I started taking self-portraits in 2009 as I was navigating the troubled waters of seeking my identity in a society to which I did not feel I belonged. Tradition defines social norms in my native Azerbaijan. Patriarchy is dominant and women’s dos-and-don’ts follow strict patterns, with daughters under parents’ control until the time they leave the family to get married.
My family was in no way different except for the fact that it is quite religious in a country that prides itself on being largely secular. My parents would control where I could go, for how long I could stay out, whom I was allowed to meet and how I should behave. I strived for independence at home as well as in my romantic relationships, but even there it did not go well. Being a journalist in Azerbaijan also leaves little room for freedom.
The camera awakened my understanding of my inner journey, my pilgrimage into myself. The lens mirrored failures and success, love and abandonment, the constraint of living with my family and the freedom of moving out of that house. When a love affair failed, the camera reflected the heartbreak. In 2015, when I was diagnosed with a myoma, a benign tumor of the reproductive system, the camera was my therapy through the painful confusion over my future, the surgery and the recovery.
“A Pilgrimage” portrays my journey as an Azerbaijani woman who rebelled against unwritten codes of conduct and -- behind a camera and now living abroad -- finds herself.