Tête-à-tête:  Azerbaijani Photographer Rena Effendi in conversation with Elise Morton.

Hailing from Baku, documentary photographer Rena Effendi describes herself as a “global storyteller”. Her work centres on themes of social justice, conflict and the environment, at once evoking both a distinct sense of place and questions of universal significance. Effendi’s stories have ranged from capturing her journey along a vast oil pipeline through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey in her first monograph Pipe Dreams (2009), to documenting the lives of women living in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone in Chernobyl: Still Life in the Zone (2010). Her 2013 photo book Liquid Land juxtaposes images of urban decay and pollution in Baku with photographs of dead butterflies collected by her entomologist father, while she has also photographed Istanbul’s transgender community and the art of haymaking in rural Transylvania.

Having grown up in Azerbaijan and witnessed the country’s transition to independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Effendi now calls Istanbul home. She says her storytelling is shaped by the numerous “layers of culture” she has “accumulated” throughout her life – a statement echoed in the rich diversity of the photographer’s subjects, and her belief that photography can transcend borders and divisions, both geographical and metaphorical. She spoke to Hundred Heroines about the challenges of being a photographer in the Caucasus, the role of documentary photography in promoting dialogue, and the power of photography as a universal language.

Featured image shows cover image from Pipe Dreams © Rena Effendi

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