Photojournalist discusses travels, gender

Photojournalist Amanda Rivkin described her work in Turkey and Azerbaijan to
a small crowd in Luce Hall on Tuesday.
Photojournalist Amanda Rivkin described her work in Turkey and Azerbaijan to a small crowd in Luce Hall on Tuesday. Photo by Wa Liu .

Over the past several months, Istanbul-based photojournalist Amanda Rivkin has visited sites in Turkey and Azerbaijan. But on Tuesday evening she was in New Haven, speaking in front of a small group in Luce Hall.

Rivkin’s presentation, titled “Protests, Pipelines + Women: Photojournalism from Turkey + Azerbaijain” included over 150 photographs that showcased her work in the countries along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline. The collection of images Rivkin presented included photographs previously featured in National Geographic and the New York Times.

Rivkin said her passion for photojournalism developed naturally from her desire to “travel and live abroad,” adding that she is particularly interested in documenting places “emblematic of femininity” in societies generally perceived as male-dominated. Her visit to Yale was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism, a Yale fellowship that brings to campus individuals who have made significant contributions to the media.

Rivkin’s career began in Chicago after a photo she had taken during the 2008 Obama campaign was featured in the London Sunday Times Magazine. In 2010, a National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant allowed her to travel to Azerbaijan and Turkey to photograph the BTC Pipeline, which begins in Baku and ends in Ceyhan. Her photographs trace the the BTC route, documenting the pipeline as well as the people whose lives it affects.

Some of Rivkin’s photographs document Azerbaijan’s dominant wedding culture as well as the intersection between faith and consumerism — one example is a particularly poignant photograph of an abandoned shopping-mall-turned-mosque filled with believers bent in prayer. Interspersed with her images of luxury and splendor were photographs of the Azerbaijani countryside and its inhabitants, including refugees displaced by the pipeline’s construction or unrest in the region, such as a pipeline worker tucking his son into bed, and women chopping and gathering firewood.

After securing a Fulbright Grant in 2011, Rivkin returned to the region to photograph Azerbaijani women. She said she was particularly interested in photographing women because she views Azerbaijan as “a place where there’s a really strong cult of virginity, but [at the same time] men are allowed to do whatever they want.”

Some examples of her work include a photo that depicts women using the hoods of their jackets as makeshift headscarves. One of her favorite photographs, Rivkin said, is a photo of a children’s costume factory one Azerbaijani woman founded out of her attic. The woman described to Rivkin how her husband initially refused to lend her the money necessary to start the business, but that she found a way to establish the business anyway, Rivkin recalled.

Rivkin also took photographs during the the Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul this summer. She described these images, which featured the haze of tear gas blanketing sections of the city as “surreal [and] post-apocalyptic.” Etem Erol, a lector in the Turkish Department who introduced Rivkin, said the department had been looking to host an event with the Middle East as its focus to help familiarize students with the region.

Rivkin is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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