We had the good fortune of connecting with Elif Sanem Karakoc and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elif Sanem, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Years ago, right after I graduated art school, I told one of my teachers that I was soon moving to Los Angeles to pursue my fine art photography career. He looked at me and said: ‘Why choosing to drown in an ocean while you can peacefully swim in your own waters?’ While expecting to get some support and encouragement from him, I received such an insincere comment, and immediately said to myself, “well, this sentence —also that mindset— is exactly the reason why I decide to leave my home country that I was renowned for my photography since I was 14 years old. The idea of leaving everything behind, starting from zero must have scared them and I don’t think that comment was out for a good cause. It was their lack of confidence, imagination and inspiration, and that idea bored me so immensely, for years, that I wanted to just leave. Then I did, almost 4 years ago. The stressful process of meeting new people, not knowing a single person from the industry, and speaking a language other than your mother tongue is not something everybody would want. One of my friends here said ‘even the water you drink, and the air you breathe is different now.’ It might make you feel like you’re running away from something. A whole new identity, a blank page… Sounds scary, right? Well, most choices are scary! The unknown is risky. But this city taught me, Every risk I take and every new responsibility I face add some more color to my journey. Every person I meet broadens my horizons. Sometimes with just one sentence… If I refrained from taking risks, I would still be swimming in my ‘own waters’. Today, I enjoy every second of my experience in this deep, endless ocean I’ve managed to reach.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started creating photography when I was around 14 years old. It all started with self-portraiture and I taught myself how to become a photographer. At 15, I opened my first solo exhibition in Finland. One year later, my work was on the covers of many novels across Europe and the U.S. I created every day, I brought my camera everywhere, and even during friend or family gatherings, holidays, I was in the mood of creating. I didn’t think I wanted to be a famous photographer one day, all I wanted was to shoot and create something that would ‘excite me’. It’s a different kind of excitement I get when I take photos. It stuns me when I look through the viewfinder and focus on the the light, colors and emotions. At that very moment, the world stops spinning. Problems and concerns simply fade away. It becomes just me and the scene. It pulls me in. It’s precious. And at the end, if that’s a good photograph, if you can feel some emotion, if it takes you somewhere else in your mind or reminds you of a song that you love, that’s when I’m content. That’s when I exactly know the purpose of my life. That feeling is what makes me so dedicated to my work and encourages me to create ‘pieces of art’. And the best part of it is that art is so subjective and emotional, it evolves constantly with our ideas, emotions, and personalities. It’s a never-ending quest and I love being at the creative side of it. Regardless of the subject or the genre, no matter if it’s fashion, portrait, documentary or product photography, I can create something that would touch someone, somewhere. It’s such a great privilege to be able to make someone ‘feel’ something with your ideas and visualization.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First off, right after leaving LAX, Randy’s Donuts is a must for coffee and sweets and to get the ‘I’m in LA!’ feeling. Then to see some of the endless oceanside and the exciting people in Venice beach. Tasty burgers in one and only Apple Pan, hiking near Bronson Caves, maybe see some coyotes. Millie’s in Silverlake for some pancakes, Roscoe’s for some delicious Chicken and Waffles. And the best pizza in town: Pizzeria Mozza. We would be the first ones to get in to Six Flags Magic Mountain on a Tuesday morning, where all the thrill-seekers are at home, sleeping or at work so that the park is a ghost town! Getty Museum, The Broad, Annenberg Space for Photography are such gems for seeing amazing artworks. Though I believe sometimes you don’t need that much fancy to experience LA. Before I moved here, during my tourist days in Los Angeles, -maybe from awe or not knowing the city at all- I enjoyed every corner, street, every avenue and alley I was on.. From the strip mall parking lots to bus stops. I would talk to strangers about our different cultures and take their portraits. It felt like I was in the ‘Real Los Angeles’ where all life happens with all its honesty. This city is so diverse, it’s beautiful and inspiring. That’s why I’d probably take them to some intersection like Western & Santa Monica and just have them look around.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My father is an illustrator / painter, my mother and brother are graphic designers. I remember spending my days in my dad’s studio and painting next to him, looking at the big artworks, reading all the art books he had.
Elif Sanem Karakoc