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Bradley Secker – Portraying the lives of displaced LGBT individuals through photojournalism

Photojournalist discusses his work documenting the lives of LGBT* refugees in the Middle East

Photojournalist Bradley Secker attends the fifth gathering of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in May 2017

Nicole Bogart | 07.07.2017

Bradley Secker is a British photojournalist, based in Istanbul, Turkey, who focuses on documenting the consequences of social, political and military actions from an individual’s perspective. One of his long-term projects – titled “Kütmaan,” an Arabic work for the act of hiding or concealing something – documents the plight of LGBT* asylum seekers in the Middle East. Secker attended the fifth gathering of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum - Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging.

Salzburg Global: Can you explain your work?

Bradley Secker: “I’m a British photojournalist; I’ve been living in Istanbul for the last five and a half years covering the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia. I’ve been working on LGBT* issues professionally for the last seven [years]. This long body of work I’ve called Kütmaan, which is an Arabic word for the act of hiding or concealing something, which in this case is someone’s sexuality or gender identity. It attempts to portray some of the waiting and unknown aspects of being an LGBT* displaced person, on those grounds, and the wait for the next move.”


Above: Both Syrian opposition (left) and government (right) flags are held together at Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride in 2014. (Photo Credit: Bradley Secker)

SG: Why did you begin covering LGBT* issues?

BS: “Nobody assigned me to do this work; it was purely done for personal motivation back in 2010. I had been to Syria in 2008 and decided to go back in 2010 with a professional focus documenting the situation for gay Iraqi men who had to flee from Iraq and ended up in Damascus and other parts of Syria. There was no editorial interest at that time, unfortunately. It was very difficult to get that story into the media’s realm.

I moved to Turkey in late 2011, which is when I started documenting the plight of Iranians LGBT* [people] in Turkey, and, more recently, the Syrians and Iraqis who were displaced for a second time from Iraq to Syria and then to Turkey.”


Above: Wissam Farhat, 26 from Damascus, Syria. Wissam is gay and waiting for resettlement to a third country after no longer feeling safe in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo Credit: Bradley Secker)

SG: As a gay man, how do these stories affect you personally?

BS: “The LGBT* work and, in general, with my everyday photojournalism work, the stories I hear and the things I see do affect me. Inevitably. I try to keep it as professional as possible and try not to get emotional because it can also trigger someone. It’s probably not good for them, to re-traumatize them, and it can also be difficult for me to hear, but its way more important to be more cautious about the person I’m interviewing.

Collecting the stories is time-consuming, as I said; it's often putting myself in a place where I don’t feel that safe and I feel quite vulnerable. But I kind of put that aside and concentrate on documenting the people that face much greater risks, and continue to.

[But] it makes me optimistic that LGBT* people are strong and united, and will always come together wherever they are in the world. They will form a community; they will find each other. It’s quite incredible, and I really find that inspiring. At the same time, it’s incredibly negative, in terms of what they are fleeing from and the conditions in a lot of countries. Now, in the recent past, and what looks like the considerable future, it’s not really getting much better. It’s a mixture of optimism, happiness and complete anger and madness at the whole thing.”


Above: Danial, left and Parsa, right are a gay couple from Iran currently living in Denizli, Turkey. They are applying for resettlement in a third country through the UNHCR, a process which can take years. (Photo Credit: Bradley Secker)

SG: What sort of impact do you hope your work will have?

BS: “I’m not a big believer that photojournalism can change the world. I don’t think it’s that profound. Purely and simply I think the work I’m doing will just illustrate [the issue] and educate people. But together, as a more cohesive body of work, I hope it would stand as a documentation of the situation in general in the MENA region and Turkey for this period that I’m covering it. I really don’t think it’s going to change anything politically, [or] socially. It’s about collecting the stories; it’s about not letting them be lost and trying to document them because I don’t feel like there is anyone else doing it a lot of the time.”


Above: Nasser, 29, a newspaper photographer from Baghdad in Iraq. Scars are visible on his throat and chin from what he claims was a violent attack perpetrated against him and his boyfriend. The attack killed his boyfriend and left Nasser near dead in a rubbish dump outside of Baghdad. (Photo Credit: Bradley Secker)

*LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as exclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender-nonconforming identities.


Bradley Secker was a participant at the fifth annual Salzburg Global LGBT Forum – Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging. The session was supported by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth; the Archangel Michael Foundation; Open Society Foundations; Stiftung Erinnerung Verantwortung Zukunft; the Austrian Development Cooperation; UNDP; and Canadian 150. More information on the session can be found here: http://www.salzburgglobal.org/go/578.html

07.07.2017 Category: LGBT, SALZBURG IN THE WORLD, JUSTICE
Nicole Bogart