Audioburst Search

TCF Ep. 490 - Sebastian Meyer


When a photo journalist makes makes the choice to document counflict and the aftermath of conflict except the high level of unpredictability recognizing the the fact is necessary? Not only for telling the story but also keeping yourself and the people around you safe at least as safe as you can be. You have to be open to all the possibilities. That's a lesson that photographer. Sebastian Mayer learned several times over while working and living in Iraqi Kurdistan for over a decade he documented the complex political and cultural history of the Kurds eventually beginning the first Iraqi based photo agency agency. With his best friend Comrade newseum from the very beginning he had to reconsider what he thought he knew about the people and their history if he he was to tell an honest nuance story in in a way had never worked before because as you very use photo journalist new very used to covering events events as they happen and this was I was photographing invented. It happen over twenty years ago. Where exactly twenty years ago so as I referred to it at the time like photographing ghosts autographing? Everything wasn't there the people who died were we're GONNA graphing the survivors and in a way eight. I would translate that story which is a challenge and a really good judge the photo agency which began with just him and come run eventually. The grew providing people from the region and opportunity to tell their own stories and share them with the world. There's success included publication in international title magazines and award but things changed dramatically when com. Ron was wounded all covering brutal skirmish with a terrorist organization organization. Isis that had come to take control of the region. We'd had an official statement at that point from the Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry. That that run it was officially dead so we were working with local police forces that morning to figure out how to safely access the battlefield retrieve his body while we were figuring it out his best friend from growing up. Do I got a phone call. And it was come run. He wasn't dead. You've been wounded. Did the Kurdish forces. Kurdish forces had retreated leaving his body on the battlefield thinking. He was dead but that night isis had gone onto the battlefield. It and retrieve comrade. And now he was an isis hostage. We'll talk to Sebastian about how the fate of common changed his life and how putting together his new book on his this decade in Iraqi Kurdistan is help him to come to terms with one of the most important periods of his life. This is about an ex and welcome. Welcome back to the candidate for him But thanks for making time for me on the Saturday morning. I'm really appreciated. You back bet. So where are you now. Where are you now? I'm in New York. I'm in Brooklyn. Okay how long have you been there now. I moved back so I grew up in New York. I moved back in in two thousand fifteen the beginning of two thousand fifteen. Oh Yeah Eh. Almost five years four four and a half years. Are you still driving a lot for your worker you well no because of the couple of things so I I moved back to because my mom my mom got sick so I came back to take care of her now. That kept me in New York for for a while and then I just had a kid seven months ago so grant that that thanks. It's amazing that keeps me pretty stationary for the time. Being and then obviously with the book I'm doing a lot of promotion and a lot of events and talks and going to universities and stuff so that it keeps me from traveling but I will. I'll start again in the new year. Thanks for sending me out the book I really appreciate having a chance to do it and read it and learn more about voucher. It's it's kind of timely. Unfortunately unfortunately for all the wrong reasons but it's a fascinating story as as well as just a really a collection not only have really good photographs but a way of honoring the many many people that you've met over those ten years including your your best friend who you talk about really beautifully in in the book but I wanted to start at two thousand in terms of what led you to go to Iraqi Kurdistan in the first place so I got an assignment. Essentially I mean not essentially I got an assignment to go to Iraqi Kurdistan in the fall of two thousand thousand eight. I was working as a freelancer in London. Working for the national newspapers working for getty images are stuck very much doing very britain-based and even London based news was twenty six twenty seven twenty eight and I really wanted to go out and do other stuff but it was very hard defined assignments and I was lucky enough to meet a British documentary. Filmmaker who've been covering occurred since the seventies and he was starting a new project which was a series of documentaries along along with a multimedia project including photography so he hired a to go out there for six weeks. So that's all right. I got introduced. Okay Ed and what was. What was the idea in terms of what you were going to be doing once you once you arrive there? Yes I mean. That's that was really my introduction to Kurdistan it was really to throw me in the most amazing way possible into the story of the Kurds like what had happened to the Kurds over the last twenty thirty forty years my job. The project that we're working on was it was about fall. Which is the one thousand nine hundred genocide that Saddam committed against the Kurds? So my job was to do. Portraits of the survivor is that he was interviewing but also to photograph their villages villages that were destroyed. Mass graves saves human remains really intense. Really really really intense story in a way never worked before because as a photographer you very I uses photojournalist. You're very used to covering events as they happen. Then this was. I was photographing an event. That had happened over twenty years ago or exactly exactly. Twenty years ago I referred to it at the time like photographing ghosts photographing everything. That wasn't there. The people who who had died were were. Gonzalez is photographing the survivors. In a way that would translate that story which is a challenge. Like a really good challenge. Every every qualification classification conflict between Saddam and the courage is direct result of the Kurds citing with an around correct. So it's it's all of these things that are always more complex and the more you dig into them but essentially what happened is at the towards the end of the Iran Iraq war which whose one thousand nine hundred eighty