Miriam Stanke | And the Mountain said to Munzur: You, River of my Tears
Miriam Stanke’s project, And the Mountain said to Munzur: You, River of my Tears, is a moving and insightful photo documentary of the Kurdish Alevis group in the mountains of Easter Anatolia. Stanke brings us images of isolation and survival, a society bound by rites and driven by a perpetual struggle for political autonomy. The photographs simultaneously telegraph a sense of peace and of determination. The landscape in these images embraces the human subjects, giving them a resting place even as it forces them to adapt their living conditions to its will. - Editor
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What brought you to photography?
As long as I remember I always loved photography. I was ever since impressed by its strength and ability to transmit more than words. In earlier years I used to play around with cameras a lot, but it was not before I started studying communications design that I saw it as a serious tool for expression. After several years I eventually started to focus more on documentary photography. I remember that I used to look at 'the Roma Journeys' by Joakim Eskildsen in the library for so many times. I realized that I wanted to learn more about story telling and that photography is the language I wanted to use. After my BA and several years of working I did my MA in Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication (LCC). Still I am especially interested in long-term projects and analogue photography.
Who are your photographic influences?
It is difficult to tell who my influences were so far. Sure there are a lot of photographers I admired and still admire, e.g. Joakim Eskildsen, Alec Soth, Rob Hornstra. But mostly I guess I am influenced by my surroundings and experiences. Sometimes things influence me most which are not directly linked to the same genre I am working in or not even to art at all. It's often just people I meet and their perception which fascinate me.
Tell us about the steps and processes that go into making your photographs.
To develop a project is a long process to me. First of all there is just a rough idea about what you want to talk in your pictures. Then you have to think of how you can interpret it with photography and how to bring something across. But in documentary photography there are usually too many unpredictable factors that I try to stay quite open and try to connect with people and their culture while I am on the spot. Also this helps me to overcome stereotypical pictures which I try to avoid.
What does being a photographer bring to your life?
If you choose to be a photographer there must be some kind of passion behind it. For me it is the fascination for this medium as well as the fascination for other cultures, rites, people and the curiosity of learning new things and of course to tell stories. Photography gives you the chance to enter so many different worlds and it is a great privilege to me that so many different people accepted my presence and gave me a warm welcome to their lives and their homes which you should never take for granted. Even though being a photographer means also having a lot of struggles and uncertainties for me these positive aspects compensate for it. Photography is a language you have to learn and develop, but for me it is the perfect language to tell stories.
What is this project about?
Dersim, a remote mountainous area of Eastern Anatolia, is the historical heartland of the Kurdish Alevis, a very heterodox religious group that has been oppressed and attacked throughout the past centuries and is still fighting for its heritage. Continuous struggles against the state climaxed with the massacre of 1938, where ten thousand were killed by Turkish military. During the second half of the 20th century Dersim also became a melting pot of leftist political dissent and an important centre for several communist movements. Its mountains have served as a hideout for guerrilla groups since this time and still today the region has one of the highest concentrations of military presence in Turkey. The project captures glimpses of a society which cultural and religious history, in its particular diversity and isolation, reveals itself not only in special prayers, rites, or structures of society today, but also in clear political actions for autonomy and equality.