January 14, 2019
LFI: You spent two years living in Istanbul. How did this come about?
Charlotte Schmitz: Before going to university I lived in Berlin, and I just felt compelled to get to know the home country of my Turkish friends and neighbours. On my first trip in 2012, I spent several weeks travelling from the Black Sea Coast to Istanbul. This was when I first heard about Balat, a historical part of the city located along the south side of the Golden Horn. I ended up spending a lot of time in this area, and quickly realised that I wanted to live there and learn to speak Turkish.
Was this when you had the idea for this series?
Yes, it was. I was fascinated by the lives that took place inside these buildings, and so I began to photograph their inhabitants – trying to capture their sense of solidarity and community spirit. It was only over time that the project evolved into a series exclusively about women. In Balat, there is a strict divide between the public and private sphere – in some cases it was years before I even met the husbands or fathers of the women I had portrayed.
Did your subjects’ husbands, brothers and fathers see the photographs? What were their reactions?
Many of them are familiar with my pictures, and some also came to see my exhibition. I spent a lot of time with the family of one particular girl, who attended my exhibition together with her brother and some of his friends. One of the photos was of her, wearing no headscarf – although her face is not recognisable, of course. As soon as he spotted it, her brother laughed and exclaimed, “Ooh, Büsra, that’s you!”, even though his male friends were there. One of them said, “Finally I get to see your hair!”, to which Büsra replied, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”. The reality isn’t always quite as conservative as you might expect. Obviously I checked with each woman beforehand which photographs I was allowed to show, and which ones I wasn’t.
Charlotte Schmitz studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the Hanover University of Applied Sciences. In 2014 she moved to Istanbul for two years, where she created her series çok güzelim, çok güzel / I am so beautiful, so beautiful. Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, and featured in publications such as Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, The Washington Post, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Geo, Dagbladet Information, and taz. The artist currently lives in Berlin. More