Idealist at heart: photographer Semra Sevin produces abstract multi-level images and conceptual photographs.
Of Turkish descent but raised in Germany, the artist is proud of her multicultural background, and this heritage has bound Semra to underline the concept of diversity. Her exploration translates into studied subjects and places, deep meditation and photography installations with multilayered acrylic photographs glowed by coloured filters.
We had the opportunity to speak to her, learn about her past, her preferences, and listen to her humanist view of the world. This is our conversation:
How did your photography journey start?
"Since I was very little, photography has been my means to survive. I come from a poor migrant family of labourers where I saw my mother suffer from domestic violence on a daily basis.
I had no room for myself. Dreaming provided that escape, it gave me the possibility to imagine another life.
Music, drawing, painting, collages, little theatre plays, radio shows…you name it. The more unpleasant my environment became, the more energy I accumulated for my creativity.
I know this might seem like a sad story to some… but, I feel like this experience gave me superpowers! It allowed me to sharpen my ability to imagine, to be visionary, and make things beautiful. And beauty has power.
One day my brother bought me a used Minolta camera with three lenses, and from that day on my creative energy found its final destination."
What are your travel essentials and what camera do you use?
"When I travel for my 'reflexion' shots, I have to be able to move fast with my equipment from location to location as well as to be agile during the shoot itself. When I don’t rent a camera I use my Canon 5D Mark 2. I use Canon flashlights with colour filters and softboxes or a honeycomb to sculpt the flash.
I always use light and comfy clothing and sturdy walking shoes, as well as clothes with pockets to put batteries and equipment in. I wear a “stylish” belt bag for the most important accessories like glue, rubber bands, a cutter, a penny, a lens cloth, batteries, a level, a compass, a filter to watch the sun movement, and some local currency.
I also like to have a map of the town I’m visiting to know where the sun goes up and down in that location. And If I don’t speak the local language, I make sure to have access to a dictionary. A few words can go far with the locals and do wonders for your work."
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
"Build a pure money making business on the side or have a job you like and that finances your creative endeavours. Learn how to invest in bonds, actions or cryptocurrency, build up a passive income.
Handle the art like a business."
How would you describe your style of photography?
"It could definitely go into a few categories. My 'reflexion' portraits go into the category of art as well as of unusual portraiture or conceptual photography. My 'reflexion' cities can be categorised as art photography or abstracted environmental photography. Recently I started to present my photography with mirrors, lights and on multilayered acrylic plates which turns them into photo installations."
What is your favourite place or thing to photograph?
"As a conceptual photographer, I choose locations according to my objectives. I design a concept first and then choose the location that can materialise those thoughts.
I tend to fall back to places where I've lived for several years.
Concurrently my subjects ought to challenge me and teach me about new aspects of the world I know. I like subjects where research is necessary to understand the global scope they are related to."
Favourite European location and why?
"Of the European locations I have travelled to until now, Italy is my favourite. I am treated as one of their own and my ethnic looks don’t hinder my work, making friends or finding a partner. People judge me for my actions and character rather than for my looks.
Growing up in Germany, my parents encouraged me to immerse myself in German culture, to celebrate Christmas, to only speak German, to watch German TV and make only German friends and to work ten times harder than any German. My mom even adopted the German cuisine by cooking schnitzel, goulash, potatoes and kraut.
After my 11-year long international career in the film and photo business abroad, I expected things to be easier when I came back to Germany, as to me this was my home country. But “full on” Germans judge me until today by the culture of my parents, although I am a foreigner to the culture of my parents myself. My un-nordic (meaning classically Western) name and looks trapped me.
On top of that, there is a massive negative campaign taking place in Germany towards people with a Turkish background.
Countries like France and England have highlighted positive examples of people with a migrant background or un-nordic looks for public positions. In Italy even more so. Italians are regionalist more than nationalist, which focusses their identity outside the national or Nordic values. It's easy to be there, and that's why it's my favourite European location.
I work in a highly competitive business and the issues above can mess with my career easily."
The most memorable photo you’ve ever taken?
"As a professional photographer, you are supposed to constantly create photos of the highest excellence. What stays memorable to me are the circumstances under which I worked, the adventures I had in order to get to the point of a photo that touches people."
Who has inspired you the most during your journey?
"All the photographers that I have worked with, my family and the photo diploma I took, they all contributed to my photographer’s persona.
I was also marked by one of the fashion photographers I worked with on a shoot for Vogue. I asked him how he could always make such excellent photos, not knowing the exact location sometimes, the personalities of the models, team and the weather. His answer was: “You have to trust your gut”.
I often create photos under pressure and difficult circumstances. But trusting my gut feeling makes it stress-free."
Your images are not very ordinary; do you have a standard production method?
"In the last few years I have worked with different surfaces to create layers in the images with the camera: Photoshop is not part of the process. I am just very proficient with the whole photography and light technique.
I am also shifting to new techniques where I use layer installations to underline the concept of diversity, and I believe I’ll continue to explore different art techniques in the future."
Sevin has an ongoing installation at the Wende Museum in California, USA, until January 13th 2019; and she is also curating The Big Group's show on Fluid Identities.