ED KASHI
ArchiveCategory
April 28, 2016

For those contemplating the life of a photojournalist, beware the personal challenges and questions that await you. I have spent a lifetime trying to become invisible. As a documentarian my goal is to disappear, to observe without disturbing the world I’m trying to capture. It is obviously impossible to actually achieve this, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Disappearing into the background is an effective strategy to bear witness to moments that would otherwise be inaccessible. Candid intimacy is the term I’ve used to describe my work, and my vanishing into nothingness is the imperative.

People congregate at the Gare St. Charles, the main train station in Marseille, France on Sept.24, 2010.

People congregate at the Gare St. Charles – the main train station in Marseille, France on Sept. 24, 2010. Photo ©Ed Kashi/VII

But what happens when you become so expert at this that you begin to disappear in your own life? After more than 30 years of perfecting this routine in my work I am now confronting the residual impact on my personal life. It’s as though I am nothing without my work. Over the last three decades my energy has been channeled into forging my identity as a documentarian, in the process becoming very good at slipping into the mentality that has led my career to where it is today. So much so that I now feel solely defined by the roles of photojournalist, filmmaker and mentor. A work machine.

Yes, I have two beautiful and incredible children that are my lifeblood. And a mate who gives love and commitment unconditionally. But most of the time I’m alone perfecting my disappearing act. The result is a deep sense of loneliness and abject uncertainty. I have been exposed to pain, suffering, violence and death, the cumulative effects of which have posited me into voids of nothingness more often than I ever could have imagined, and more often than my wife deserves to have to live with. I am also disturbed by how every reentry into my personal life with friends, family and colleagues, invariably begins with questions that I have come to dread: ‘how long are you home for this time?’ or ‘where did you just return from?’, or ‘where are you going next?’ While they are innocent enough questions, they reinforce my sense of alienation. Even those closest to me always expect me to be gone, absent, disappeared.

Brian Crothers, a teenager from Belfast's working class Protestant neighborhood of Tiger's Bay, keeps his night-time protection safely within reach in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 11, 1989. He lives within two hundred yards of a Catholic estate that staunchly backs the IRA.

Brian Crothers, a teenager from Belfast’s working class Protestant neighborhood of Tiger’s Bay, keeps his night-time protection safely within reach in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 11, 1989. He lives within two hundred yards of a Catholic estate that staunchly backs the IRA. Photo ©Ed Kashi/VII

Losing myself in other people’s lives, whether in their dramas of joy, pain, or transition, has turned into not being able to find myself in my own life. I now have to relearn how to be with others and relax in joyful and calm moments. I now have social anxiety and it can be difficult, sometimes overwhelming, to engage with others outside of prescribed and controlled situations. I know veterans of war, survivors of trauma and sensitive souls that life has trampled on who experience similar and often far worse symptoms.

The Wounded Warrior Project is run by American veterans of war to help returning veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq adjust to life at home. Through activities such as hunting, fishing, archery, hiking, and camping, wounded warriors continue their rehabilitation in the great outdoors. WWP helps participants build life-long skills they can enjoy in their home communities. This 4 day program, held near Park City, Utah at the National Ability Center, is geared towards vets who are suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Through confidence building group activities, these vets are sharing experiences, problems and issues that continue to haunt them and keep them from living healthy lives and reintegrating into society. Vets share a group hug and moment of unity after completing the hanging vines exercise.

The Wounded Warrior Project is run by American veterans of war to help returning veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq adjust to life at home. Through confidence building group activities, these vets are sharing experiences, problems and issues that continue to haunt them and keep them from living healthy lives and reintegrating into society. Vets share a group hug and moment of unity. Photo ©Ed Kashi/VII

The cliche of wanting to be a “fly on the wall” is necessary for journalistic documentary work. When I was first starting out I didn’t understand how to do it or what it required. I worked on gut instinct and through trial and error. The stress and frustration was nearly constant, but I did my best. There were countless situations in the Middle East or Africa where I wanted to capture some element of daily life, only to find myself loitering in the lives of people in a small village. It was  awkward and frustrating to feel I was constantly standing out and being so far from the fly on the wall I was hoping to be. I can remember trying to capture a family meal only to encounter the generous expectation that I would consume their carefully prepared food with them. I tried to explain that they should eat without me, but soon realized that I had transitioned from being awkward to being just plain rude.

It took me many such encounters to learn that it’s much better, from the human graciousness of a guest to the naked ambitions of a photojournalist, to go with the flow. My pictures started to come much easier and connections with others developed with more harmony and soul, and with the intimacy I had strived for in my work.

Maxine Peters finally passes away at home, surrounded by her family, friends and hospice aides In rural West Virginia, people still live - and die, the old fashioned way. The Hospice Care Corporation sends health workers into rural homes to make sure that people can meet a dignified end, surrounded by their families.

Maxine Peters finally passes away at home, surrounded by her family, friends and hospice aides. In rural West Virginia, people still live – and die, the old fashioned way. The Hospice Care Corporation sends health workers into rural homes to make sure that people can meet a dignified end, surrounded by their families. Photo ©Ed Kashi/VII

But through all this shape-shifting, however genuine and heartfelt, I lost myself along the way. I have become accustomed to experiencing the graces of those who have excruciatingly less than I do. When I’m in my own milieu I feel uncomfortable and anxious. It’s not that I feel guilty: I just don’t feel comfortable in my skin. Certain questions have become too unsettling to ignore. Has my camera become my protective skin? Am I no longer myself when I don’t have a recording device? How can this be? My life is rich, entitled, some could say even spoiled. Is this another ‘first world problem’ and I should just shut up? I often joke, although sometimes I don’t actually find it funny, that Descartes’ famous saying for me would translate into “I record, therefore I am.”

As a photojournalist, you can have the privilege of expansive knowledge of the world, cultures, the processes of technology and business, and the small yet magical moments of daily life. You can experience exquisite beauty, both of the natural world and within human nature. You will also witness pain and suffering, hatred and violence. It is an intoxicating mix and I urge you to jump in. But as you shape yourself to better practice your art and your work, be mindful of what can be lost when you let that consume you. Or you might lose yourself.

– Ed

Nguyen Thi Ly, 9, who suffers from Agent Orange disabilities, in her home in Ngu Hanh Son district of Da Nang, Vietnam on July 9, 2010.

Nguyen Thi Ly, 9, who suffers from disabilities because of Agent Orange contamination, in her home in Ngu Hanh Son district of Da Nang, Vietnam on July 9, 2010. Photo ©Ed Kashi/VII

Categories: Notes From Ed

Comments

Garry Bryant
Mar 22, 2017
Excellent article! I too have experienced these same feelings and events . . . but, was cut short in my career by a brain stem stroke at age 39. Worked four more years after that until docs put me on permanent disability. For twenty-two years now have struggled with identity minus the camera. I miss hunting for and capturing that 'decisive moment' at events. I dream of being on assignments, etc.. Most PJs I know long ago lost families. I kept mine have three grown children and three grandkids. I must admit that the best thing was coming home and upon entering the house my children throwing open their arms and dancing yelling "Daddy's home!" Then running up to me and throwing their arms around my legs. One of the best moments of my life! But with them now grown and wife working, I miss a camera around my neck hunting for the 'decisive moments.' Don't let one's work become one's identity, live a life, take a break and have other interests.
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