one thousand nine hundred eight towards the end. The Kurds or certain Kurdish groups decided to to help Iran so Saddam saw them as fifth columnists. There's as betrayers of the Iraqi state and so he. Basically unleashed genocide of collective punishment on. The Kurds called on fall which is from the Koran. It's it means the spoils of war and he killed up to one hundred and eighty thousand people and often when I hear about that episode from my context here in the states. It's tantamount to sort of political outcome. The fact that we encourage them to take arms against Saddam and yet abandon them. When exactly? I mean you you hit on a point that I've been making a lot. Ah recently which is so. That was one thousand nine hundred eighty eight nine hundred ninety one. Three years later Iraq invaded Kuwait. In America comes to Kuwait's defense offense with a very large coalition but defeats Saddam's army very very easily has the the opportunity under H W Bush basically to go all the way to Baghdad overthrow Saddam and be done with it but he decides not to and instead he calls on the Kurds in the north of Iraq in the Shia in the south and again again like you said to take up arms against Saddam to have their own uprising which they both did with the understanding that America will come to their defense defense very similarly to what we've done with the Kurds in Syria against Isis. Just like we did a few weeks ago in Syria. We did to the Kurds in Iraq. And we they did. They did rise up against Saddam. Saddam retaliated America. Did Not come to their defense and you know again. Another massacre humanitarian disaster ensued. Afterwards you know when I was reading up on the history of especially recently understanding that the situation situation in the Kurds goes all the way back to goes back for a long time. But in terms of recent memory Immediately after World War. Two in terms of you know when all the lands are being doled out here you had. It's actually even further back next World War One world one. Okay Yeah World War One then. When land hand was being dispersed to different countries occurs even though they had a huge population they were left with nothing so basically their population was basically spend around Iraq? Iran all these countries and they had no really sort of country in which they could identify with a lot of people here ear Kurdistan and they think that that's a country but it's actually just a an area where a lot of Kurds happen to occupy. But it's still possible of another nation. Absolutely yeah I mean you hit it. Nail on the head was at the end of World War. One the Ottoman Empire controlled most of Middle East and North Africa Ottoman Empire collapses and the the powers that if you will one the first World War got to divide it up and France took. It's a Syria. Lebanon and Britain had control of Baghdad and Pasta and they said Oh. We'll take this Kurdish bait here and we'll just put it on the top and we'll call it country Iraq and then Turkey under editor. Divide up you just like you said. The Kurds live in a region that involves southern Turkey eastern Syria northern Iraq and western Iran. But there there's no actual Kurdish country. There is no Kurdish state. And here's just an area. Where a lot of Kurds live divided between these four four countries so from your perspective respective especially going in does that make it more difficult to tell a story because it isn't about conflicts between nations? It's about a a a community of people that no one wants to completely own and own is probably the Ba- a bad word for it. But I hope you know what. I'm suggesting that they can sort of be part. I as someone else's problem. Creating sort of narrative interest in terms of the world of journalism does. Does it make it that much more difficult. Because it's hard to feel that how the choices of governments impact on the large community of people has a direct direct impact on countries like the US. For example. I mean the reality is from a journalistic perspective. It's hard at the time time it was. It's hard to get editors to take interest in the story about the Kurds. Because the Kurds were silent partners his with the Americans in two thousand and three in the war against against Saddam in the invasion of Iraq and because they cooperated and because they you were there to protect their own interests and their own people. It was not a particularly hot area. If you will right it was not. This was not Faluji. This was not Baghdad. This was not where American soldiers were fighting and dying. This is a peaceful area. That had a terrible terrible past but that pass doesn't and anything that doesn't have any impact on what is happening to American soldiers on the ground so to to tell an American editor and more importantly in American audience. Hey let's talk about the Kurds. Let's talk about what happened to them. In one thousand nine hundred eighty is about what happened to them in one thousand nine hundred one when we betrayed them people will say no. I'm sorry we're just not interested right. We're interested in what would have happened to American soldiers in Iraq. But that's not the Kurds we're interested in what's happened to an American into American soldiers in Afghanistan. Not The Kurds. We're interested in what's happening to our own interests but not to the interests of this of this small group and that honestly I think a lot of ways that's how we ended up where we ended up with our political relationships with the Syrian Kurds the fight against Isis because they were silent partners and they were we could we could politically use them when it was an advantage to us and then forget them when it was not an advantage it seems like a lot of the coverage. It seems that it's served us and I speak generally generally to view the Kurds in terms of story as victims. If they were the victims of people we opposed and that sort of would define the narrative narrative for the period of time in which we held interest and curious to hear from you going in how that perspective evolved and inchanged. Does the the answer to that. Question is the reason that I ended up staying and moving there and calling Kurdistan my home for her for almost ten years so when I went to Kurdistan I was aware of the history. I was aware of what happened in. I viewed the Kurds. Probably the same way that most people who do know a little bit about the region view the Kurds the view I had was a tough warrior people and to who have experienced terrible terrible atrocities which is totally true but it was a very got there and saw actually what will the