Last week I met Kerem.
A friend of a friend, he was a Turkish photojournalist until it became unsafe to be a Turkish photojournalist. Kerem got a green card when that was easier to do. He sold all his belongings and moved to the United States with his wife and twin boys. They went first to Rochester, MN to be close to other family who had settled there and just last month moved to the Twin Cities in search of better employment possibilities.
Kerem brought samples of his work and it was beautiful.
He wanted to learn more about working as a photographer in the United States and I shared with him what I knew of the industry. I connected him with a few people who might offer him projects.
His biggest reason for leaving Turkey was that he had published a book on the Syrian refugees who came to his country. The government was not pleased, perhaps, he thought, because it showed a compassionate humanity for those who were fleeing war and that was not a story the government could tolerate as they tried to limit the refugee numbers.
The name of the book is “Guests.”
The portraits are haunting and the stories are sweet, poignant, and heartbreaking.
“I attended the university before the war,” one young woman said. “I had dreams. Now I have nothing left. My father is in Syria. My mother has lost her arm and leg. The men are dying, are being killed, the whole burden of life is over the shoulders of us, the women.”
Another woman said, “I realized that my husband was tortured after his death when I saw the scars on his back. There is nothing left of him except my son. We sold everything when coming here. I sometimes wonder who now wears our wedding rings?”
And from a young child, “We want to become doctors. In order to cure our mother. She never smiles since she was wounded in the war. We only wish for her to be able to see us again.”
In the introduction to the book Kerem wrote of the refugees, “They arrived here as guests, but after a few days, we, as a whole society, showed them our canine teeth.”
Now Kerem finds himself as a guest in our country and I hope we can do better than that. I hope we can find ways to make him feel welcome. I hope we can help his family thrive.
Isn’t that what we would want?
You can see more of his work here: https://www.keremyucel.com/