Bradley Secker - “It’s About Collecting The Stories. It’s About Not Letting Them Be Lost”

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Jan 29, 2018
by Nicole Bogart
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Bradley Secker - “It’s About Collecting The Stories. It’s About Not Letting Them Be Lost”

British photographer on capturing LGBT refugees' stories in the Middle East

British photojournalist Bradley Secker has been based in Istanbul, Turkey, for the last five and a half years documenting the consequences of social, political and military actions from an individual’s perspective. One of his long-term projects – titled Kütmaan, an Arabic word for the act of hiding or concealing something – documents the plight of LGBT asylum seekers in the Middle East.  

Why did you begin photographing LGBT people?
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 on for 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 Iranian 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.

As a gay man, how do these stories affect you personally?
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 [else]. It’s probably not good for them, to re-traumatize them, and it can also be difficult for me to hear, but it’s way more important to be more cautious about the person I’m interviewing.

Collecting the stories is time consuming… often putting myself in a place where I don’t feel that safe and I feel quite vulnerable. But I 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.

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