capital look like. What Sulaimaniyah that city of almost two million and a half people with that look like I was shocked? I was like wait. Hold on hold on second. These people eat pizza. These people like iphones. These people hate traffic jams. Like you had put in my mind through twenty thirty years of imagery that I'd seen of the Kurds which was mass graves or the Peshmerga fighting or mountain villages is. I wasn't prepared for human beings that were like literally no different from myself. Great people want to drive a nice car. People want to like they like electricity and they're not getting enough and they are annoyed by it you know. They liked their food to be tasty. I mean all this kind of stuff tufted. I realized that as a journalist I was. If I wasn't careful I would be doing to which is to paint people from different countries different cultures. There's different whatevers paint them only highlighting things that separate us as opposed to the things that make all human which is why when I got there and met Com. Run on that assignment. We became like immediate friends but he introduced me to all these other Iraqi Kurdish photojournalists who are amazing. And who had these incredible pictures of Iraq of Kurdistan that I'd never seen because as an American the only views I'd seen of Iraq were taken by American French south South African Japanese photographers. I seen any photographs by Iraqi photographers. Right it was always a forward view of Iraq. No and I never seen a view of wreck from the inside aside and so when I saw their photographs I was like Oh wait hold on. I think we are missing like our visual record of Iraq is just wrong. It's just not right so the next year when com run on I was back in London. Because that's where I was living Conran told me he had this idea to start a photo agency. I just literally bought one way ticket and move back to start with him. Because I was like this is this is an amazing opportunity. That friendship is really integral to your entire period. There is sort of the spine into which you know. The the the book is is put together to tell us about your your friendship with him Because you know he's certainly worked together. You both had a passion for photography for Forty Journalists Verte journalism and telling stories but there seems to have been you know basically you guys were like brothers from different mothers and tell me about him and what made the whole dynamic between the two of you so special you know when you go to a new school for the first time you meet at somebody and you just like you immediately hit it off like that's it like we're best friends and it could be an elementary school. Could be middle school. Whatever that common and I met my second? Can we there on that Annette first assignment and he smoked spoke a few words of English. They'd picked up in school. I spoke no words of Kurdish. And despite that you know that first meeting basically his boss and my boss were having lunch we went along and these are our view because we were young doc in just obnoxious where these guys are boring farts. Let's go table and just like look at some photographs together so we whipped open our laptops and again with zero shared language. We just talked about an hour and a half right and I just I love being around him. It was always is always fun like as always everything was Zyppah was an adventure. Things actually did eventually become like adventures. Do some some crazy traveling together but even when we were just walking through the market market through the bizarre it was like everything was Super Fun. I found out once we become good friends for a long time. He wasn't just that Kurdish people had this amazing ability to talk with each other. I just assumed it was a Kurdish thing that everyone can call anybody a brother you could just jump into. Conversation wasn't wasn't that Cameron had devastating charisma. Like he could. There was no checkpoint. He couldn't walk talk himself through and there was no situation he couldn't just just by talking. He could do extraordinary things and that really was you know in a in a way. How able to build the agency so well but back to your question about the friendship? It was just like the meeting of two of two minds. It was just a beautiful thing and when I moved there the following year and we started to live together it was like like you just added fuel to the fire right. It was just. It was like college but no homework work or homework that you wanted to do classes that you wanted to attend so we'd be up all night working building the agency building the website. Just everything was Super tons of hard work but also tons of fun and over the years he and I spent so much time together. That are friends whether they were American. American friends our Kurdish friends. Would sometimes call would call us by the other one's name like I'd walk in room. Hey calm run and we kinda look the same but not really it really look the same but they were so used to seeing together sorta became indistinguishable and his family and his mom and his brother just started referring to me as their brother. Because I was there attached at the hip. What's interesting about the agency that you guys created his then it started with just the two of you but but eventually you incorporated a lot of other people who were from from the country and they and train them on how to be photojournalists in many went onto to have really amazing careers and win awards and I think was kind of fascinating is having the opportunity not only for you to sort of teach them what you knew but also also learning from them because I think that the fact that they're federal education and their life experience was so dissimilar to yours that somehow so that there was this cross pollination that was happening and we mentioned in the beginning of the conversation about how your perspective was so shaped by Western perspective and that sort of thing and I'm wondering how working with them helped you to develop your own sense of you've creating images especially when it came to telling story too great a great question? There's there's a lot. There's a lot that I learned I think on the more I on the more serious side. There's not a single friend of mine or photographer in the agency. Who hasn't been a refugee at least twice in in their life? And there's not a single person I know who hasn't lost a really close family member through everything that's happened in Iraq since since they were born and so that when when you think about is a very sobering very sobering thought that their life experience