Ed Kashi is a photojournalist, filmmaker, educator, and speaker dedicated to documenting the social and political issues of his time. Personally speaking, his work resonates a strong conscious connection to capturing the human condition. He is known for his strong imagery and a straight and physical style of photographing, which I got to know more of, after seeing a National Geographic documentary on his work in troubled parts of Pakistan. Having followed his photography, his writings and thoughts and having conversed and shared notes, it would not be wrong to say that as a photojournalist, Kashi is very aware about what his work means and what it conveys. His images and stories from india aptly display the intertwined, bustling, colliding and confusing society that we are.
As a practicing photojournalist, he was quick to adapt multimedia and other visual story telling forms to his documentary work, and has been a big proponent of various new additions to photography, such as Instagram and other social media platforms. He is currently a member of VII (Seven) Photo Agency and with his wife, Julie Winokur, founded Talking Eyes Media in 2002.
He was in India recently for a project and despite his packed schedule, very graciously agreed to a short interview over email.
[ Disclaimer- Certain parts of this interview, not affecting the eventual outcome, are extracts from Kashi’s personal notes and previous interviews and are produced here with the photographer’s permission due to time constraints.
All images copyright Ed Kashi/VII and used with permission of the artist.
1.Tells us a bit about your current trip to India. What brings you here?
I am continuing work on my project about chronic kidney disease, which I’ve worked on in Central America for the past 3 years. I went to Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states to investigate this illness in India, which mainly effects the rural and working poor.
2. What challenges does India throw up in terms of photographing and filming? Have you felt the need to change/ adapted your style/ body language?
India is generally a very welcoming and easy place to photograph. The people are cooperative and tend to understand their part as subjects in front of the camera. The only changes in my approach and body language are dependent on cultural mores, depending on whether I’m working in a rural or urban environment and based on religious and circumstantial considerations.
3. India, China and the wider south east Asian region is teaming with possibilities, both in terms of stories to be told and covered as well as young talent and upcoming photojournalists. However, why don’t we see more work as well as independent photographers (not attached to News Wire services) on the international stage (or we haven’t seen in a little while)
I don’t agree. There is a constant stream of independent, outsider photographers who come to India and China, and the wider Asian region to regularly photograph. Granted, China can be tricky for obvious reasons, but in general the Asian region is not only ripe subject matter but seems a destination for photographers to come and photograph. There can always be more done of course!
4. Tell us a bit about your beginnings in photography?
I discovered photography while a freshman in college, at Syracuse University. I had intended to become a writer, being a novelist was my actual dream. I was turned away of that notion by a harsh poetry teacher at the tender age of 18. I turned my sights on photography and within a few months of learning the craft I was hooked. It was partly from learning about Imogene Cunningham who was still making pictures into her 90’s and then seeing Ward 81 by Mary Ellen Mark, and I knew this was how I wanted to spend my life. When I graduated from university I moved to San Francisco to begin my journey. Once there I began freelancing and gradually moved from local assignments for magazines to national and then international work. My goal was always to become a storyteller.
5. How do you decide upon a subject?
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. Through the years my approach has sharpened and developed based on how effective I believe my work will be and what issues I can connect with and impact. My motivation is based on an innate desire to engage with the world in a meaningful way, be a visual storyteller, whether in still or moving images, to impact an issue and change or at least open the viewer’s minds.
6. You’ve been using hybrid mediums of still and video to tell stories for quite a while, how do you decide on choosing the correct medium?
At this point I find myself choosing filmmaking more often to tell my stories, as it’s such a powerful medium and allows me to capture the voices of my subjects and bring to life issues that are often hard to do with just stills. Having said that, most of the time I’m doing both these days. I try to work on my personal projects in such a way that I can create photographs and produce a short film. I love still photography more than ever. They are such different mediums and both offer creative challenges and allow for making powerful statements. When I can I try to do both. When I have to choose it’s based on what will serve the subject and my creative desires most effectively.
7. With all the changes that have happened in photographic technique and practice so quickly, what do you think of Photography as it is today?
Right now photography is in a transitional place and has been for a while. With so many exciting and new opportunities and possibilities to create, share and develop ideas, yet the foundations that have been disrupted by the digital revolution have not been replaced by anything one can count on for the future. Therefore it’s a time of upheaval, opportunity, elasticity, creative thinking, being open minded and yet finding platforms that work for you. Basically it’s psychotic. I’ve always said to be in this profession you have to be a bit of a maniac, dedicated and committed to something that is ephemeral. It’s never been more appropriate than today.
