Ed Kashi; Recording The Human Experience
It is the daily life of schools, churches, education, home life, and street
life that draws Ed Kashi. Looking at his photographs we are strongly aware of
the man behind the camera, a man with strong questions and feelings about a
place and its people.
Currently published worldwide, one of his best-known works includes a recent publication, Aging in America: The Years Ahead. The photographs, taken over a seven-year period, speak of the expansion in the population of older Americans. Other notable series show the life of Jewish settlers on the West Bank in Israel and of the Protestant Loyalist community in Ireland as well as an extensive coverage of the Kurds through their plight in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Germany, and London after the genocidal campaigns waged against them by Saddam Hussein from 1975-1991.
In the series on Jewish settlers living on the West Bank Kashi photographed
a man bearing a rifle as he sits guard on a stone wall. The cold starkness of
the scene is unsettling, the photographer's powerful images giving a voice
to the 400 Jews trying to maintain and rebuild a 2000-year-old heritage and
the thousands of Arabs unwilling to relinquish the land.
For the major documentary on the Protestants in Ireland, which was three years in the making, Kashi received an NEA grant, enabling him to self-publish the book, The Protestants: No Surrender.
The story of the Kurds became a National Geographic cover story and when it first appeared in Turkey, all of the issues were confiscated and the media banned from the courts. One outstanding image shows a Kurdish woman standing trial in a terrorist court in Turkey, the woman's face reflecting the broader implication of what was taking place as she solemnly stands accused of being a member of the PKK, the Kurdistan Worker's Party. "For me that picture continues to stand out and resonate because of the pride she displays," Kashi says, "and I would like to believe she inspires peoples' interest to learn more."
Returning To The Scene
Along with his need for communication there is for Kashi a repetitive idea of coming back to tell a story by looking at a group of people that in some way represent a social or political issue of our time. In the Aging in America series one of his most poignant images shows a dying woman in West Virginia. The message is about family and about dignity at the end of a life. The image is from the Hospice section, which was part of a story within the aging project.
"It was the second visit I had made to photograph a family reunion and Maxine passed in the middle of that week," Kashi recalls. "The image shows the concerned family surrounding the dying woman, a tender and sad moment as she lies surrounded by her loved ones." The documentary on aging in West Virginia took second place in the World Press Competition in 2001.
Kashi works with a lot of heart. He is not a rapacious journalist and there are many times he makes the decision not to photograph rather than cause discomfort or intrude upon his subject.
Then there are the periods when Kashi switches his role to photojournalist. "I become an adrenaline junkie," he admits, referring to his work in war zones, such as on one recent assignment from the New York Times last year to travel with the troops in Afghanistan hunting for Al-Qaeda and searching the villages for weapons, enemy safe houses and Al-Qaeda or Taliban operations. That same year he traveled the deserts of Kuwait, documenting the miles of digital satellite systems, Ethernet cables, and computer terminals that monitor the battlefield networks.
The Image As Collective Memory
Kashi's hope is that when people look at these photographs they will see the humanity and the things they do not know about in a powerful and humanistic way, or in a new light. "My work is about contributing to our collective memory and that is what is so beautiful about photography. We can contribute to the collective memory of our family, our community, our nation, or ultimately to the world.
"We are living in a dark time now," he says, as he speaks of his most recent trip to Iraq where he covered a story on the Iraqi police force. "It is important that we learn and understand the issues the rest of the world is dealing with, the things people are going through. My camera is not some palette to use and make art with," he says. "What is happening is very real as we learned on 9/11 and it can come back to roost on our doorstep."
Sources Of Inspiration
Kashi refers to the work of his inspiration, Charles Moore, who created a body of work during the Civil Rights Movement and who is a lesson in terms of Kashi's own purpose and intention. Many of Kashi's works are the offspring of Bresson, Brassai, and Kertesz with their whimsy and poeticism. But those who loom above him constantly are Sebastião Selgado, Eugene Richards, Gilles Peress, and Jim Nachtwey, "all of whom," he says, "have that great, powerful esthetic that is connected like a laser beam to their content. This is what makes great art--when the esthetic and the content is meaningful and says something."