by Sanda Galina
Growing up my first attraction to photography came through books from various documentary and street photographers. They grabbed me by my two pigtails and sent my childish imagination spiralling into a whole new world. Somewhere out there, beyond the green fields of my playground was another world, people of different skin colour, armed men, starving children, people living in the strangest ways.
And ever since I have been drawn to documentary photography. I have a profound admiration for photographers reporting on social issues, telling everyone their stories that otherwise would not be told.
I came across Rena Effendi’s work few years ago and have been inspired since. At the time her first book was just published “Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives along the Pipeline” in which she tells a story on people’s lives along the Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil pipeline through Georgia and Turkey. Story of ordinary people, struggling for survival, right next to a pipeline that is carrying all its wealth and energy to the West.
I managed to get in touch with Rena to find out what inspires her work to which she graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions. Thanks Rena!
What is your main drive behind choosing a certain project?
Rena:The story has to have some global relevance and it has to be important to me personally. The best story is the one that chooses me.
How do you approach people you choose to photograph and what are the main qualities one should have to be able to build a connection between you self and the person you’re documenting?
Rena: You have to be open and honest; you have to be charming and also brave in approaching strangers. It’s basic human communication skills that are useful in almost every job. You have to understand your purpose and explain it well.
Have you stayed in touch with anyone you have photographed?
Rena: I have been back to meet some of the people I had photographed. But now I moved to another country (Egypt) and with constant travel it’s harder to go back to the same stories and stay in touch.
What is the hardest part and what is the most rewarding part of your job?
Rena: The most rewarding part is to go back with the images that then become part of your life. Every story and image add on another layer. For me, the hardest is the time before I go out on the shoot. It’s the anticipation and trepidation before the whole thing starts. And then I get sucked into the work and forget everything else.
What has been your most interesting situation or experience while taking pictures?
Rena: There have been so many different situations… Just last week I was chased down the hill by a 350 kg baby elephant, he was almost 2 years old and wanted to play. Photography takes me to places I would otherwise not find myself in, such as going 400 meters underground in the belly of the Siberian coal mine or enjoying a dinner cooked by the Turkish trans-gender sex workers.
What equipment do you make sure is always in your camera bag?
Rena: I have a Rolleiflex which is older than me by a few years. It’s a wonderful camera that I always take with me. I feel almost helpless without it.
I know you shoot film, do you develop it your self or brig it to a lab?
Rena: I have been working a lot in colour, so I use various labs around the world to process my film.
What makes you to shoot with film instead of digital?
Rena: Film pushes me to take things more seriously. With only 12 exposures on the medium format roll, I really have to think hard before I shoot. It’s about discipline. I also love the surprises of film, sometimes you have to trust the gods.
If you could have a master class with anyone you wished, who would be your ultimate photographer you would like to learn from or work with?
Rena: There are definitely a few that I would love to meet and have a conversation with. Unfortunately, most of them are dead now. Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon for instance. I would have loved to hear them talk in person.
If you could shoot anything and anywhere, what would it be?
Rena: In my dreams, when I am asleep. Sometimes there are wonderful pictures there.
How did it feel to hold in your hands your first book for the first time?
Rena: It was like when you come from a trip abroad, a country you’ve never been to before and you went there with your best friends and brought back memories, pictures and things you bought. And a few years later you find a box of all these things in it and you open it again and go through it. It feels nice.
What tips and advice would you give someone wanting to work with social and documentary photography?
Rena: Be patient, read more, look at other people’s work to see who is doing what, try to avoid clichés.
To find out more about Rena’s work and see her beautiful photographs please visit http://www.refendi.com/