and what they'd been to what they what they live through through war hunger free like not having enough to eat which is a crazy concept for me honestly as an American the idea that you you you. There's no options for food. You'RE GONNA starve to death. You're going to walk miles through the snow because otherwise someone's going to kill you. The did all live to that and they'd yet. They maintained that their the way they were in the world meant that we could be friends that we were not alienated in different and separated that despite everything they've been through they still were warm and encouraging and accepting inhospitable not judgmental or distanced from someone from a different country who'd grown up with you know almost alarmingly privilege way compared to them. I think that was a very really important is on a human level. Very humbling from from a photographic side is really obvious right like their Kurdish and they lived in Kurdistan so they knew what was going on right like if I wanted if I wanted to go do a story about Xyz they knew where that story was or more importantly they knew what the stories were right. They knew what was happening along the border with Iran Iran. They knew about the gun smuggling they knew about the oil trade. I mean they. They knew everything so I got to learn about Kurdistan through through them and I got to learn what the visual side of Kurdistan through them. So much of what I when I hear people talk about photojournalism. Maybe not in the moment that it's it's out in a magazine or a newspaper in afterwards often about the aesthetics of the photographs. And I'm wondering whether being around these these other other photographers. Both men and women how that shifted or maybe changed the way that you looked at photographs whether or not they were telling a story. Our that is great. I tell you there's something that really changed in my in the visual under look at Curtis and it was about humor right there really a lot of things that I photographed both intentionally because I was looking for them or unintentionally sleep. They were just there staring you in the face. Tragic mass graves suicide bombs portrait of people who lost family members. All I can really very very heavy stuff but despite all of that my Kurdish friends maintained an incredible sense of humor and the things that they found funny not to laugh at. You know not to not to point your finger and laugh at but to be in on the joke I think that is that was a big part of my foot. BEATO visual usual education in Kurdistan and included no very intentionally in the book. There's some photographs where you stop you. You laugh I mean. I've shown the book to people like Gazza going through it. I hear them chuckle. And that for me is like one of the biggest wins because it means that a like I can tell. The joke wants to be funny. But it's always good when the joke lands. But it's a Kurdish joke that I'm telling people are in on it and that's that's somewhat one of a cultural translator right. I'm bringing a book that is it's fifty all anything I write in English. I've written in Kurdish there. So it's meant for Kurdish audience as much. Much is a non-kurdish audience but if people in America are laughing at my Kurdish jokes that means I'm a decent a translator to the book span. Dan Tense ten years. And you talk about in the introduction about you had an idea of publishing a book early on but that ten years later it really got transformed into something completely different. Tell me about that evolution. So the initial plan was to was in reaction action to my first impression of Kurdistan when I got there right so my first impression of Kurdistan was the the the impoverished Kurds who were tough half warriors Cetera et Cetera et Cetera and I realized that Kurdistan had a lot of natural beauty and had a lot of poets and there was sort of a suburban boring life that was happening as well which we have in America. That's has been photographed. Well in the past and I thought well we should include clued as well and it was going to be very much a deep nuanced visual record of Kurdistan and really nothing Wasn't going would. It was deep and maybe that was where it was going to stop. It wasn't going any further. Where things changed is is is where my life turned? And it's a very it's a horrendously tragic turn but I I was in Kurdistan when when it was on the rise right. I was there when it was. It was very peaceful. Economic Development was skyrocketing oil was being discovered and pumps oil execs. Were having gated communities munity built for them five star hotels etc etc and then in two thousand fourteen isis shows up in in the northern region of Iraq and everything just changes Kurdistan gets thrown back into war a war that it really felt that it had been able to avoid and on June tenth. Isis runs runs the city of Mosul and two days later comrades went to cover the front line fight between the Kurdish forces and isis outside the city of how Ya and he was shot and I was. I was about seven hours away working on another assignment when I found out. Got A call saying that he was shot and killed so I drove all the way back seven hours through the night tobacco Sulaimaniyah where our office was and the next morning about five. Six o'clock in the morning warning me. Two of his brothers and a few friends drove to Care Cook to retrieve his body from the battlefield. Because the Kurds during the battle occurred said head with Fong Song back they'd retreated. We'd had an official statement at that point from the Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry. That Carmona was officially dead. Ed So we were working with local police forces that morning to figure out how to safely access the battlefield retrievers body and while we were figuring it out uh his best friend from from growing up I got a phone call and it was common. He wasn't dead. He been wounded the Kurdish forces this Kurdish forces had retreated leaving his body on the battlefield thinking he was dead but that night Eissa gone onto the battlefield and retrieve com run and now he was an nicest hostage so we immediately ran to the Kurdish commander and told them the news and he we gave him the phone number of of of the Isis captured. Because that's how common called. He called from his captors phone and the negotiations started and they went they went. They went wrong and Isis. Just hung up the phone eventually. Turn off the phone and there was no way to get through so we had to leave Kirkuk. We went back to Sulaymaniyah about an hour away and in our the metric Rafi office in the