Sabiha Çimen reflects on 2020

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The Magnum photographer shares what got her through the year; the books, the music, the films, and photography

Sabiha Çimen did not study to be a photographer, but, at 34 years old, she is already a Magnum Nominee. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Çimen graduated from Istanbul Bilgi University in 2015 with an undergraduate degree in International Trade and Finance, and a Masters degree in Cultural Studies. Today, her powerful images focus upon women, Islamic culture, portraiture and still-life, illustrating Islam and its people in intimate and nuanced ways.

Here, Çimen reflects on 2020, and what got her through.

Generally, l do not go anywhere too far to work. I stay close to home. l photograph my life, and my circle, so l am already in my workspace whether l am working or not.

To unwind this year l fasted for religious reasons and took very long walks. These practices give me strength and help me to discover my true self. l love to break the fast while the sun goes down. l believe in the inner peace of that holy time; l love to earn it, to deserve it. It disciplines the animal side of me.

Strangely, I also vacuum to clear my mind. While l am vacuuming l mostly think about my projects and make decisions. And l love to swim. This year I swam a lot. l believe that the minerals of the seawater and the sun are true remedies for me. l take my remedy and relief with sun and sea.

These are a few of the photo books that rock my mind: Jason Eskenazi’s Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith, which is a classic and just re-printed by Red Hook Editions this year; Carolyn Drake’s Knit Club (TBW Books); Sohrab Hura’s The Coast (UGLY DOG); and Güle Güle by Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi.

The books that got me through 2020 are Iranian philosopher Ali Shariati’s text Four Prisons, it is like a guide for me. l always read it once a year. The Social Scientist James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance; Homi K. Bhabha’s The Location of Culture; and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer. 

The films that got me through 2020 were those that I had watched already. The late Turkish director Fatih Akın’s Head On; Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman; Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique; Tony Gatlif’s Exils, Transylvania, and Gadjo Dilo; Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep; Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves; John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy; and Stanley Kubrick’s 2011: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange

The music that got me through 2020 was the work of Maria Callas, which, during lockdowns, always played in my home, in my kitchen, and while l am working on sequencing photos. Also, Mashrou’ Leila, Bon Iver, Ryhe, Shahram Nazeri, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Jorma from Hot Tuna, Eric Satie, Chopin’s soft piano music, Beethoven, Beyoncé, The Blaze, Fairuz, and Sabah Fakhri.

A photograph that encapsulates 2020 for me is this image by Philip Montgomery, taken during a protest seeking justice for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.