Hakan Kalkan has been featured as one of The Guardian Editor’s Picks of the best Portrait of Humanity entries so far, but it took a while for him to discover his aptitude for portraiture. The Istanbul-based Turkish / British photographer nurtured an amateur interest in photography alongside a career in finance, but he initially focussed on landscapes. Gradually, his interest shifted to portraiture, and he now uses his camera to tell people’s stories.
The image that our British Journal of Photography followers voted as their favourite of The Guardian Editor’s Picks show a young Turkish boy tending to the rams on his family’s farm. It’s bright and busy, and a perfect example of what Kalkan calls ‘capturing the soul of moment’.
We spoke to Kalkan about the story behind the picture, and what being part of Portrait of Humanity would mean to him.
Can you tell me about the photograph you entered into Portrait of Humanity? What is the story behind it?
Turkey is a large and diverse country, and I’ve been trying to capture its different cultures and landscapes. Last winter, a friend and I went to East Anatolia to take photos. One of our destinations was Mount Ararat and its neighbourhood. While taking some landscape shots and capturing the gorgeous Mount Ararat, we visited some local villages. The environment there is harsh, with winters as cold as -40 degrees, but the villagers are incredibly welcoming.
That is how we met Emir, a five-year-old boy who helps his family to take care of their livestock. The residents there depend heavily on their livestock for living, and Emir was taking his job very seriously. He was also playful and full of energy, and I kept having to ask him to stand still because he was running around all over the place.
Why did you decide to enter the Portrait of Humanity award? Why do you want the world to see this picture?
I believe in the award’s motto that there is more that unites human beings than sets us apart. Different cultures are what enriches humanity. I want to show Emir and his way of living through my lens. I am a storyteller, and I am telling the story of people from my country, which I am proud of.
What would it mean for you to exhibit your work in Portrait of Humanity’s global tour?
It would mean a lot. The tour will spread an important message; it tells us, humans, that even though we look different, act differently and speak differently, we are all part of a global family. All of the photographs in that tour will tell their own unique stories. Millions of other people will then see those stories, which I believe is very precious. Participating in that global storytelling exhibition and showing the world a story from my own country would make me very proud.
What do you think makes a compelling portrait?
A compelling portrait should be timeless, and it should not be a repeat or prototype. How can you create timeless portraits? I think the starting point is before you even take a camera into your hands. Before making a portrait, you should try to know your subject and the culture that you’re trying to capture. You need to listen, learn, ask questions, and share the moment, whether it is fun or sorrowful. Bringing a unique story and soul into the image will separate it from the crowd and make it timeless.
Do you have any advice for other photographers?
Learning from others is key. You should take inspiration from masters or other current photographers. But that does not mean just stealing or repeating ideas, because we all have our own vision and our own stories to tell. It’s also a good idea to take part in projects and events. A high-profile event like Portrait of Humanity is an opportunity for photographers around the globe to promote their own work, but to also learn from others.
Do you want to be part of the movement? Together, we will create a Portrait of Humanity