agency office. We set up a contingency room and started to work for his release and running down all the different these that we could find. We had journalists who had incredible Intel inside the city of how we joe where Isis was. We had politicians working for us. We had the Kurdish secret service. They were in that secret service but the intelligence service and we were working with them to try to track down leads and Intel this June June twelfth and June turn into July August September. And unfortunately it's now been five and a half years and all of our leads have dried up and we haven't found common the really my life completely completely changed so for all of two thousand fourteen in March of two thousand fifteen. I didn't work. I put my camera down because I'd thrown myself off into this into this rescue operation but after about is probably about a full twelve months full year of me working nonstop on this I eh. Leads had dried up to a point where I wasn't needed on a day to day basis so I went back to work. I went back to work work on this book and what had happened was Kurdistan had completely changed right now. Kurdistan was a country or region at war. The way it hadn't been when I had arrived in two thousand eight and I had changed. I had I had gone there in two thousand eight to photograph victim. People who people who lost loved ones during genocide photographed people who lost loved ones because of a civil war and now I was I wasn't Kurdish. I hadn't lived through through what they'd lived through but I had also now lost someone incredibly close to me so my perspective on Kurdistan it had changed. I was I could really feel that sense of loss that sense of sadness so my book started to focus use on that yeah. I was photographing nature. I was photographing daily life. But I was focusing a lot of my journalistic nick photojournalistic energy on the family members of people who have lost their family members and spending any more time than I would be able to an assignment getting to know families better going to not just to this the doing with them to the to the gravesite site of their loved one which I did but then also going with them to their to the graduation ceremonies spending as weeks with them hanging out at their houses getting to know them and getting a real journalistic understanding of grief and loss in Kurdistan stand. A few people have let me know that they've had difficulty difficulty contributing to the show via paypal or Patriot. I have double checked the links and they each seem to be active. However I suggest that you either try chrome home or firefox using safari or any other browser? And you're still having problems. Please let me know you can email me at Ivorian ex at at the candidate frame dot com. And if you haven't already please consider supporting the show by becoming a patriotic supporter by contributing. Only five dollars or more a month month. You help us to do the work that ensures that we can do this that we can provide you great conversations like the one you're listening to today visit Patriots Dot Com forward slash decanted frame and become a patriotic supporter today. Thanks aw was interesting stories that when I went there part of it was trying to tell the narrative of what had happened twenty years afterwards and a big part of that story for a lot of families was not knowing what was the final outcome of happened to their family members to their loved ones because of the mass graves just abductions and there was no closure if there can only be any closure and some degree you experienced that yourself with with of common in how how how is that having literally the same experience of of of of not having any sort of the final period at the end of the sentence I know personally but also how does it impact the way you choose to work as a really important and really really lovely questions so there's a term for people who experience something like a hostage crisis that doesn't that doesn't resolve itself. The term is ambiguous ambiguous loss and it was coined by a an American therapist from Minnesota. It's IT'S A. It's a fantastic phrase for anyone who has who experiences it because it really into very simple words really gets across the sensation of what it's like it's loss without closure ambiguous loss from the personal side. How I how I dealt with that? What does it feel like are? It's very difficult. It's very difficult to to move on. It's very because you can't say goodbye. Her advice is a therapist is to somehow somehow find meaning in the envious which is a crazy thing to to ask somebody. How do you find meaning in this very painful ambiguous place? There are many different ways. I think some people who go through it get involved in NGOs or social worker things like that. I found a creative outlet. I poured myself into this book in trying to tell that that story. That was my way of one of the ways that I dealt with. It was to was to turn a creative I to this to this situation which segues into your other question. which is how has this? This hostage situation and we embarrass loss affected me or or channel me occur creatively and I think what did I. It's hard for me to reflect on myself to know how it sort of from the outside. We I need to ask my wife or an editor. Somebody like Oh yes. His work changed in these ways. But really for me I think what it did is it made me work harder. There was more are there was more at stake because it was more important for me to get the story right and by the story mean the sensation the feeling when you read my book or You read the images and you read the words. If I've done my job well you will have left with an understanding with an impression that is both artistic and emotional of that ambiguity. No that I experienced you me the author of the book reading but also the characters the the other people that I photographed in the book a couple years ago I think in two thousand seventeen. You published an article in the photos about a small community here in the states that had experienced an economic downturn. And it really is sort of representative of so much attempting in this country and and I really would love to hear how all this experience that you had had overseas not not so much change. What would how? How did shape the approach that you took to telling a story in in in the country and in a place that was much more familiar to you? Men in Kurdish. So in a lot of this is very similar in the sense that I've never I've never reported it in the national reporter like I've never covered the US before not entirely true. I started off my career