The Flying Darkroom: A Traveling Container for Children in Need

Serbest Salih has been helping Syrian refugee children creatively express themselves with the Sirkhane DARKROOM.

“Seeing children learn photography and getting the chance to express themselves motivates me to continue this workshop and make it bigger,” says 26-year-old Serbest Salih. Currently based in Turkey, he is the Director of Sirkhane DARKROOM, a photography school in an impoverished neighborhood in the city of Nusaybin. “It gives young people the opportunity to develop life skills such as group dynamics, adopting universal values, improving coordination and concentration, therefore developing a healthy personality and healthy social communication skills.” Now, he’s trying to turn this into a bigger project with the Darkroom. Sometimes called the Flying Darkroom, it’s a giant shipping container that has been converted for educational and Darkroom usage. The vessel will travel every three months to serve underprivileged communities–or at least that’s the goal. For Serbest, this project is all about helping children express themselves.

Children these days are born into the world of smartphone photography first and foremost. And many don’t even bother trying to experiment with older formats. But once they do, kids often really like it. It’s part of what’s fueled so many trends in the past few years. “They learn how to create beauty and joy out of darkness of their past and present,” explains Serbest to us. With all that’s been happening in the world, it seems that we’ve forgotten all about refugee children. And one can only imagine what’s going through their heads right now.

Serbest believes that children should be taught analog photography before digital. “If you want to teach children photography and consider it as a career in the future, you should start with analog photography,” he states. Indeed, this could help bring sustainability to the art form in the long run once people understand just how much work can go into making a single image. Combine this with respect for copyrights and intellectual property, and we could have a living dream for the photo world.

With the Flying Darkroom, Serbest will take the practices developed at the Sirkhane Darkroom and bring it on a roadshow. The $10,000 they seek in funding will also provide them with much-needed supplies to get this done. Chemicals, paper, enlargers, scanners, etc. will be included.

“…the art of photography enables children to develop a healthy personality and gives them a tool to express themselves in the most meaningful way to be a productive member of their society,” explains Serbest. But in addition to this, he believes it helps children get to know themselves better. When shooting analog photography, he claims that the children are busy thinking in new ways, creating and expanding their social environment. Most importantly, kids are actually interested in it. Serbest specifically cited the first time that a child put photo paper in a chemical tub and watched the image appear like it was magic. He also elaborated on particular effectiveness with little girls. The nature of the culture doesn’t allow girls to get out of the house freely, but parents have been more open to the idea once they see how talented their kids are. It instills support from the parents in their children, who become their family’s photographer eventually.

If you’re interested in helping these kids, the Flying Darkroom is still raising money.