Telling a story from an inside perspective can provide a unique insight, often one that those looking in from the outside can often struggle to find. Solene Gün’s documentation of young Turkish men in the banlieues of Paris and Berlin manages to look at this subject from a unique angle, one that is informed by her upbringing in these communities.
“Turunç is above all a fraternal project. It’s an immersion in the everyday life of young men with Turkish origins,” she tells It’s Nice That. “What I express through this series is what binds the communities living in these places, but also the frailty of these youth’s identity between who they are and how they are identified by others.”
Solene, who last year completed her studies in visual communication and photography at ECAL, self-published Turunç with Nicolas Poillot and Thomas Hervé. Rather than being a literal documentation of men in these communities, the book seemingly approaches the subject from the perspective of what surrounds them. Whether this is concrete towers, Shisha cafes or of course football, it provides a rounded account of their lives without playing up to cliches. It also rarely shows the men in full view, giving glimpses of the people this book is about without them being the centre of the show, and it works.
“I'm very interested in the details, emotions and atmospheres I find myself in when I photograph a subject,” she says. “I like to be absorbed as much as possible by the environment, that's often why I don't start shooting directly; I observe a lot beforehand and soak up the place where I am. I think my photographic style is warm, tense (with tension in my images) with a bit of melancholy."
Despite the considered nature of her images, it may surprise you to hear that photography is not Solene’s main creative passion, and that she views it just one of the many visual tools in her armoury. “I’m not particularly attached to photography. What I like above all is to tell stories through my work,” she says. “I have the feeling that I could do it also with other media, like film and video, for example. But what I like about photography is that you can freeze a gesture, a movement, an expression that can tell a lot about the subject you photograph. I think I’m more comfortable with visual language than oral, so photography has allowed me to express things in ways other than words."
The story was something that Solene had considered for a long time, motivated in a large part by observing the negative views that people had on those from the banlieues. “It was when I left that I realised how negative and distorted people had a vision of the suburbs, of the communities that live there. So, it kind of revolted me and I wanted to bring my own vision of things through photography,” she explains. As well as this she believes that the wider political issues in contemporary society are further exacerbating people’s negative views, and that is something she hopes to help change. “I sincerely think that the banlieues have become a pretext for rejecting immigration and dividing people, so it was very important for me to open up debate, to bring this part of my culture beyond the borders and especially to highlight the youth, who are full of potential despite a daily life that is sometimes difficult to live."
Seeing such parallels between herself and these communities, Solene also found it difficult to detach herself in some instances. “I will say that what was sometimes hard was to witness several personal situations that some young people were facing, without having any real power to help them.”
This is obviously a difficult situation, but one that came about due to Solene’s closeness with the community, which ultimately allowed her to tell this story in such a detailed and unique way. As a personal project, its importance to her is clear: “Being born in the banlieue of Paris, and having Turkish (and Kurdish) origins, it meant a lot to me to tell this story.”
GallerySolene Gün: Turunç
Solene Gün: Turunç
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.