New York based Ed Kashi, the renowned American photojournalist and member of VII Photo, has award-winning work that spans from high-end print photojournalism to experimental film. Most noted for documenting contemporary socio-political issues, Ed Kashi’s work on the plight of the Kurdish people and the impact of the oil industry upon the impoverished Niger Delta has provided extensive photojournalistic reporting of these global issues.
Emaho got into a healthy conversation with him and talked to him about his influences and rise as a photojournalist covering such critical and sensitive issues.
Tell us a little about the origins of Talking Eyes Media?
Julie Winokur and I decided to create a non profit company after our experience of working on the eight year long project: Aging in America. We received significant funding through grants from foundations and realised it would make sense economically and spiritually to have a company for producing multi platform storytelling about issues we care about, which we could see the general media was increasingly unwilling to invest in.
You work with both film and stills to communicate your message. Do you think it is easier to create an impact using film?
It’s not a matter of making it easier; it’s just choosing a different medium to tell our stories. There is no question in my mind that adding audio and moving images, particularly allowing the voices of my subjects to tell their stories, makes this kind of visual journalism more compelling. We can tell more complete stories, work with more of the senses and bring to life elements in a story that using stills alone would be impossible to do. This medium also lends itself beautifully to the Internet, websites, and in a sense allows us to create short form documentaries with still images as a part of the visual narrative.
You’ve covered issues from the aging in America to the growth of the Taliban in Pakistan. What makes you pick your projects?
I choose my subjects based on what I can reasonably execute, in terms of time away from my family, security issues, access, my level of personal interest or concern, and whether I’m engaged with my heart and mind. There are geographic, historical, political and personal factors that contribute to my level of devotion and commitment.
A number of your projects are done in collaboration with your filmmaker wife, Julie Winokur. Your latest book ‘Photojournalisms’ is about the journal entries you’ve made to her over 20 years, making the book more personal than your other publications. What drove you to have the book published?
A few years ago I was asked to take part in a group exhibition where the curator asked us to write something about the chosen images. I decided to use my journal entries associated with the images and since then realised the rich reservoir of content I had inadvertently created in these journals. A year later I embarked on the personal journey of editing the journal entries and matching them with images. It’s a reflection of an aspect of my work that involves looking back and seeing the connections of 30 years of work. I also felt that by revealing my process and the extraordinarily tough balancing act of being away for more than half the year while trying to maintain a healthy family life, would be of benefit for others to read.
If there was ONE image that you think stood alone and told the story you wished to convey without having to create a series or add text, which one would it be and why?
It’s always hard to choose just one, but here is ONE I’m proud of for many reasons. It captures the hellish conditions and evokes a visceral reaction to the situation. Furthermore, it provoked a viewer to find this 14 year old boy working in the largest abattoir in the Niger Delta, where she then paid for him to go to school so he wouldn’t have to work there anymore.
You’ve had National Geographic supporting a few of your projects, how does that change the project for you?
Working with National Geographic has generally been a very positive experience. Most of the projects I’ve done with them were based on my proposals or issues/ideas I was already interested in. Working with them empowers me through increased access to certain situations, the financial support, the field time, working with great editors, knowing you’ll reach millions of people and being a part of an important institution dedicated to advancing humanity’s knowledge of our world. The ways it changes my work are the following; I have to work in colour, I have to get sense of place images, I know there are certain graphic situations I might capture that they won’t publish and I know they will see EVERYTHING I shoot.
While working on a project like the Nigerian Oilfields, have you ever had to face flak from agencies that wish to have such atrocities hidden under cover?
Absolutely! I was illegally detained for four days by the Nigerian military at one point; I was trailed by the SSS (State Security Services) and at times harassed. The oil companies (except for Total Oil) did not allow me access and even at times villagers were aggressive and unwilling to help.
Tell us about some issue(s) that you plan on covering in the future.
Depending on my fate, I plan to begin reporting on cultural issues in Myanmar, work on a film about the formerly incarcerated in the US, police profiling in Europe and Northern Nigeria’s Muslim-Christian divide.
How did the Kurdistan Flipbook come into being?
The “flipbook” is a mixture of old techniques and new technology. I discovered this while editing my first digitally shot project for National Geographic magazine in 2005. It reflected the new way I was shooting, moving away from the Leica approach and integrating the more flowing and sequential influence that video and multimedia thinking were having on my work. It was not a preconceived idea but something I discovered as I was editing my stills work for my archives. As one colleague told me, it’s the missing link between still photography and video.
Written and Interviewed by: Marukh Budhraja & Rudraka Basu
Pictures by: Ed Kashi