People of Saltwater: an interview with photographer Emre Rende

Turkish photographer Emre Rende has traveled the world and focused his lens on people and their relationship with water.
People of Saltwater
By Julius Motal |

How long have you been working on this project? 

Basically, it started around eight or nine years ago. I, of course, have older pictures of man’s interaction with water, but I think as a series and as an intentional body of photographs, it started about eight years ago.


Where were you?

Where was I? That’s a very good question. I think I had just arrived in Qatar. I went to Kerala in India, which is by the Indian Ocean. It’s basically one of the most aquatic places on earth. You’ve got the Indian Ocean on one side, and then you’ve got these amazing canals and waterways that basically occupy the entire inland. I have such a special bond with water – it has such a calming, soothing effect on me, like it has on most of us. Kerala, I think, was the perfect place for it.


Why water?

I’m just fascinated by our relationship with water. You could argue that we came out of water as a species. You could argue that we spend so much time in our mother’s womb in water. Brains and bodies are composed of water, and I find our relationship and the soothing effects it has to be very, very interesting.


How many countries and bodies of water did you shoot across over the past eight or nine years? Rough estimate.

I shot in 40 countries, but only 18 countries are in the exhibit. One of the things that I try to show – visually, at least – is the universal characteristics of this relationship that we have, whether it’s a fisherman in Kerala or in Sri Lanka or in Columbia. There are certain things that are extremely universal in the way we interact with water. So to show that in the exhibition, we tried to choose as many countries as we could.


What brought you to the places where you took some of these photographs? Were they assignments, or did you go to a place with the intent to shoot water? 

Assignments as a journalist took me to some of these locations. A lot of times, it was to go back to some of these places to explore further, as was the case with India and Zanzibar. Other times, it was just wanting to explore these specific bodies of water in this particular place. I am drawn immediately by ports, harbors, fish restaurants and seafood. I think it’s no coincidence that we want to get close to water for special occasions, like having marriage ceremonies by the water.


In the course of working on this series, what have you learned?

Saltwater is very generous. It provides us with food, it cleans our oxygen, it sustains creation... I’ve learned that, from Brazil to Malaysia, we interact with water in the same way. It’s such an important external factor in our life. We interact with it in similar ways; it almost has a uniting value for us as mankind, I think. It separates us, but it also brings us together in many, many ways. 


Did you learn anything about yourself as a photographer in doing this?

Good question. Probably, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you right now. But I’m sure. [Silence] I think that I really like to be alone. I guess that’s not really as a photographer, that’s more as a person.


It’s related. Some people shoot in groups, and some people prefer to shoot alone. 

I can’t shoot with anyone around. I travel alone quite a lot, and I never understood why eating alone at a restaurant is awkward.


Or seeing movies alone. Have you ever tried doing that?

In London, one of my favorite things to do when I was studying was to go to the movies alone but on a Tuesday at 11am, the first showing.


And no one would be there.

Not a soul. It kind of reminds me of how much I cherish my moments photographing alone. You’ll see in the photos that there are very few people around. It’s always focused on the people, but it’s always one or two people and a massive amount of water to reflect how I feel by that water alone, and to reflect that on those characters’ relationship, if that makes any sense.


People of Saltwater opens at 3rd Culture on Sept. 4.

Çukur Cuma Caddesi No:38