working for the New York Sun but I was put graphing the real estate section of the newspaper. So I'll give that as a technical aside so this was in two thousand seventeen we'd had donald trump was elected and the world's worlds and more importantly American America's media had decided to go to rust belt America and to tell the story of all these people who voted for trump and to explain to all of us who live on the coast and who can't possibly understand how that could have happened and it was a very again I felt and I think a lot of us felt that that reporting was very two dimensional very simplistic made me curious to go see for myself as a journalist right I wanted to go and get a better the understanding and so I went to this town in in Ohio Coshocton and spend two weeks there which is not ten in years that I spent in Kurdistan but it's it was longer than than when normally gets to do on an assignment like this and I think my editor Buzzfeed for giving me the opportunity to to spend that amount of time and do that work because what I found when I got there was again what I what I what I saw when I got to Kurdistan Herta sandwiches. The story is not as simplistic as here are some white working class people who no longer have jobs and they're angry and now they're gonNA vote trump right. I saw care in the community that I had never really senior experienced in America before I saw people who I was not about politics these this this is a town that had lost a lot of work but it was a town that really really cared for. It's for each other. There was people went out of their way in ways that I think my liberal instincts and my friends liberal instincts string swish that we would all care for each other but these people are actually doing it in ways that I don't do and my friends don't do and so I got I was able. I'm sort of rambling here. A A little bit but what. I what I tried to do was to give as I tried and curtis a more subtle and nuanced portrayal of the town which lives in the grey areas grey areas. And we all know that journalism has always but increasingly feels like a black and white issue. Should we learned quick beatty headlines. We need you to like care. needs to be shocking. Even even when it's like long form it can feel that way and and what I learned honestly through my time in Kurdistan as just as journalists as before Cameron was kidnapped than living through the ambiguity of of his kidnapping. It is that that John Keats negative capability basically the best artists in the world are the ones that can live in uncertainty anti `ambiguities comfortably. So if I can as a photographer create a nuanced piece that makes you stop and think where there's nothing shocking. Nothing blows your head off. There's no there's no there's no needles sticking out of anybody's neck but it's slower and Y- Eh but it draws you in and peer curiosity then then. I'm doing the job that I want to be doing work. That's absolute is doesn't hold. Did your attention for very long. No no it's good at the time and it's good on the thirty year anniversary and like that's it right like right. Now we're seeing amazing amazing images of the fall of the Berlin Wall which is really important extraordinary event but none of this thirty year anniversary the photography that I'm seeing gets gives me any understanding of the divine in Germany. Nothing nothing does nothing. More more settled in depth. Third like you know when when you see a really really great movie and you're like I don't know how to feel like feel this way and that way. We have to be able to do that if we can do that. With the moving image we have to be able to do that with the still image but it can be a difficult difficult thing because trying to sell basically is what we're trying to do these stories that are much more nuance that are more subtle in an age in which people's Attention Jin are measured by the politics and the swipe their finger from right to left It really makes it difficult to not only sell it to the reader or the viewer but also the people oh who are choosing to allocate space for it whether it's on a printed page or electronic one so it has to be really a practical decision for you as a photo journalist analysts in terms of what you pursue hard. Do you push on some of these things because you still have to make a living. So how what's it like for you. I think so you end up doing because you're absolutely right you have to. I have to come up with stories. In my editors want to pay me to do so I can't come up with. Hey check out. There's amazing nuanced story that no one's going to read because that's an fly. You do kind of what I did or not. You had what I they do is allocate the time in my own resources to make a book like the what I made. Hopefully it doesn't take another ten years to do you and other book but you know you never know usually the first one is the hardest. Yes I also in the way that that I did so obviously photo book publishing a Photo Journalism Photo publishing is a very non lucrative creative pursuit you raise the funds however you raise the funds. Most people do kickstarter. I did a bunch of commercial work in. This kept the money to the side right until I was ready to print. And I think that's how you do it. You have to do it if you're going to tell a story on your own terms in subtlety depth apt length. You have to do it on your own. And hopefully the work is good enough and strong enough that it will speak for itself after the fact one one of the interesting things in terms of the process of the book was that you made four by six prints of the images. You wanted to consider that you share them with other people and they would like right signatures. On the wins they liked that sort of parse it. And and that's that's a practice that I always recommend people to do when they're trying to edit images images down and try to call them down but I'm curious as to who you chose to share the images with because that's as important as the images that you initially choose yourself. Aw completely agree so it was a process that actually my book. Publishers came up with my books published by Red Hook conditions which is small imprint. Based out of here out here in Brooklyn so it's Jason Eskenazi. Who was a brilliant brilliant photo journalist? Peter Van Mel Allen Chen Day started at each one of Damn phenomenal journalists who I love and trust their work and their decisions and through their network. We picked a few other photographers offers to come in and sit on the edit. I brought in five hundred four by sixes and then we just pass them. We literally sat