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Ed Kashi

March 24th, 2009

Ed Kashi: Travels in India 6

Posted by Ed Kashi

During his trip to India in January, Ed pondered a few pressing questions he faces as a photojournalist: how to balance work and family, the danger of exploiting your subjects, and how to connect across cultural divides. In this final post from that trip, he asks hard questions about who will support documentary photography in the future. Don’t miss his upcoming posts about teaching workshops and the pitfalls of perpetual motion.
©Ed Kashi

An image from Ed's "Curse of the Black Gold" project, which leverages years worth of multimedia content to raise awareness about the tragic effects of the oil companies in the area. ©Ed Kashi


Photojournalism and the documentary tradition is alive and well, but like Frank Zappa once said about jazz, “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” The question I constantly confront is, how do we move this medium forward into the new millennium, keeping it fresh, alive, relevant and growing? We cannot let the digital revolution destroy the magical powers of still photography. I firmly believe we are in a period of transcendent growth and opportunity. How do we reinvent still photography in the digital age and prove the naysayers wrong?

Having the patience and time to produce in-depth, meaningful work is of utmost importance — but now without the support of magazines, how do we continue? We cannot allow the economic and political shifts in media to destroy our ability to get out into the world to tell stories people want to hear and see. We’ve never been at a more challenging crossroads for photojournalism, and finding alternative sources of funding and dissemination are essential. What will those look like and who will they come from? My guess is from a variety of places: NGOs and other foundations with specific interest in the issues our work deals with, the editorial world both in print and online (with online providing the bulk of new opportunities over time), grants from both the arts and photography, but also direct partnerships with non-media sources such as universities.

In the face of all this uncertainty, it’s especially important to keep it real for yourself and true to your passions, causes, joys, and inquisitions. What drives me is the compulsion to seek a kind of truth, to find out what certain realities feel and look like as they relate to issues and themes that matter to me personally. Now when I translate those situations into stories, they are no longer only visual — instead they include all the elements of storytelling. Still images are the basis for these stories and the structure for my explorations. But utilizing more of the senses, with sound that incorporates the voices of my subjects, the ambient sounds of the situations my images are made in, moving imagery to give more visual dimension to the subjects and place, and finally music…that most universal of languages. Today we inhabit a playland of creative opportunities unrivaled from the past. Yet for me still photographs form the emotional core, visual feel, and personal approach to my work as firmly as ever.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What do you think? Where is support for long-term, in-depth documentary work going to come from? Is it sustainable for photographers to have to come up with their own funding for that work?

March 10th, 2009

Ed Kashi: Travels in India 5

Posted by Ed Kashi

Ed Kashi’s recent trip to Rajasthan, India, got him thinking about humans’ unfair and unsustainable practices. But it also reminded him of the privileges and responsibilities he carries as a photojournalist — and hopes to pass on to his children and students. Don’t miss Ed’s earlier posts (1, 2, 3, 4) about juggling family and work as well as the importance of education to his work.
Eli Kashi, Isabel Kashi and Julie Winokur on vacation, in Jaipur, at the Amber Fort.  A local woman poses for money, such a bummer and reminds me of how the world has become spoiled.

A local woman at the Amber Fort in Jaipur poses for money. "Such a bummer," Ed says. "It reminds me of how the world has become spoiled." ©Ed Kashi


What strikes me about being in India is the growing gap between village and city life. City life is dirtier and more chaotic. People are drowning in their own excrement and sullied air. The calm of silence is hard to find, and the constant blaring of horns and the sounds of a civilization on it’s out-of-control march towards modernization leave me questioning the future of mankind.

Rural life is simpler, often set in magnificent landscapes and rich environments, yet impossibly poor by first-world standards. There are too many children, not enough education and health care, and a toughness to daily life that leaves me feeling as uncertain about the fate of man as the city does. If India represents the future of human civilization, an emerging economic superpower, I fear mankind is doomed on this earth. The common denominator between this imbalance and the one I’ve witnessed so graphically in the Niger Delta is a clear lack of sustainability. The more I travel the world with my peering eye and my questioning mind, accruing a privileged wealth of firsthand knowledge, this lack of sustainability is my overwhelming impression.

A Hindu god immersed in rose petaled water.

A Hindu god immersed in rose petaled water. ©Ed Kashi

From my upper-middle-class-but-progressive New Jersery neighborhood to the oil-spoiled countries of Africa and the Middle East, to the overpopulated India and China, to the dirt poor communities across the globe, particularly in the southern hemispheres, we have created an international human community that is in imbalance and cannot possibly sustain itself from the point of view of resources, pollution, overpopulation, and the associated social, economic, and environmental strains. Unless we change our ways fast, failure seems to be the only outcome. Maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually.

These thoughts leave me less than sanguine about life, yet on a daily basis I also witness the spirit of human ingenuity, the life-sustaining power of people’s survival instincts and the glimpses of solutions, both on a small community level and at a global level as practiced by the most progressive corporations and institutions. Take for instance an initiative we learned about, which preserved and developed medicinal plants and herbs native to this Rajasthani community. They have created a nature preserve dedicated to this cause, thereby providing income for the community. While being a photojournalist can be damaging to one’s sense of hope and drive you into a deep hole of despair, there are also uplifting moments and glimpses into how people survive and help one another. It’s this constant cycle of destruction and renewal, part of the life cycle, which I get to witness on a constant basis through the privilege of my roving observations.

Scenes from the National Geographic Photo Camp held in Rajasthan, India.

