F. Dilek Uyar is a lawyer and photographer from Ankara, Turkey. She’s won the National Geographic Travel Photographer award and over 200 others. In conversation with Nina Knaack, she discusses the power of art, the necessity of making yourself heard, and how hard that can be, especially as a woman in Turkey and in web3.
F. Dilek Uyar took up photography by means of contingency, but cannot imagine a life without it now. It’s the tool through which she shares her views on cultural heritage and global affairs, the tool through which she accomplishes her mission to create awareness and initiate change.
Born in 1976 on the west coast of Turkey, Dilek is schooled as a lawyer. Her daily specialism is in labour and social security law, which she practises in Ankara. Before taking up photography twelve years ago, art was a world that she had explored little. “Art history and going to museums or the cinema attracted me, but photography didn’t grasp my attention at all.” It was only because she wanted to take up a new hobby after her friend had just bought a camera that she thought of trying it for herself. “I think it’s very important to have something for yourself to hold onto in life, besides just working and taking care of your family. In my case it became photography.”
“I try to make a difference by making people visible.”
— F. Dilek Uyar
However, taking up photography proved to be much harder than Dilek had imagined. “One with limited knowledge often assumes they know a lot already. I presumed I would take great photos as soon as I bought a proper camera,” she explains. “I had to face reality when seeing the photos I took during my son’s graduation: none of them were clear!”
Dilek isn't the type to read the manual, and even going to a photography course failed to get her where she expected to go. “I was mistaken again because I had the assumption that knowing the technical details of the camera and being able to set them were enough to take good photos. I was not yet aware of the fact that it is the person taking the photographs who makes the image a great one, by letting their personal background and emotions come through.”
Dilek fell in love with photography after observing how powerful the role of the photographer can be. “I view photography as storytelling with light. You use the caption of light instead of words.” Less interested in wildlife and still life photography, she wants to tell the stories of cultures, their people, and their customs and politics. “This was because I experienced that photographs focusing on a specific subject, a culture, or a problem are remembered the most, rather than just beautiful landscape photographs. I try to make a difference by making people visible and giving them a voice.”
For her storytelling, Dilek has different personal motivations. “Most traditions within cultures change over time, or even disappear, because of technological developments and the modernism that comes with it. Photographs are my means to keep the memory of old traditions alive.” With her series Winter Preparations in Anatolia, Dilek exhibits the traditional way of harvesting and storing products as practised in the rural areas of Anatolia, the Turkish peninsula.
“There’s beautiful craftsmanship and so much knowledge in it,” she explains. “Wisdom and traditions that shouldn’t be forgotten. In my opinion, understanding your original culture is really important. Development is impossible for the societies that forget where they came from.”
Besides documenting historic values and traditions, Dilek sees it as her duty to show what is happening in her home country. “My lens is the eye for people who are not present in person.” She made a documentary photography series about cancer patients and when Covid-19 hit, Dilek didn’t hesitate to place herself at its epicentre. “It is the biggest event affecting the lives of all people around the world since World War II and I strongly believe that these happenings should be documented. It felt like I didn’t have a choice. I just knew I had to be there. I had to photograph, at any cost.”
“Development is impossible for the societies that forget where they came from.”
— F. Dilek Uyar
Dilek believes an artist should be a role model in terms of actions, expressions, and stance. “An artist shouldn’t be indifferent to the world around them and should have a point of view. I deeply believe in the importance of focusing on the problematic issues within the society.” Her biggest aim is to increase social awareness and inspire young women in her country.
“It’s really hard to go your own way as a woman in Turkey. Social and educational inequality are among subjects I prioritise as a woman, and a mother.” She deliberately selects topics which she perceives as urgent instead of the ones she finds attractive. “If you use art properly, it is a really strong form of propaganda and a driving force to initiate change.”
“I had to photograph, at any cost.”
— F. Dilek Uyar
In late 2021, friends rung Dilek to convince her to create NFTs. “I hadn’t really made any money from photography until then. Even from winning awards you don’t earn much.” Her friends told her about a new revolution in art called NFTs. Even though everything seemed too complex for her in the beginning technology wise, she slowly understood how she could use web3 to spread her messages worldwide. Just like she learnt how to use the camera, she learnt how to use the blockchain.
Dilek recognises similar treatment as a woman in web3 as she has done in Turkey. That motivates her even more. “It is difficult for us to cope. It is not easy to be properly appreciated in a male-dominated atmosphere in which nude women's bodies or sexy shoots are given much more priority. I strive for the appreciation of the real art in this world. I am a warrior woman; never in my life have I obtained anything easily. I’ve always had to cope with hardships and exclusion,” she says. “I am willing to fight to be able to change things in the world and let our voices be heard through art.”