around a circular table and pass them mm around and at the end we tallied up which signature which photographs got the most signatures. which you know six signatures five inches fourth? It wasn't as mathematical all in the end but what they gave me was an understanding of which which images were striking a chord and which images are not and there were plenty that struck a chord that I wasn't sure that would and there were plenty that I'd love to pieces and wanted in there that I was told just from an outsider perspective from editors perspective. That foot of shouldn't be nowhere near the book. Stop thinking about that photograph move on and and that was the initial process and then then comes the sequencing and again I worked with with Jason a lot in particular. And I'm Peter Jason's made Jason's wonderland book is just a masterclass in photo book publishing and Peter as well his books disco nights nine eleven buzzing at the cell. The sequencing of those is brilliant. So I really trusted them and he stood there. Stand there with the big metal will board and your magnets and the photos get moved around and lines and stories and pacing like and like a good podcast story that starts to go in and and what was very interesting was as a photographer especially someone who who had spent so much time with these images as I had I was like I had no taste like perspective i. I'm sure you know very well like you just a little little bit different from from writing. I mean I've had my my writing edited in paragraph get moved around and poll ideas want to be in a story or cut out out but at the end of the day. You the authors. You still have to write the words like you still even after the edit you still have to figure it out with photography you can be so deaf and blind to it that you need other photographers to really really lead you into the sequencing. Because I thankfully I had an amazing amazing publishers. Who could do that for me? Do you think that so much of what you are seeing up on that wall was your life. It wasn't just images you created traded on various assignments. This is ten years of your life that you were seeing up there. Did that make the process more difficult more challenging him absolutely. That's all thought there was my life and that was what gave me emotional attachment to certain images right and it's like why director's cut suck right like you know what I mean like a director. He knows that He. I don't know a million dollars of his budget. Went into this one shot so he needs to be in the movie but objectively doesn't and so that's why the editor takes it out. I knew that this the picture. Let's say very poignant picture of comrade and that was really important to me that I wanted in there but the reason I wanted to in there is because it evoked a memory that was important to me not that the image itself told the story to the to the audience. And that's where my editors were were really because they'd be like no. That picture does not tell the store you think it does it. Does it to you because you were there you can you remember the smells. You remember this but now it doesn't the image itself doesn't tell that story so yeah it was. It was a lot of this process. Says if you there's there's the pure artistic journalistic storytelling aspect to this book. which is what I put out but obviously as a creator? There's my story of making the book and without really drumming. Homa cliche does close a chapter on my life. This is ten years that I spent living and working in Kurdistan and with the publication of this book that chapter that period of my life is now has has has does not have ambiguity is clearly. You know there's a there's a period at the end of that sentence. There's an interesting choice choice. It's made in this book and that's specifically with when you address the issue of camera. This story of Cameron those sections turned into Not full-color Ramage's but monochrome images of this difference in the color of the paper. Maybe even maybe even the texture of the paper tell me about the choice to do that. As opposed IOS depending that section in the beginning at the end of the book and differentiating it visually from all the other content so so that was super very clear decision that we made so yeah it is. It's a completely different paper stock. All the pictures are black and white all the other pictures in the booker color. It's right smack DAB in the middle of the book so it. There's a couple of different choices that made their first of all is I personally. You don't like photo books that have words that are mixed in with with the photographs entirely found a few photo books recently that I think tie the photography Dogra FY and the words together brilliantly but in general. When I'm looking at the photos I want to be looking at the photographs and then when I have to stop and read even like a poem or a short paragraph or I get I get thrown off so I thought I'm going to? I'm going to give the viewer the option to go through and look at all the photographs and then there'll be this written section which they may or may not be in the mood to read but they can come back to it later or they can start. Start with that and look at the photographs next but I want to be very clear that the the reading can happen on its own. Which is why there are photographs APPs that are laid out in that middle section but they are short and they're more like snapshots and they're they're images that you can glance over very quickly the more reference pictures then deep photojournalism? So that's why I wanted to stand out now. The reason to put it in the middle of the book was to give you that. That feeling that while you're looking at the pictures in the first half of the book there's a story developing and then all of a sudden right slam something happens and that's exactly what what it was like for me working on. I mean just being there so I wanted to have that visual shock of weight different paper. What's something's different? What's going on here and then you can choose again? You can skip over that and then keep looking at pictures and the other half of the book or you can stop read the essay and then continue but those were those were the decisions that I made. Yeah I think it was a wonderful choice. I really enjoyed having that distinction in that section not just because of the content but just because I see something different happening in terms of. What's what's possible with a book that's dedicated to photography? Sometimes it can be so uniform in terms of the approach that a lot of people take and it's just like it's