously into photography since 2002. I took me a long time to take this up. After graduating from the Institute of Foreign Languages, I have long worked as a translator in various international companies. In 2005, I quit my last place of work and decided to engage in  photography. I have absolutely no regrets about it. I was fond of painting since childhood. But soon I realized that it is not something that I can do. Besides a talent, to become a good artist requires perseverance, at least. I always wanted to travel and communicate with new people. How it all began? A friend of mine gave me an old mechanical camera and that's how it all started.

Do you remember the feeling after the first photo?

For a long time, I had a utilitarian attitude towards photos. I really liked to be photographed, posing with friends on different squares, cafes, streets and so on. For me, the role of photography was merely to record time and place of my own condition and exceptionally good mood.

Once when I was in Paris, I think I was 20 years old then, I got photographed in front of the Eiffel Tower and other monuments of culture, but at one point I saw the bridge over the river with two silhouettes visible, with the lights falling down the bridge. This was my first shot. I did not even know the name of the bridge. I just wanted to catch this moment. This was the first time I truly wanted to stay on the other side of the camera. Now I think it was something subconscious. Later I attended an informal school of photography organized by Sanan Alasgarov.

You shoot in a rather documentary style. What does impress you in this?

My work is about people's lives, their destinies. I do not shoot news stories. I'm working on stories. I am not interested in fleeting news, news are likely to be forgotten after a while. But documentary photography passes the test of time. Although I deeply respect the news photography and the courage of photographers who do it. This is just not mine, not close enough. Several years ago there was a competition for photographers of the Caucasus region and for those who shot photos in this region. I sent my pictures and won this competition. That gave me confidence. And that very moment was a turning point in my life. I decided to leave my work and become a professional photographer ...

I received my first order from Russia-based "Ogonyok" magazine. At that time, roof of the market in Moscow collapsed killing several Azerbaijanis, sellers of green. I was asked to go and take pictures of families of these people. The photos were published in this magazine. This was a starting point. Later, there was a large order from “Newsweek” magazine. I went to St. Petersburg, where Group of Eight convened. I was asked to shoot, so to speak, "Putin’s Russia". Recently I received another order to shoot transgender community in Istanbul. This work has not been published yet. I have returned a couple of days ago.

Your job is not an easy one. Do you face extreme situations during the shooting?

Yeah, work is not easy, but that's what I like. You know, it is difficult to shoot news stories, but on the other hand events are unfolding in front of your eyes, and you can observe and photograph at the same time. But there are other difficulties in documentary photography. You have to find the story in an unattractive everyday life. I call this process photographic excavations. How is any history built? It is built on certain actions. It has main characters, climax, etc. The same is true in documentary photography - each story must have all these elements. This is quite complicated job that requires training. You need to have skills as an artist and filmmaker, writer, psychologist, anthropologist and even archaeologist! I do not like to photograph for no particular reason. There are some photographers who take the camera with themselves every minute. It is not necessary for me. I work exclusively on stories. I have a different approach to photography.

Any particular failures you've had in your job?

I have twice been in Cairo. The first time I went without a camera and I stayed there for several days, I wanted to take pictures. I couldn't however. The second time I took a camera, but did not arrange thing properly. Of course, I took emotional images of the city, but this job was not for me as valuable as others, because I was kind of aimlessly strolling through the town with a camera. When I set a goal, I always achieve success. There were times when I could not do the job well due to lack of time. Once I went to a farm in Ryazan, where mentally ill people worked with animals. It was a kind of therapy for them. The place was very beautiful. To do something interesting, I needed to live there for two weeks, but I stayed there only a couple of hours. Of course, I brought good shots, but I wanted to do better.

How do you deal with customers?

I have excellent relationship with editors of both Russian and foreign magazines. I would like them to order more stories. In general, at present  photo industry is in a crisis. The global economic crisis has affected the media. Many magazines have shut down. This is domino effect that affects everyone. In general, today photographs have became easily accessible and almost everone has a camera. Any professional photographer or simple passers-by can shot the event and these photos can be bought from them. This hinders work of professionals. It is difficult for us to convince the editor that our work is necessary. They prefer to purchase photos from the sites, rather than pay for the services of a professional. As for Azerbaijan, we have no magazine except “Baku” which work professionally with documentary photographers. All the magazines in our country are filled with glamor. Commercial, advertising photography are also thriving and there is absolutely no place for documentary. I would have worked with our media if what I do was required for them.

Are you involved in advertising projects?

It's not my profile, but it brings certain income. So, sometimes I do it. There were commercial orders, which I liked, too. Once there was an order from the Russian firm SUEK (Kuzbass), which sent me to Siberia in winter to take pictures of coal mines. I descended to 400 meters under the ground to photograph the miners. It was very interesting. It was a commercial order, but I did it in a documentary style. My works were displayed in an exhibition about the life of miners in Russia. This was one of my best commercial orders.

Many people think that it is more difficult for women to be a photographer...

In fact, it is easier for a woman to be a photographer. Only heavy equipment can cause difficulty. Women are less afraid. It is harder for a man photographer to enter a house in a village than a woman. And in general, women are fascinating creatures and it is easier for them to gain trust.

What do you like most of all about your profession?

To see results of my work. I do not work with a digital camera, I film it. Therefore, each time it is holiday for me to see the developed film and finished photos. I also like the very process of filming very much. All of these moments that you experience stay with you for life. Finally I found what I wanted. For a long time I searched, often changed jobs and could not understand what I'm doing. And when I finally found something that I like, it filled my life. If a man likes something, he should do it, but not to the detriment of society. Photography is like an expressive and artistic language for me. I want to tell a story and deliver it in my own language.

What is the formula for your success?

My book about life of people who live along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline called "Life Line" was recently published. The book of photographs were published in four languages and distributed worldwide. I spent seven years of life on it. Now I am thinking about the next book. It takes time to amass power for something new. As for formula, I have it easy – you step towards your goal slowly, but surely, and believe in yourself, believe that everything will work eventually.


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