You Could Even Die For Not Being a Real Couple by Laura Lafon is a love story of sorts, an unhappy love story, where love, friendship and simply being are restricted through psychological, social and physical means. It’s about the culture of violence and control that is imposed on those who seek a life outside the very limited prescriptions of distorted famial, religious and cultural norms.
It’s a book about misogyny. And then some.
And it takes place in eastern Turkey, among the people where Lafon has gone to visit with her boyfriend Martin Gallone. They visit, they talk to locals, they photograph and they fall in love. Against a backdrop of young local people who don’t quite have that freedom.
The book starts with its cover, red velveteen with a gold carpet-like design on it. It is very nice to touch. Then you open the book and there’s a car, then a couple by the car. Shot at night, the car parked on a dusty layby, there’s an anxiety to the couple, as though their love is forbidden, their meeting secret in some way.
The next pictures shows Lafon and Gallone lying naked by some strange grotto in the darkness of the night, the idea of why they are lying there indicated by the texts that are interspersed with the images.
“We can’t think like European people…. If my girlfriend cheats me, if she is my wife, I have to kill her, according to our traditions. I can force her family to kill her. If my sister comes home as pregnant or raped, I am sure my father wants to kill her because she dishonoured our family. It’s her fault, it’s her choice, it’s stupid to get pregnant buy I wold do my best to stop him to kill her. In his opinion I am stupid, but who is that people placing woman so important that they deserve to die if she is raped?”
Unpick that if you will. There is the idea (expressed by misogynists, brutalists and people who take money from questionable sources on both the left and right) that questioning violence and murder against women, against homosexuals, against minorities, is an example of cultural imperialism and part of the othering of the non-western world. I would beg to differ. I've yet to meet anybody from non-western countries who have encountered violence or limitations to freedom that is sanctioned by religion, by family, by cultural norms, by the state - to have that view. And the idea that a respect for human rights is something limited to western countries is both absurd and reveals a profound ignorance and venality.
Anyway, back to Lafon. More pictures show the landscapes, the generations, the city. We see a café at night, patronised only by men. We see men standing, posing, looking, wanting. We see young women doing the same, but more vulnerable, with the air of violence above and behind them. Boys are boys, and girls are girls and only the pictures of darkened gardens and shadowy streets show where they might meet. In the meantime, Gallone goes down on Lafon, and we see them both posing naked in a hotel room.
Marriage, religion and guns appear and there is a general air of male-dominated stupidity in the air. It’s not one thing, it’s the totality of it all, a totality that justifies oppression (including killing) in the name of tradition - and if you ever want to know what’s wrong with tradition then this song from Fiddler on the Roof gives you a pretty good answer.
The book is about something that really matters. In places it is not as clear as it could be. You have to know the story before you begin (it has the sentences that explains it at the back), but at the same time it is about a subject that is concrete and really matters, both over there and over here.
Of course, it’s coming from a privileged place, but Lafon recognises this. One of the quotes she includes reads:
“Life is really cheap. You are lucky because you can only meet educated people, open minded who speak English, but you can never meet my mother, my father, our neighbour. This can mislead you.”
At its heart though, it’s a book about fundamental human rights; the right to free association, the right to love who you want, the right not to be killed for falling in love, the right not to have labels of honour and dishonour used to justify torture, killing and forced marriage.
And that’s a really good thing. The United Nations was founded 71 years ago to this day to fight for those principles.. The Declaration of Universal Human Rights followed three years later. You can see them here. See them and tick off the ones that the country you live in violates. I live in the UK. We violate plenty both domestically and overseas. The Declaration is for us as well.
Lafon, in her small photobook way, is doing the same thing. And that is to be praised and admired. Photography, along with many other things, can still make a difference. And if it doesn't make a difference, it can at least have a voice. About something that really matters.