another. It's another way of being creative but a lot of people sometimes are very reluctant to to make the leap. I'm glad that you guys did and I think it's very very effective. Thanks yeah I mean there are. There are hard. There are colleagues of mine who've made books that involve scans of items of Ephemera that came along the along the way or that they use drawings all these other different visual things which I have seen works so brilliantly. I'm a little bit less creative. I was like I'm GonNa Words and photographs and nothing else so I don't have all that other you know there's other things that might my other colleagues have used but I'm glad this makes me very happy to hear that you liked you know the time in that ten year period originally kind of interesting. You have an opportunity to leave London and go to Kurdistan you. Do you want to start a photo agency the agency Dick. Let's do it. I mean it was just a lot of like release all not not literally spontaneous but sort of get my get pissed because you know when you're young you have an opportunity to jump at it in. The book is sort of the combination of that. But now it's like you're older. You're a new father now. all these things that they have occupied. Your life are really largely behind you now. So in terms of looking forward are you still inclined to sort of see things in same way in terms of what you want to pursue with the sort of aggressiveness that represented your early career. Wow I I didn't know it was aggressive but I think for me not for me really like the the James as you said you know. I got a kid now. So there's a lot of just being around my child that I WANNA do but in terms of my my work into what what's next in some ways. I'm just going to keep being me me and doing the work that that comes naturally to me and I think that the work that comes naturally to me has always been based in curiosity right like. It's the one thing that has always always driven me to do anything. Even my early work when I was a newspaper photographer in a small local the paper in the north of England. I was just something peaked. My curiosity I just sort of went after it scratching scratch scratch discretion. I think that's that's what but the next thing is. I will continue to paid photojournalism worked because paid for journalism working but in terms of the stuff that really that really interests me. I imagine that it will not be too dissimilar. I think it'll have it'll be it'll be quiet. You won't won't be beating you over the head with stuff it'll have humor in it because I always if it doesn't have humor in it then I feel like I missed it like if you if you haven't slowed down enough where a joke can has the possibility of lending. Then you're not. You're not going slow enough. What what what that? What that thing is? I don't know when you finish wrapping up a book unless you're insane creative person. And I'm only a mildly insane creative person yeah I I don't have another book in mind yet or another project mine but it'll happen because it it always has a tendency to happen then and I'll just wherever that curiosity takes me. That's where I'm going on my last question that I ask each guest's is ask them to recommend another other photographer for listeners to discovering explore on their own and it can be anyone someone you've long admired or so my new recently discovered through that one photographer being why so I would recommend people find my colleague. Ben Brody's new book. He has this created a book. It's called attention servicemember. It is one of the most intense and brilliant photo book reads ads. I have ever experienced the kind of book. where it combines visuals words that has you have foreshadowing foreshadowing? You have back. Shadowing you've got you move through the book left to right but you find going south going right to left you look at an image and and fifty pages later. There's something written that makes you totally rethink that image from fifty pages before it's it is attention servicemember. Ben Brody Roti. I literally can't recommend shortlisted for the Aperture First Book Award and it was unbelievably. Well deserved I think it was a brilliant book. Honk right well Sebastien. Thank you for your time and your generosity really appreciate it. Thanks so much died. This has been really enjoyable. Thank you mm-hmm. Thanks to Sebastian. For sharing his time in story find out more about him his work by visiting said Mayor Dot Com. You can also find his book under every yard of sky wherever books are sold. Please consider using our Amazon affiliate as it helps to support the show. I have to upcoming workshops. I in Los Angeles next weekend at the Los Angeles Center of Photography and to have two slots left and in Tokyo Japan and in December. You can find out more by visiting new BECKY CREATIVE DOT COM for my workshop in Tokyo and Lic Photo Dot Org for my workshop in Los. Saint Louis you can also support the show by writing review wherever you listen to podcasts. And even better if you really enjoy an episode spread the word via an email to a friend a post on your social networks or word of mouth it makes all the difference. So thank you for your support. I mean part of the community and check out our Youtube Youtube Channel where offer comments on photography submitted by listeners who contribute to the candidate. Frame flicker pool check out the after Paul and our Youtube Channel by clicking on the Lincoln shown on and the website my latest book making photographs developing a personal visual. workflow is now available you can purchase it today and receive forty percents off off the list price when you order it from the rocky no website use the Promo Code Perello forty at checkout to take advantage of the discount and received three free copies my I previously published books by Sunny for the candidate frame. Mailing list where share thoughts about life photography and keep you updated on events and remember you can support the this show by contributing to our patriarch different or donating through paypal. Now not all episodes available on your podcast APP of choice so download download listen and share any and all episodes at the candidate frame download the TC APP available for both ally Os android and because of your support. It's free the cannon frames audio engineers Martin Taylor who you can find or the other Martin Taylor Dot Com the shows senior producer. Parker and our music is from Kevin Kevin Macleod. Whose royalty free music found adding competent dot com and this is a body and X.? And this is the candidate for him and

Coming up next