Photography begins at home

In this 2013 photograph (above) by Ed Kashi, a 13-year-old girl spends time with her siblings in her family tent at the Al Za’atri refugee camp for Syrians, near Mafraq, Jordan.
In this 2013 photograph (above) by Ed Kashi, a 13-year-old girl spends time with her siblings in her family tent at the Al Za’atri refugee camp for Syrians, near Mafraq, Jordan. PHOTO: ED KASHI/VII
In this 2013 photograph by Ed Kashi (above), a 13-year-old girl spends time with her siblings in her family tent at the Al Za’atri refugee camp for Syrians, near Mafraq, Jordan.
In this 2013 photograph by Ed Kashi (above), a 13-year-old girl spends time with her siblings in her family tent at the Al Za’atri refugee camp for Syrians, near Mafraq, Jordan. PHOTO: ED KASHI/VII
American prison inmate Truman Purdy (above), 61, lifts weights in the Hamilton, Alabama exercise yard. Over time, older inmates become more of a medical burden than a security risk, costing the state three times as much as younger inmates.
American prison inmate Truman Purdy (above), 61, lifts weights in the Hamilton, Alabama exercise yard. Over time, older inmates become more of a medical burden than a security risk, costing the state three times as much as younger inmates. PHOTO: ED KASHI

Top photojournalist Ed Kashi has captured images from the Niger Delta to Nicaragua, but feels he does not need to travel far to snap good photos

Having captured images of Syrian refugees, the exploitation of Nigerian oil workers in Niger Delta and sugarcane workers suffering from chronic kidney disease in Nicaragua, American photojournalist and documentary-maker Ed Kashi still feels that he does not have to travel far to capture good images.

The 58-year-old quotes the legendary American photographer Paul Strand, who once said: "I could spend the rest of my life in my backyard and never run out of things to photograph."

Kashi spent eight years in his own backyard exploring ageing in the United States. Starting in 1995, he visited 25 states photographing different people, including an ageing actress and elderly prisoners, to create a visual "topography of how the US is ageing". The body of work culminated in a book, documentary and a travelling exhibition.

Kashi, who is based in New York, is one of the most prominent photojournalists in the world.

Besides regular assignments for top publications such as National Geographic, Time and The New York Times, he also has seven photo books under his name. He has received many awards, including accolades from the World Press Photo, Prix Pictet and Pictures of the Year International.

It’s probably the worst time ever for getting proper compensation for my work. But I never had my work penetrate a larger audience on different platforms.

ED KASHI on how opportunities for photojournalism have grown over the years

  • BOOK IT / NEAR AND FAR PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP BY ED KASHI

  • WHERE: 155 Middle Road, Objectifs – Centre For Photography And Film

    WHEN: Saturday to next Monday

    ADMISSION: $980 to $1120. Go to www.objectifs.com.sg/near-far

  • PUBLIC LECTURE BY ED KASHI: THE MANUFACTURED RIFT BETWEEN ART AND JOURNALISM

  • WHERE: Objectifs, Chapel Gallery

    WHEN: Saturday, 7.30 to 9pm

    ADMISSION: Entry by donation. Pre-registration is required at ptix.co/1PQygsk

  • PUBLIC SCREENING OF FILMS BY VII PHOTOGRAPHERS (ED KASHI, JESSICA DIMMOCK AND SIM CHI YIN)

  • WHERE: Objectifs, Chapel Gallery

    WHEN: Next Tuesday, 7.30 to 9.30pm

    ADMISSION: Entry by donation. Pre-registration is required at storiesthatmatter.peatix.com

He is the president of VII photo agency - a prestigious collective of 19 documentary photographers worldwide.

This month, he will be in Singapore for a sold-out public lecture and screening of his film about people displaced by the civil war in Syria at photography and film-making school, Objectifs. The organisers will do their best to accommodate walk-ins.

He will also conduct a photography workshop, where he teaches participants how to find stories around them and come up with new ways to photograph these stories.

He believes that photojournalists should diversify their skills, such as making videos and films, and using online media to their advantage.

He spends at least half his time working on films for both commissioned and personal work alongside his still photography work.

He is now working on a long-term story about chronic kidney diseases in Central America and India.

Although he thinks shooting videos is "physically much harder" because one needs to capture both moving images and audio, he feels the emphasis on video will increase in the coming years, because "people love stories and images".

He has also taken well to online platforms despite not being a digital native. He has about 235,000 followers on his Instagram account and believes that online media gives photographers the platform to self-publish.

Kashi, who started his career about 30 years ago after graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in photojournalism, says that opportunities for photojournalists have grown, despite budget slashes across print media.

"We are now living a golden age of photojournalism, practised in more places by a greater diversity of practitioners than ever before.

"But it's not a golden age for getting paid. It's probably the worst time ever for getting proper compensation for my work. But I never had my work penetrate a larger audience on different platforms."

The veteran has a piece of advice for photographers starting out in the increasingly competitive industry: Be curious.

"I find that many people want to be photographers, but they do not possess a true curiosity, nor do they have the willingness to immerse, see and engage."

He adds: "I want to figure out how things work and relate to each other. From this constant observing, listening and questioning come my ideas."

He is married to film-maker Julie Winokur and has two children aged 18 and 21.

Retirement is not an option for him. "Besides my family, I live for my work and the world which continues to open up for me, teaches me, challenges me and defines my identity and existence. There is no retirement in my profession, at least not for this obsessed freak."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Photography begins at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe