Fifty Years Behind The Lens

My fIrst encounter wIth Yaşar Kemal was In MecIdIyeköy. It was 1956 and we were at hIs house on Gül Sokak. Later, camera In hand, I followed hIm closely for years, In France, Sweden and Turkey... I’ve never counted them, but I must have lIterally thousands of shots.

my friendship with Yaşar goes back fifty some years. I’ve been with him in so many different places and with so many different people that I have trouble remembering them all. But some of them will stay forever fresh in my memory for as long as I live. Take, for instance, the first occasion that comes to mind. The University of Uppsala in Sweden had set aside a special day for Yaşar Kemal. There was a full program. The president of the university and a bevy of important profs were fluttering around Yaşar like moths around a flame. Seminar, lecture and lunch followed one after the other, culminating in an official reception in the evening. The university’s enormous amphitheater was packed with students who had our writer virtually under siege with their questions. He was the focus of attention like that accorded a pop star taking the stage. Addressing the audience with a talk on literature, Yaşar was applauded at length, and for a moment, without my realizing it, my thoughts wandered back to an earlier occasion in our native land.

After following the Savrun river for a while, we turned right and the village of Hemite rose before us. I was with Yaşar Kemal. We were surrounded by a crowd of men, young and old, yelling and screaming, ululating women... it was utter chaos. The festivities were of course not without reason. Yaşar Kemal was returning to the village of his birth! The minute he got out of the car, the air rang with shots - our inimitable Turkish enthusiasm - and the pigeons released in his honor faded to white specks in the azure sky. As calm as ever, Yaşar waved and shook hands with a smile, calling hundreds of people in the crowd by name. We were smack dab in the heart of Çukurova!

Yaşar Kemal has always carried his beloved Çukurova inside him, and whether he made his residence in Istanbul, Paris or Stockholm, he continued to write about the pure white cotton fields, the big landowners, the day laborers, Anavarza castle, and the birds and wolves and flowers and insects of Çukurova in southeastern Turkey. He never forgot his own past and the place he came from, and for years he succeeded in enchanting masses of people of every generation. The western world accorded this writer the highest respect, and his books were translated into some forty languages. In Sweden where I live, for example, there are Yaşar Kemal readers from every social class. Oblivious to the customers waiting in line, the cashier at the local market will ask me if I have news of Yaşar Kemal, and the lady manager of the local bank inquires with curiosity if there are still petition writers on the streets of Çukurova.

That Sweden’s distinguished former Prime Minister Olof Palme has a Yaşar Kemal book on his night table is a well-known secret! And the late French President François Mitterand was an admirer and close friend of the writer, who was always welcome at the Elysées Palace.

Apart from Turkey, I was with Yaşar Kemal several years in Sweden and frequently in Paris. Whether it was the Swedish Foreign Minister, a member of the Royal Academy, or a fisherman on Montmartre’s Rue Lepic, he could make friends in a twinkling with people from every walk of life, and the interesting thing about it was that Yaşar Kemal did that without speaking a foreign language. The crackle of mutual laughter was all that was needed. For living conditions in the Çukurova where he grew up meant that this writer, who used his native Turkish in a colorful, original and masterful way - a writer for whom a special dictionary has been compiled - never got the chance to learn a foreign language.

I would like to say that it gives me infinite happiness to have had the opportunity to follow Yasar Kemal, whose friendship is an honor and a pleasure, continuously for exactly fifty years in various countries and venues with both my film and photography cameras.