Saturday, 11 November 2017

Mirrors everywhere

Reza's worldwide perspective

Reza: The Children Photographers. Afghanistan, 1985. Courtesy the artist and Pasatiempo.
by Paul Weideman, Pasatiempo

French-Iranian photojournalist Reza Deghati, who is known for his media training projects in strife-torn regions of the world, as well as for his stunning photographs, is in Santa Fe for several events. A selection of his photos shows in an exhibition that runs until Nov. 12, at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

The photographer, known as Reza, has made photographs in more than a hundred countries, including in war zones in Somalia and Afghanistan and in dangerous neighborhoods of large cities. He has long been a contributor to National Geographic, and his work is featured on many of its covers as well as in books; articles for Agence France-Presse, Time, and Newsweek; and National Geographic Channel documentary shows.

In 2001, he founded the nongovernmental organization Aina (in Farsi, the name means “mirror”) in Afghanistan. Through his Reza Visual Academy and Aina, he has worked in media training — especially for the benefit of women and children — around the world. A 2015 installation along the banks of the Seine titled A Dream of Humanity featured Reza’s portraits of refugees along with photos shot in Iraqi Kurdistan by refugee children who were trained in his academy program as “camp reporters.” He has also had photographic exhibitions at the United Nations in New York, at the European Parliament in Brussels, and at the headquarters of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in Paris.

Reza’s recent work includes Exile Voices, a 2013-2017 project to train young Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan; a 2015 photography training program for young Maoris in New Zealand; and a 2017 photography workshop with orphans and displaced children in Bamako, Mali.

Why do you live in Paris?

Reza: This is the best place for me to move around and also be in a nice city. Forty years ago, when I came out of Iran, there were only two cities that were centers for photojournalism, Paris and New York.

Pasa: Will you be talking here about the training programs in Mali and Iraqi Kurdistan?

Reza: My talk will be two parts. One part will be going through almost 40 years of different stories which I covered in different places and the people I met. Then I will move to the training and teaching and creating media training for war zones. I started this training in 2001 just days after the Taliban left Kabul. It is a big media center, and till now we have trained more than a thousand Afghans.

Pasa: Is that Aina?

Reza: Yes, and it was not only a media-training center but job training. We were helping them to start a newspaper, to start a magazine, to start a radio or TV station, and we were bringing teachers from all over the world to help them both in journalism and in managing media.

Pasa: You invest much of your income now in humanitarian work.

Reza: Yes. In the past three years I was mainly in Iraqi Kurdistan. I was shooting for a book that will be released now in a few days. It is called Kurdistan Renaissance, which is about the hope that Kurdistan would be an independent place. Mainly the book is not concentrating on the war, even though I was a lot in the war zones, but it is about the people, the culture, and landscapes, just knowing about who are the Kurds.

And I was teaching, in three different refugee camps, kids from twelve to eighteen and displaced people. The one in Afghanistan is now mainly Afghans themselves taking care of the Aina, but there is also Exile Voices, which is training in the refugee camps, and Urban Voices, which is in very difficult neighborhoods in France, Sicily, and recently in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires, I accomplished training 50 of the kids in one of the most difficult and dangerous neighborhoods, Fuerte Apache.

Pasa: Training them what, exactly?

Reza: I train almost the same way both the urban kids and the refugees, explaining to them that this is not about photography, it’s more about expressing your thoughts and what you want to say to the world — so mainly photographing daily life and family life and what is happening. It’s like a real reportage, families documenting their own lives. And then the next step after training is making exhibitions of their works in the center of the cities. They became the voice of their own communities, inviting city people to come and visit and talk to them.

Pasa: That must be empowering for those people.

Reza: Yes, empowering them but also creating relationships, because most of the time the city people don’t want to go there, to those neighborhoods. It’s a way to show who they are and how they live.

Pasa: Hopefully, that will result in understanding and cooperation that can help change people’s circumstances.

Reza: Definitely. Photography is a major art now, and it speaks to everybody. By teaching them how to express their emotions and how to look around themselves, it’s not only empowering them but creating this empathy between the city people and those neighborhoods.

Pasa: In 2008, you spoke in Santa Fe with the journalist Sebastian Junger, with whom you traveled through Afghanistan.

Reza: Yes, and we talked about Afghanistan. I have been to Santa Fe twice. I’m an architect by training, and Santa Fe architecture is one of the best ever I have seen. I am also hoping that I will have a training workshop in the university where I’m going to have my exhibition, for Native Americans and poor neighborhood kids.

Pasa: You have a big exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

Reza: That will be 15 of my photographs, and I will be selling them to raise funds for my training projects in refugee camps and also in Santa Fe and other places.

Reza: On the Road of the Coffee Fields, near Mirador de los Cuchumatanes, Guatemala, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Pasatiempo.

Via  Pasatiempo

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