“Trust your work and listen your heart and photographers who you trust and inspire your work.”
Esa Ylijaasko (born 1989) is a Finnish documentary photographer and photojournalist currently living in Istanbul.
He studied photography at Jyväskylä College of Arts. After graduation he deepened his knowledge through mentors and workshops. Esa Ylijaasko also attended the VII mentor program and is a contributor to RAW VIEW MAGAZINE.
In his photography bag, Esa Ylijaasko carries: diary, sketchbook, lot of batteries and films, paint brush, various pro markers, Leica M Monochrome, Polaroid Landcamera, flash, and a gas mask.
His favorite website about photography is Magnum Photos.
In this feature, Esa Ylijaasko talks about his series “The Syrians”.
Behind Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Mosque lies a historic district that, decades ago, teemed with life. But now the area is a totally different.
According to the Metropolitan Municipality, restoring the neighborhood to its former glory has been a priority for a long time, but so far Istanbul has done little to deliver on that promise.
During spring 2011, long-smoldering tensions in Syria, Turkey’s southeastern neighbor, consumed the country in a civil war. The conflict has claimed nearly 200,000 lives and forced more than 3 million people out of their homes. Turkey opened its border to all Syrian refugees, and more than a million have taken asylum there.
While a quarter of them live in camps, the rest have settled in cities. Istanbul now houses about 70,000 Syrian exiles, according to city officials.
“The local attitude toward the Syrians has soured as they continue to multiply.”
One Kurdish refugee community has moved into the houses around the Süleymaniye Mosque. Someones knowing a little Turkish and lacking official documents, they have a hard time finding work. The local attitude toward the Syrians has soured as they continue to multiply, and the governor of Istanbul Province, Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, said in June that refugees begging on the street would be expelled to camps near the Syrian border.
The exiles are not without benefactors, however: Istanbulites regularly bring them food, clothes, and other necessities.
Esa Ylijaasko, how did you come up with the idea of “The Syrians”?
The whole idea came when I realized that I wanted to search myself as a photographer.
So I did move in Istanbul and began to search myself as a photographer. Live as a photographer.
I’d roll topics what I wanted to photograph. It takes one month before I get it. Of course, there were some other things to do at the beginning of daily life in a totally new country.
I did research on news, Wikipedia, etc. I’m not one of these guys who keeps their noses on books or newspapers. So that was hard to me. I just want to go and explore.
What were the most beautiful, challenging or remarkable moments working on this series?
The most challenging, beautiful and remarkable moment was when I realized that I had earned the trust of these people and I they acknowledged me as one of them. That’s the moment when I started to work. I was not an outsider anymore.
How was the creative process? How would you describe your photographic language and creative process? How do you plan and execute a project? Both technically and conceptually?
My creative process takes time. I shot on digital first. Day by day, I developed myself and thought why this picture doesn’t work. I showed them to my mentors and friends, who often “punched me in the face” and said “what the fuck did you think when you took this frame?” … and I still do that. And it works.
“The only way you can learn photography is by taking pictures.”
Being a photographer for me, is developing myself as a photographer all a time. Going to shoot as often as possible. The only way you can learn photography is by taking pictures.
My photographic language is intimate. I like to go close. Closer than many, even under the skin. Mostly I work with my senses and intuition is my key to seeing the picture.
Project will be a book, but I’m not sure when I’ll execute my project.
Why did you become a photographer?
Photography has been part of my family a long time and part of my life since I was born. Lots of my relatives took pictures so I think that somehow influenced me. Suddenly I found it myself when I started shooting my friend’s snowboarding. It became more and more serious and soon I was studying photography in college of arts.
“I realized that I could influence world by taking pictures.”
At first I wanted to be a model photographer and just hang around with beautiful girls and take pictures of them. Then I found Magnum Photos, which totally changed my life in my percept. I realized that I could influence world by taking pictures. Not just give a boner for wankers.
What does photography mean to you?
It’s everything. It’s an obsession, my life. It’s the way for me to talk and show my feelings.
Which photographer has inspired you most? Did you have a point of reference when realizing your series? In what way?
There are so many photographers who have influenced me. James Nachtwey, William Klein, Robert Capa, Alex Webb, Jon Lowenstein, Gary Winogrand, Sally Mann, Alec Soth, Daido Moriyami, Ilkka Uimonen, Petri Uutela, Robert Frank… it’s a long list.
I like how they compose the frame. What’s technics they use and how they capture a piece of soul in the frame.
Which photographer has caught your attention lately?
Charlie Kirk. I love his work. Sadly, he supports Arsenal. But no one is perfect. Haha! However, I love the way he spots things on the street and frames them; all those layers of elements in the front, in the back and in between – all in harmony. It’s beautiful.
Also Massimo Berrutti’s work is incredible powerful!
For further reading check out Esa’s interview in The British Journal of Photography.