Students on assignment at the National Geographic Photo Camp in Rajasthan, India. ©Ed Kashi

Every National Geographic Photo Camp I’ve worked on has impressed these notions upon me, and as I get older, the need to receive and give nourishment and cross pollination becomes essential. Being in this rural community in Rajasthan makes me wonder if the future of sustainability, or at least any hopes of survival, will come from the simple, centuries-old agrarian lives people here live. They are not greedy, they live within their means, eat fresh food and all seem to have one need. Yes they could use surer, cleaner sources of water, more reliable electricity, stronger houses, much better education and health care….all the extraordinarily important elements of a healthy life. But at least they live within their means while the developed world lives far outside of theirs, relying on a structure that is unfair, destructive to the earth’s environment, and self-serving.

I am eager to teach, give information to, even lecture my children because I want them to learn what I’ve learned — sooner rather than later. Maybe they’ll be able to take advantage of the information and avoid some of the mistakes I made growing up. This desire also holds true for the photo students I encounter in my workshops. Photography is so much more than image making, particularly photojournalism and documentary work. There are deeper responsibilities and moral and ethical issues connected to your work when you are given permission to enter people’s lives intimately to witness their pain and joy. We photographers become agents of communication, bridging worlds, charged with healing as well as slapping our viewers in the face with information they must know. Students and young photographers must learn this as early as possible to better serve the purpose of this work. We must learn to make the world a better place by shedding light on dark places but also by providing solutions and hope. It took me years to understand this, having spent so much time just trying to make my mark in this profession and struggle with making a living and gaining influence to get my stories out. I want my students to understand these critical elements sooner rather than later.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What responsibilities do photojournalists have to their subjects? Is communication the final goal of this work? Education? Influence?

March 3rd, 2009

Ed Kashi: Travels in India 4

Posted by Ed Kashi

During Ed Kashi’s recent travels in Rajasthan, India, he pondered the significance of family and teaching in his photography career. Here he talks about the difficult but rewarding experience of teaching a National Geographic Photo Camp. Don’t miss his next post where he talks openly about his struggle to see his work as important in the face of so many dire situations around the world.
Students at the National Geographic Photo Camp in Rajasthan, India, learning to use a camera for the first time. © Ed Kashi

Students at the National Geographic Photo Camp in Rajasthan, India, learning to use a camera for the first time. © Ed Kashi


The first day of the workshop was frustrating due to a selfish teaching assistant. I was tired and cold and wanted to go home. Until then the workshop had not been satisfying; the kids were too timid, unengaged with us, and the conceit of the structure of the workshop began to show through for me. The power and importance of education is what I learn from these experiences, not always smooth or easy.

This workshop was a challenge, to bridge the gaps between us and the students, as well as between the city and rural kids. By day three the magic had begun, with the shy and nervous rural kids finding their voices and comfort levels, expressing themselves more openly to the instructors as well as their urban workshop mates. Likewise, the city kids began to shed their pretensions and superiority complexes, opening up and letting themselves just have fun.

By the end of the workshop the kids had made new friends, the shy had come out of their shells and the smart city kids had shown tremendous teamwork and supported their non-English-speaking rural peers. It was heart warming to see how well the two groups coalesced to support one another, had fun by sharing music and other teenage things, and ultimately moved past their previous stereotypical impressions of one another. Breaking down barriers is what this workshop and my life are dedicated to.

During the workshop’s graduation ceremony, my team of 5 students created and presented me with a poster; I’ve included a few of my favorite comments from it below. I love the first one, written by a stick-thin and very shy village girl named Deepika, who was crying the first day trying to hold a camera to her face and close one eye, something we photographers take for granted but for her was an impossibly weird and discomfiting thing to do.

Deepika…“I like your nature and behavior. I love the way you talk. We were able to learn lot from you and I even like you.”

From another student…“You teach us really nicely. You are very joyful person, which keep us energetic.”

Darhmendra….”I love your style of photography and how you solve our problems.”

February 25th, 2009

Ed Kashi: Travels in India 3

Posted by Ed Kashi

In his last entry, Ed talked about his struggle to balance work and family life. Here he talks about the National Geographic Photo Camp he taught in India and the continued importance of teaching to his passion for photography.
National Geographic Photo Camp in Rajasthan. A city kid photographs a cow.

At the National Geographic Photo Camp that Ed taught in Rajasthan, a "city kid" photographs a cow. © Ed Kashi


We’re in Jhadol, a small village nearly two hours drive outside of Udaipur to teach 20 teenagers, 10 from the city of Udaipur and 10 from the villages of this area. This is one of several National Geographic Photo Camps, which use photography and visual storytelling to foster cultural exchange and to open new vistas of awareness for these kids. The goal is not to create photographers, although that would be lovely. Instead, we are trying to empower these young people to tell the stories of their lives, communities, and families, thereby opening their eyes to their own world while sharing their vital and meaningful stories with outsiders.

I believe strongly in the power of photography to teach, to raise awareness, and to intimately and dramatically bring to life our stories, our issues, and our subconscious concerns. I have witnessed this power in countless situations, including refugee camps in Uganda, rural villages of Oaxaca, Mexico, the Latino district of San Francisco, and the South Bronx. These are the other National Geographic photo camps I’ve been a part of, but beyond this one set of experiences, I’ve been reminded repeatedly that photography has an uncanny, unique power to inspire, to prick the questioning mind, to discover beauty, and to express the intimate and personal.

It is this nexus of passion for, belief in, and commitment to the unique universe of visual storytelling that compels me to keep on driving forward, moving against the current odds, the dire predictions and blatant economic and structural trends. I cannot stop, nor do I believe I should. There is a usefulness, potency, and necessity to photography.

Showing my work from the Niger Delta to teens in the south Bronx or a village in India elicits the same response: indignation, surprise, and horror at the social, economic and environmental injustices of that story. These reactions exemplify the universal language of photography and the power of what I can achieve with my work.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How have you experienced the power of photography to empower people? Has teaching ever reinforced your own passion for photography?


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