What's it like to be a Skateboarding Photographer in Turkey?
Today we're hyped to be talking with Mert Gürkan Akin, the 27-year-old Turkish skateboarding photographer who's been killing it on the streets of Istanbul and beyond! This dude's got mad skills and his passion for skate photography is contagious. But it's not just about the sick shots - we're diving deep into the skate scene in Turkey and what it takes to make a living in a country with a tough economy. From the skateparks in Istanbul to the future of skateboarding in Turkey, Mert's got the insider knowledge and we're stoked to hear what he has to say. So let's start this interview!
Is skateboarding big in Turkey, Mert?
Skateboarding is not very big in Turkey, but I cannot deny that there is a big community devoted to skateboarding. Turkey has recently become a frequent destination for many pros from abroad. That's why our skateboarding scene here is getting more and more popular day by day. There are a lot of people skating mainly in Istanbul, as it is the most crowded city here in Turkey. Despite this, I still need to call friends for a session. Let’s say we make skateboarding cool again.
What’s the best skate park in Istanbul?
The best one is ‘Maltepe Skatepark’. There are gaps, ledges, rails, manual pads, etc. You will have everything you want, and it is quite big. There is also Kalamis Skatepark which is my favorite. It has its unique vibe, placed right next to the seaside. Other than that, I would feel sorry if I didn’t mention our first DIY park in Ankara (the capital of Turkey), thanks to legendary German Turkish skateboarder Tollie Tolga. He did his best, and the result is perfect. Thanks, Tollie!
How many skaters are there in Turkey, do you think?
I would say there are more than 1000 skateboarders. The number of people who skates regularly is pretty low, though. You can only see them altogether if it is go-skateboarding day or if there is a contest. I think it might be a good thing as our spots would be so crowded (pedestrians always surround it) that you couldn’t skate there. Thus, I still need to call friends for a skate session. Shout out to them!
Is the skate industry growing?
Yes, only if you consider the Olympics as an industry. I can’t deny that with the skateboarding federation; we have a better chance of opening up to the outside world. Currently, and in reality, you can’t make a career with skating. Well, you can make a profit in a way, but you still need to work and skate in your free time. Skateboarding can’t pay the bills for now.
Are there many Turkish skate brands?
Not many, though. There is Ala Skateboards, owned by a legendary Turkish skateboarder Tuncay Kocal. He always comes up with ideas and makes skateboarding cool again. Another one is Pow Supply Co, owned by a skate shop. The last one is Getto Fabrika. Recently, we lost our dear friend, the owner of Getto, Necmi. We should thank him for all the things he did. We were taught to support the locals.
How is the economy doing in Turkey?
Really bad for citizens. Not just skateboarding it also affects our daily life. I don’t want to prove it with calculations just to make it legitimate. I keep hearing the question if I have a free second-hand deck, truck, shoes, etc., basically everything. In a global world, imagine that you have to pay x20 compared to the other countries (1 Euro is equal to 20 Turkish Lira). Even my photo gear gets expensive day by day. People started to visit Turkey more than usual because it is so cheap for those who earn euros/dollars.
How long have you been doing skate photography?
Firstly, I have been skating since 2010. But for skate photography, I think it might be the time when I got a couple of herniated discs in 2014. I was barely able to skate because of the pain. It started to affect my daily life, but I would never quit skating. I had an old point-and-shoot camera and had been documenting around. So, it got started with documenting skateboarding culture just to show how we had fun. Then I realized I liked this and started to save money to get a DSLR. Unfortunately, there was nobody to ask questions and get info about skate photography. So, I had a long trial and error-process. I’m still using the same camera. I still feel the same when I take a skate photo. So, I’m documenting our skate culture here.
Do you want to make a living from skate photography?
That would be a dream, for sure. In the past, I tried to get in touch with mags but no reply. To be honest, that is also discouraging for someone who wants to explore more about skate photography. Because you can’t learn this from someone, you feel alone. I still dream about it even though I have a full-time job. I see that goal to make a living out of skate photography is impossible if you live outside Europe/USA.
How about gear? Do you like to experiment, or do you have a favorite setup?
Since my lens got stolen, I only have fisheye. So, I still use the same setup from the beginning; I don’t get much chance to play with different ones. I also like to shoot with my old 35mm camera. The newest setup would be a game-changer for me, but I enjoy shooting with what I have. Thus, it makes me push the limits.
Is it easy to work with skaters?
Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. Ideally, they might expect the best photo ever, which is good. The thing is that professional photographers take the photos you see on social media with professional skateboarders. So, considering this, we should define the best. My definition is capturing the photo just because we love skateboarding. So, you do it for yourself. But I can feel they also get excited when they see the photo.
Is Turkey's skate community big on drugs?
I don’t consider it a big thing, although drug use is common in the skate community worldwide. Most of them started using drugs because the other skateboarders heavily influenced them.
Is there anything you'd like to change about the skate community in Istanbul?
I would like to change their behavior towards each other. The community is starting to become very distant from each other. I want them to be open to learning and talking. Love your friends.
How are the skate parks in your hometown?
Luckily, I’m local here in Istanbul, so we have a few options still. There are 20 million people who live in Istanbul. The best skate park is the one that is not crowded.
Do you have indoor parks?
Unfortunately, no. That would be life-changing.
Can pro skaters make a living skateboarding in Turkey?
I don’t think this is possible. You may make a living if you are “famous” but a pro skater.
Who’s the biggest name?
This is a very tough question. No offense, the biggest name is one of my best friends, Adem. He has been blowing my mind for many years, and still.
Do you have a skate crew?
Yes, we have been skating together for many years. This makes skateboarding more fun. They are all hardworking people interested in painting, music, photography, and more.
Do you guys sometimes do illegal stuff?
I have yet to witness such a situation. So we are all good guys.
Do skaters have a hard time in Turkey? Do you get a lot of hate from the public?
It depends on the area where you skate at. Our attitude is not to cause any problems. I don’t care if we get a lot of hate from the general public. Sometimes you must respond to hatred with hate because that is the only way they speak. We will be on the streets again and again.
Is Graffiti big in Istanbul?
Yeah, of course. I admire Graffiti in Turkey because they do very good opposition work against the government and its order.
Does the government support skaters?
I don't think men in suits with big bellies care about us. They don't even care how to build a decent skate park. The skateboarding federation might be trying to do contests etc., but in the end, it is just making a profit on its own.
What’s the biggest sport in Turkey?
It is football. Even though I’m not interested in football, I think I support Galatasaray.
If you had a free wish, what would it be?
Having my photobook would be great! Or wait, the newer equipment would be great as well…
What does the future of skateboarding look like in Turkey?
It’s not going very well. We get old, but only in age. So, the pioneers in this regard will be the youth. They shouldn’t quit skating as long as we support them.
Thanks for the interview Mert! Best of luck to you!!
Follow Mert on Instagram @mertgurkanakin