8. And where do you think it will all lead?
The changes that will both enhance and confront still photography will be guided by the evolution of the digital revolution. There will be a greater push and opportunity onto mobile platforms for how we share our work, whether Instagram continues to reign supreme or another app/platform emerges. There will also be a struggle with controlling the impact and use of post production and new standards will have to emerge to protect the veracity of journalistic and reality based work. With the increased use of 4K video cameras, we will find more stills work produced out of devices that will create massive editing challenges. I predict we will also see the continued increase retro desire to work in analog world, as a pushback to the massive changes that the digital revolution has caused. What is certain is the power of photography will only increase as one of the true universal languages of mankind.
9. Talking of mobile platforms, you are a big proponent of these platforms, especially Instagram. In the past you’ve even taken to using it as a medium for advocacy against the death penalty with the ‘Selfie Against Death Penalty’ campaign. What makes Instagram such a vital tool in today’s photography?
A photo posted by Marc Asnin (@finalwordsbook) on
Instagram is a special space for me as a visual artist. It’s a place where I can play with imagery like never before, experimenting with making double exposures, working with post production/darkroom tools I would never use in my 35mm work, and capturing pure moments in my daily life. It’s also a space where I can be very serious, publishing photo essays and advocacy work to raise awareness and change peoples minds about the issues of the day. Like most social media, it also allows for a two way forum for dialogue and debate at times. It’s also a space where I can promote projects and issues that are important to me. Authorship and control of my work makes Instagram the only channel that exists today where I am a photo publisher and can reach a growing audience without any filters or gatekeepers. Simply put it’s a space that does not exist anywhere else in photography today.
10. After so many years of journalistic work, what changes do you observe? For the better or for worse?
Most of the changes I see are negative these days, it’s such a strange moment for me. While I can see advances in many areas of human society and endeavor, including eliminating poverty, hunger and disease, and more inclusiveness in many places as well, there is also this dark, backwards looking energy and movement. These forces are colliding and in the face of this sometimes extraordinarily violent and generally depressing situation, the photojournalist and storyteller has an important role to play, while being pressured from all sides.
11. How has photography changed you?
It has made me who I am today. I am more confident, inquisitive, and knowledgeable of many places, cultures and issues. It has also damaged me due to all that I’ve seen and the pain and suffering I’ve witnessed and therefore absorbed.
12.Now that there are so many photo practitioners now, do you think some sort of structure is necessary for education in photography?
There already exists a wide array of photographic educational opportunities and structures in the world. Bangladesh and India certainly have a lot of great teachers, and Europe and the Americas are filled with institutions that teach photography. What is difficult is access due to geographic, transnational and economic barriers.
13. What advice do you have for young and upcoming photojournalists?
I believe one must possess a voracious appetite for knowledge, a maniacal desire to engage with the world, very deep, personal interests that inspire you to explore issues, places, themes and stories. And you must have sensitivity, compassion for others, a desire to do good and illuminate. You must read and study and know about the world, especially the subjects you choose to investigate and explore deeply. You must have the reflexes of an athlete in some ways, whether they are fast and responsive, or slow and reflective. Actually, if you have all of these qualities then you are destined for something great in life.
14. As journalist and documentarian, life is not easy; do you have any advice to photographers regarding balancing life and work?
My advice for photographers who want a family but are dedicated to being documentarians and visual storytellers where you’ll need to travel a lot, is make smart choices in the mate you choose, the projects you develop and always listen to your mate, never take them for granted and be sure this is the life you want. It’s very hard, extraordinarily difficult, gut wrenching at times. You’ll miss so much while seeing too much. You’ll need to be strong and tough, yet soft and sensitive. You’ll need to make compromises to your work and your family. Both sides can’t win all the time. It’s especially challenging for a female photographer for obvious biological reasons. In the end, the key is to find someone who will understand your needs, support you in what is often a selfless manner and be strong enough to endure the loneliness, hardships of single parenting and ups and downs of being with a photographer.
15. Over years, how has your photography changed and which photographers do you hold close to your heart?
In the past it was folks like Eugene Smith, Robert Frank, Andres Kertesz, Richard Avedon, and many others. More contemporary influences are Sebastiao Salgado, Eugene Richards, Gilles Peress and others, but at this point I am most influenced by my own work and finding ways to evolve and challenge myself.
16. What are some moments/ stories/ happenings you regret not photographing?
Too many to discuss and not enough time to tell you.
17. What’s next for Ed Kashi?
Continue working on various projects both in the United States and abroad. My current projects vary from immigration stories in my backyard of New York and New Jersey, to international work on kidney disease and the ongoing refugee/migrant crisis in the world today. I will continue to teach and lecture. I am working on two new books and a host of new short films and documentaries.
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