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Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

US Prominent Photojournalist Ed Kashi Discusses "City of the Dead" in Cairo


Wed 22 Nov 2023 | 04:07 PM
Rana Atef

On Sunday, prominent American photojournalist Ed Kashi celebrated the 30th anniversary of his "City of the Dead" project in Cairo. He opened an exhibition in Cairo to celebrate the project, in addition to having a talk about the visual storyteller's journey.

During a round table with Egyptian journalists hosted by the US Embassy in Photobia, Kashi discussed various topics related to his "City of the Dead" project, upcoming projects, especially those linked to current sociopolitical challenges, and the current trends of journalism. 

Kashi started his talk with "City of the Dead. He said: "In 1992, I came here on assignment for National Geographic magazine as part of a story about water issues in the Middle East. So one of the places that my Egyptian fixer, producer, took me to was the City of the Dead. I don't even think I'd heard of it, but I certainly had not been there. We went there looking at water issues.

But, once I went there, I was like, wow. This is an amazing place. And so then a year later, with my then girlfriend, who is now my wife of almost 30 years, and she's a writer. I was like, Julie, we have to go and do a story on the City of the Dead. In 1993, we went for three weeks and developed a story on our own."

He added that their perspective was changed in a year, and they decided to trace their look at overpopulation or housing issues and such a sacred and important place. In addition, he recalled various memories about this trip like going down to one of the tombs and watching the white shrouds. He described that it was like touching more approaches of life, and death. 

Shortly, he continued to talk about his work in Egypt, praising the warmth, history, and people of it: "One of the great privileges of doing this work is I get to see things that most people don't get to see. What I love about this work is I get to meet people, I get to see things, I get to learn. And, to witness people living in not just a cemetery, but a place of such great cultural heritage and history."

"In a place that is so important to the evolution of humanity. Egypt is one of the very, very special places. And I'm not just saying that because I'm here. I mean that from my heart. Egypt is one of those places in the world I've come to where it's like, wow, I can feel the weight, the depth of history."

After that, Kashi discussed the features of a good story in terms of photojournalism. He explained: "Well, for me, because I'm interested in people, because photojournalists can photograph animals, lots of things, but I'm a people photographer, a human photographer. I look for stories that have either a geopolitical or social element because that's what I care about as a human being. And so I try to translate my personal interests and concerns about the world into the stories that I tell."

He added: "For me, a great story, a photojournalism story, would be one that combines, you know, that shines a spotlight on whatever the issue is. And it doesn't always have to be a problem, but often it is. Often it is. It's the nature of journalism, I think. Especially the Middle East. Well, there's a lot of beautiful things here, though. Many beautiful things.

"I'm always also trying to sort of show a fresh look or a different perspective on something that we may think we know. And then also to uncover things that are under-reported."

He also expressed the value of photos and captions. Kashi explained: "Great photographs do not need words but this is photojournalism. The whole, structure, the point of it is to uses images and words to communicate, especially when it comes to journalism. In the time moment we're living in; it is so critically important that I contextualize my work so that when you look at this picture as best as I've humanly been able to do you can rely on the facts. You know that this is where it happened this is what's going on the name of that person is correct their age is correct all of the things you know the circumstances around their situation are presented in an accurate way because I still believe in facts can I say it in another order."

Next, Kashi recalled the memories of receiving various global awards, saying: "I think any time I've won three world press awards, I think to me the world press awards carry in some ways the most meaning. It's a global group of judges. I've actually judged the world press many times. It's not just Americans or British or, you know, it's that people from all over the world who are judging it so that when, so that if you win that award.

It's more than just winning a great award in America. I received an award from the American Society of Nephrology. Hmm. United Nations. For the last 10 years, I've been working on a project around the world about chronic kidney disease. So in some ways, that award is almost more meaningful because that means a group of doctors and healthcare professionals who are dealing with a very specific medical issue have said. My photography has actually made a positive contribution to their work."

On his exceptional experiences, he reviewed working in Syria, and visiting the camps of the refugees, mentioning how he dealt with them. 

"I've been to Syria many times prior to the start of the war. I felt some connection. I also felt the connection and I cared. I'm not just a cold journalist. So, I decided the way I wanted to approach that issue was through the mental health of young Syrian refugees. So that was my premise. So then I knew that the International Medical Corps which is sort of America's medicine sans frontier, doctors without borders, they were working in that region dealing with that issue. And so I went to them and I made a proposal. We were having Skype calls with their Syrian counterparts and their therapists who were in Jordan and in Northern Iraq."

Finally, he reviewed the journalists' stand on the Israeli strikes on Gaza.

He highlighted: "Journalists are paying the nation who need it. Photographers and journalists who did survive what's going on in Gaza right now are playing a major role in showing the world. They have to talk to the people about what's behind their rules. This is exceptional because this is an exceptional case. What a situation, right? How do you keep your head straight to do your work when you're also under attack? You're losing loved ones and friends and family. So, it's an extraordinary situation." 

"Sometimes there have been conflicts where outside journalists can't go in just because it's dangerous. Or you just can't get in. In this case, because the Israelis control the perimeter unless they agree. Therefore, we're relying on journalists in this case who have a huge stake in the story.

The picture is the picture. I mean, assuming they're not manipulating it, you know, using AI or Photoshop. I mean, if what we're being presented visually is accurate, it is what it is."

Shortly, he talked about the difference between professional journalism, and citizen journalism. "Someone who just could be talented or could be motivated to cover something is going on. But he's not professional. So, it's an interesting territory we're getting into because in some ways because of social media.

"They're doing their own coverage. Now, whether we can trust it or not is one thing. But, you know, so it's a very different media landscape. But, what's still important is that you're trained journalists. You're professionals. So as long as you're ethical in your work, then I can rely."