29 March 2017

Longing For Home, Looking For Home

29 March 2017 - Written by Laurence Cornet

Esa Ylijaasko spent two years documenting the life of a Syrian refugee community in Istanbul, Turkey. There, war doesn't thunder; life neither. "Life stands still", he says.

© Esa Ylijaasko, from the series, November is a Beginning

Esa Ylijaasko alternates his time between work at a local Finnish newspaper and long stretches spent diving into personal projects. The latest one focuses on refugees from the Syrian war who stopped their journey in Istanbul.

"A friend of mine told me to go to Suleymaniye. I went a couple of times and didn’t encounter anyone until a very cold day of winter, when I saw a group of people gathered around a camp fire." Soon, they became friends, and Ylijaasko visited them daily, documenting their longing. Far from the conflict, their life is a long wait, spent hanging out at home, drinking tea, and sometimes meeting their family members.

© Esa Ylijaasko, from the series, November is a Beginning

"I went there with no themes in mind and the project started to become what I wanted. It’s somehow easy these days for a Western photographer to shoot the eastern crisis for his or her benefit, and I rejected that. I was trying to find my own voice to say that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow and these people could be us."

History repeats itself, and Ylijaasko includes that layer in his series in various ways. "I shot these pictures with a polaroid camera, which gives a very old feeling. I wanted to convey the idea that we have seen the same stories of refugees forever but the next war occurs and we have already forgotten the previous one."

Many images are imbued with symbolism, like those of two kids playing with a gun, reminding us that war comes from an inner violence fed from an early age in society. "It shows how propaganda shapes us when we are young", Ylijaasko comments. Or these kids pulling a tightrope from, and to, nowhere.

© Esa Ylijaasko, from the series, November is a Beginning

Photos themselves are damaged by the context. Exposed to the outside elements before the moist of the polaroid has dried up, they keep the scars of finger prints, rain drops and dust surrounding the scene. "I gave a chance to the accident and coincidences, and let the destiny decide what the picture will be, because it’s a part of photography too, to let things happen."

"When I came back to Finland I thought working on a newspaper as a photographer was not my scene because I could not express myself freely nor what documentary photography has become. We have other options to tell a story."


Esa Ylijaasko’s November is a Beginning was the winner of the 2016 Gomma Grant. To learn more about the series, visit his PHmuseum profile.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

3 minutes

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