Vanessa Winship

Untitled. Hakkari - Iraq Border


Not on display

Vanessa Winship born 1960
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
Image: 556 × 441 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2019


This black and white photograph is one of several works in Tate’s collection by the British photographer Vanessa Winship. It comes from a series entitled Sweet Nothings: Schoolgirls of Eastern Anatolia 2008 (Tate P82437P82444). The series exists in an edition of twelve Fine Art pigment prints, all the same size, and Tate’s prints are various numbers from the main edition. The photographs were taken in Anatolia in eastern Turkey, where Winship lived for a number of years and focus on the country’s schoolgirls, photographed either singly or in small groups, sometimes in their school settings and sometimes outside against a landscape. In every town and village in the region each girl wears a little blue dress with a lace collar, with sweet messages hand-embroidered on their bodices. Eastern Anatolia lies where Turkey borders with Armenia, Iran and Iraq. It is a harsh and unforgiving landscape and one that has over the centuries endured genocides, war and guerrilla conflicts. The artist explained her interest in this project: ‘Until very recently many girls in these remote parts never stepped over the doorstep of a school playground. Attitudes about sending girls to schools were a combination of traditional values, in which girls are expected to stay at home, and a suspicion of anything that represents the state.’ (In Winship 2008, p.7.) The government had launched a campaign in Anatolia to enroll girls in school and slowly the numbers were rising. Winship’s tender portraits of girls living on the border between east and west, between an ancient and a modern world, and between childhood and adulthood, give expression to the idea of transition and possibility. She described how the girls moved her: ‘I was touched by the gravity in their demeanour at their moment in front of the camera, their fragility, their simplicity, their grace, their closeness to one another but most of all I was struck by their complete lack of posturing.’ (In Winship 2008, p.7.)

Prior to this, Winship had worked in the Balkans and around the Black Sea (see Imagined States and Desires: A Balkan Journey 1999–2002, Tate P82415P82410, and Black Sea: Between Chronicle and Fiction 2002–6, Tate P82421P82436). Using black and white photography, she approached her subjects not as a photojournalist – a recorder of specific events – but as an artist working with a poetic sensibility and applying an oblique gaze to geopolitical realities. Her experience in these regions led her to focus on the impact of history not just on the terrain but on human identity, becoming fascinated with the mark that history makes on people. She also realised that black and white photography, as an abstraction from real life, suited her purpose better than colour, because it encourages the viewer to move between real time and memory. Speaking in 2018, she explained: ‘This is the paradox of photography – it captures the now, which is immediately then of the past.’ (Quoted in Marigold Warner, ‘Time Folds for Vanessa Winship at Barbican Art Gallery’, British Journal of Photography, online, 12 June 2018,, accessed 24 August 2018.)

She has characterised her work as focusing ‘on the junction between chronicle and fiction, exploring ideas around concepts of borders, land, memory, desire, identity and history. I am interested in the telling of history, and in notions around periphery and edge. For me photography is a process of literacy, a journey of understanding.’ (Quoted in Georgia, Schoolchildren, 2011,, accessed 11 August 2018.)

Further reading
Vanessa Winship, Sweet Nothings, exhibition catalogue, Foto8, London 2008.
Vanessa Winship, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Mapfre, Madrid 2014.
Vanessa Winship, Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds, London 2018.

Kate Bush
August 2018

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