Magnum Nominee Sabiha Cimen Shows Something Mainstream Media Doesn’t

All images are used with permission from Sabiha Cimen on behalf of Magnum Photos.

Magnum Nominee Sabiha Cimen is based in Turkey. She’s doing what many religious people would call, “Fighting the good fight.” Sabiha is working to show the world a completely different side of Islam. The religion is unfortunately misunderstood due to the media’s portrayal. One could look at the photo and easily replace the women in the scene with any other person. Depending on your media consumption, you’ll probably feel different things from the photo, but Sabiha’s work shows just how normal these people really are. And best of all. this photo is part of the Magnum Square Print Sale currently happening. We talked with Sabiha about this photo a bit and her motivations with photography.

A Critique of Sabiha Cimen’s Photograph

This photo really made me think carefully. As a former photojournalist, we’re always taught to work the angles. I wondered how the photo would look if a wide-angle lens was used and Sabiha had gotten below her subjects. Maybe the women would have looked a more empowered. But the more I thought about it, the more I adore this image. Sabiha is working to humanize Islam’s followers, which is really needed these days. One of my best friends is a practicing follower of Islam. And when I look at this photo, I see him and his family. I see him and my friends from various backgrounds, all enjoying ourselves. We’d all have lots of fun with colored smoke bombs.

There’s a very mystical sense of the image. There are three women who honestly look pretty cool. They could easily be replaced with young women from France, America, South Korea, the Congo, etc. Their reactions could also be the same, but because of our media consumption and our social spheres, we might feel different things from these photos. A diverse cast in this image would make us feel one thing. Three women in white hooded robes would make us feel another. Young women from Japan who are really into K-Pop would make us feel something totally different. But again, that’s all up to the viewer. And that’s why I think this photo is so important.

Sabiha shot this photo with a Hasselblad medium format film camera. She states this in her interview. I think digital photographers would have spent a lot of time working the scene and shooting various frames. And that’s even more of the reason why Sabiha’s message in this photo is so important. With medium format film, you don’t get many shots. You have to be careful. And Sabiha had to react to what’s happening. With that said, we’re seeing life from her perspective and not using specialized framing.

Phoblographer: Tell us about this image. What inspired you to shoot it? What sort of emotions did you get from seeing this moment in front of you?

Sabiha Cimen: This photo belongs to the series that l am working on Girl Quran Schools in Turkey. l also followed the daily lives of the Muslim girls while they are not studying, when they have joy and fun during or outside school life. In this photo, the girls were at a picnic event and they went a bit far away from the crowd to explode a colored smoke bomb. When l saw the girls inside the pink smoke that scene seemed right for me, like they were at the entrance of paradise, like God rewarded the girls who are using almost all their time reciting and memorizing the Holy Quran. ıt was a moment for me between reality and dreamlıfe. l see that it was a way for the girls to create a dream miracle, transforming themselves into another life.

Phoblographer: For you, what are your motivations with your photography? Your work spans a ton of different landscapes and life stories across Turkey.

Sabiha Cimen: My motivation in photography derives from my desire to portray the world I am from and to present Islam and its people in an intimate and nuanced way to the world. I want to go beyond the stock images seen in the media.

Phoblographer: Why do you feel this image is great for the Works for Imagination sale?

Sabiha Cimen: Imagination and reality are two sides of life. All humans live ın both worlds. I wanted to provıde thıs demensıonal vıew at the border of thıs transıtıon. The smoke for me represents the entrance to paradise, from one world to another, that rewards the girls who recite and memorize the Quran.

Phoblographer: Talk to us a bit about the technical parts of this image. What were you using? How did it help you get the photo?

Sabiha Cimen: l worked on this series with Hasselblad medium format film camera with fill-in flash. It helped me to explore the true emotions that l exactly wanted to transform onto the film.

If you’re interested in purchasing this image, it’s part of the Magnum Square Print sale where photos are sold for $100 each.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.