Photographer's Unite by Kemal Cilengir

Editor : Joshua Zamudio | Editor : Jenae Lien | Photographs & Writing by Kemal Cilengir
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The circumstances Los Angeles photographers have found themselves in over the last few weeks have been high intensity, scary, mind-numbing, energy-sucking, bruising (literally), and beautiful. The list of emotions goes on and on. With all of the highs and lows we have experiencedour bonds with one another have never been stronger and our community has never been closer. Being a photographer in the vast landscape that is Los Angeles means we hardly ever bump into one another, which sometimes leaves us feeling disconnected. Over the last couple of weeks though, it has been beautiful to see the amount of love and camaraderie the community has built. I have been able to meet and chat with so many amazing photographers because we are all finally in the same places at the same times covering the same events. The sense of love and community that I have seen among photographers in New York over the years, I’ve longed for here in Los Angeles. New York’s landscape with its densely populated city blocks is such that street photographers run into each other all the time. Los Angeles does not offer these same benefits and the community's ability to connect suffers because of that.
When I first began shooting, it was therapy. I started out by driving around Los Angeles at night after work and photographing street art. I would find myself in alleyways and underpasses, seedy parts of Los Angeles. It was a thrill and the little burst of adrenaline I would experience became addictive. After a year or more of doing this, I felt the need to expand, to meet like-minded photographic connoisseurs. This was around the time of the photography meet-up boom. Every week/weekend for a few years, photographers would flash mob at a certain place and time and get creative. It was a crash course in photography and I got to meet some amazing people I still call friends to this day, some 5-6 years later. After a few years of going to photography meet-ups quite religiously, I became tired of getting the same photos as everyone else and felt confident enough in my craft to get out on the streets and dive face first into street photography. Again, this was therapy. I would go out, mostly by myself and walk the streets of Downtown Los AngelesSanta Monica, Venice, Mid-City, and Hollywood in search of the perfect street photo. This is when the reality of how lonely being a street photographer in Los Angeles hit me. Let me follow that by saying this is not a bad thing. I enjoy my own company and some of my freest moments have been walking the streets of Los Angeles by myself with my headphones and my camera. After years of doing this and rarely bumping into any other street photographers, the need to connect with other street photographers became overwhelming.
Insert the last two weeks. The beginning of the uprising we experienced here in Los Angeles forced us to face some difficult situations, but the support and love from the community of photographers helped feed and fuel us. Getting out there day in and day out, we oftentimes put our bodies at great risk. One moment that stands out was when I found myself in a very dicey situation where I ultimately took a metal trash can to the head. Not being fully present and understanding how exposed I was, I nevertheless realized I needed to get out of there before I got hurt even more. Out of nowhere a fellow friend/photographer grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out. Seeing what transpired over the next few days after this, I can honestly say “6” may have saved my life. That same evening I was completely out of space on my SD memory card and another random fellow photographer let me borrow one of his and told me to keep it.
I may not have realized how much I was in need of meeting and interacting with others in the photography community until the events of the last couple weeks. At moments in walking around Hollywood on Sunday, the culmination of the long two weeks brought me to tears. Not only for how much the Black Lives Matter movement had accomplished, but also how the small group of photographers who have been documenting it all had gotten to know each other and had grown so close.  I hope that with each passing day, and as the movement grows, so too do the bonds and community of photographers here in Los Angeles. 

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