PHOTO 2024: Erhan Tırlı

Interview by Bianka Covic
Photography by Erhan Tırlı

Türk - Avustralyalı fotoğrafçı, Erhan Tırlı (d. 1994, Naarm-Melbourne) çalışmalarını Melbourne, Avustralya'daki kültürel ve dilsel açıdan çeşitli (CALD) toplulukların uzun vadeli etnografisi etrafında yoğunlaştırıyor.

Sosyal hizmet ve psikoloji alanındaki birikiminden yararlanan Erhan, CALD insanlarının ve topluluklarının kültürel açıdan samimi görüntülerini oluşturmak için işbirlikçi yaklaşımlar kullanıyor. Erhan'ın çalışmaları kültürler arası kimlik ve aidiyet temalarını derinlemesine inceleyen genişletilmiş bir belgesel olarak nitelendirilebilir.

Türk - Australian photographer, Erhan Tırlı (b. 1994, Naarm-Melbourne) centres his practice around long-term ethnography of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Melbourne, Australia.

Utilising a background in social work and psychology Erhan employs a collaborative approaches to creating culturally intimate images of CALD people and communities. Erhan’s work can be characterised as expanded documentary that delves into the themes of cross-cultural identity and belonging.

Şennur, Meadow Heights, 2022, Erhan Tırlı

Şennur, Meadow Heights, 2022, Erhan Tırlı

Erhan, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what led you to photography?

Well I grew up in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne (Meadow Heights) as a first generation son of a migrant Türk family. Culture and family were super important growing up and informed a lot of our day to day. My father is a teacher at Broadmeadows secondary college (now Hume) for over 30 years so a big part of the community there.

I’ve got a background in Social work and Psychology and actually worked as a social worker for about a year before deciding to shift careers in my mid 20s. When I was about 24, My grandparents in Izmir passed away within months of one another and I had a moment of reflection and asked what I wanted to be doing with my life.. Photography was it.

Congratulations on the New Photographers exhibition! Talk to us about the story, ideation and creation of your work?

So the images that I make are hugely influenced by my upbringing, experiences of culture, values, relationship with my sense of belonging and the skill/outlook that I developed while working as a social worker.

I’ve noticed this across other disciplines of creativity as well, there's almost a renaissance of people who exist in multiple spheres of belonging creating work that speaks to the experience and the consequences of existing in a world that asks us to choose one sense of identity to commit to.

The approach to making work for me considers this experience and attempts to create space for people to show whatever parts of their sense of belonging they wish to, simultaneously and with no reservations. A core part of the work that I create with participants in my projects are these large scale collaborative portraits.

Often I'll contact someone who I would like to make a portrait with, catch up with them, have a chat and talk through whether they felt it was a good fit, how they would like to be represented and build some rapport. On the day of shooting, I’d usually block out the whole day and go hang out with the person in their space for a bit, eventually conversation would lead to us starting to set up the space together and eventually we’d make some images together. These days can take anywhere from 4-8 hours. When I was first starting the project I tried to condense the time to meet a specific sitter's tight timeframe but it just didn't work. The process was rushed and didn't feel right and I could see it in the visual outcomes.

Since that experience, I realised that the outcomes themselves were not as important as the individual's experience of the process. The images themselves became secondary at that moment for me and the relationship with the participant was the most important thing from that interaction. By decentralizing the importance of the camera and the photo, this allowed for the people I was making images with to be more themselves, less focused on performing in a way they thought they should be perceived and started performing in ways that were more honest to their own sense of self, more comfortable.

Ghada & Noor, Hillside, 2023, Erhan Tırlı

Ghada & Noor, Hillside, 2023, Erhan Tırlı

What does the PHOTO 2024 theme The Future Is Shaped by Those Who Can See It mean to you or how does it relate to your exhibited works?

In the context of the work that I make, the “shaped by those who can see it” part of that statement is of most pertinence. Representation in all areas of life is an ongoing process that needs to be championed in contemporary Australian society. The power narratives have in shifting discourse in the broader context of society is palpable and the process I employ in making this work engages with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in a way that gives them agency to control their own narrative, gives them time to be able to think and be involved in how they would like to be perceived.

What’s more important to you, the influence of people or the influence of place?

There’s no answer to this question, it’s a reciprocal relationship. The spaces/places we engage with are influenced by our intervention and vice versa we are a consequence of the environments in which we exist. In the context of my work and the environment in which I grew up, my experiences in this would influence who I became as an individual and consequently as a photographer.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I like to run as regularly as I can, I find it helps re-centre my mind and gives me perspective, growing up in Naarm/Melbourne, of course I’m a big fan of good coffee, we are definitely spoilt for choice in this city and I love to cook, specifically I’ve got this Turkish Cook Book written by an amazing chef/food anthropologist (Musa Dağdeviren) that chronicles every dish known in Anatolian history, I love connecting to culture through food in my spare time.

Lastly, what are you working on next and where can people follow you for more.

Well, this current project is ongoing to do more of the same really, I’ve got a bunch of portraits booked in and am planning to head back to Türkiye and do more work there.

Initially when I was starting the project I wanted to do exactly what I am doing now but with an interview component where I would record the 8-hour-long conversations being had with sitters and create a Hogwarts portrait like video where the person would be staring at the viewer for 2 minutes just breathing and existing as exerts of the conversation played as a voice-over.

That’s likely the next evolution of the project as I continue to work on it, who knows maybe a solo show in the next year haha.

Follow Erhan on Instagram here or visit

Erhan Tırlı PHOTO 2024 Events
01 March - 24 March

New Photographers 2024 Exhibition
Daine Singer
83 Weston Street, Brunswick
Wed – Fri, 12pm – 5pm
Sat, 12pm – 4pm

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