November 24, 2006

In the past week there has been a lot of reaction and subsequent discussion spawned by the web publication of a new multimedia piece that I conceived from my work in Iraqi Kurdistan. I would like to explain my motivation and purpose and philosophy behind this work, and multimedia in general.

This all began last year when I was editing my first National Geographic story shot digitally. The process revealed this flipbook effect in certain aspects of my shooting style and current approach to still photograpy. I have been working in multimedia for about 6 years now, shooting a bit of video, capturing audio, making stills to create narratives for the web. I see the formation of the flipbook idea as a reaction to this opening in my own vision of what is possible between the intersection of stills, moving images and audio. My work is virtually always about storytelling and issue reporting, not conceptual ideas. My work is based in the formal elements of trying to capture real life in real time and then present it with passion and context to tell a story that will reach people. If art is created along the way that is always the goal, but working within these strictures often can make it challenging. My primary purpose is to tell important stories in a powerful way using the visual language of still photography.

But what I’m learning , or seeing, is that my ways of accomplishing this are expanding, changing, morphing into other things that I could have never envisioned or anticipated even 5 years ago. Simultaneously, the profession and way of life I’ve dedicated myself to over the past 25 years has changed in ways that make it more difficult to get one’s work compensated and published. The structural changes in photojournalism and the editorial space which uses photo reportage, has dramatically shifted to a more fiscally and politically conservative position. It’s a position that runs counter to my own personal beliefs and frankly gets in the way of my goals. So a few years ago I decided to take matters more into my own hands, create a non-profit with my wife, Julie Winokur, and continue to work on my personal projects and passions without the bitterness and frustrations that the media world presents today. Furthermore, I’ve learned that if you build it they will come. If I can find other ways to produce and disseminate my work, the media will buy and publish it. This all seems to make sense to me and allows me to continue what I do best and love most…passionate, intimate storytelling about relevant subjects of social and political issues. This is where multimedia fits in. There is now a potentially powerful and engaging way to tell stories in a new form, through new mediums and to reach new audiences. And I can still remain true to the passionate principles that link me to the life of the still photographer.

The flipbook is merely an outgrowth of this creative opening in my own consciousness. For me it was an interesting idea to string together thousands of my own still images with the music and produce something I’ve never done before and haven’t really seen much of in the contemporary photojournalism scene. I”m well aware that I”m borrowing a very, very old technique and just updating it with the newest tools. But it’s very exciting to think that something which began in my own mental laboratory has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world in just the first week of it’s public “outing.” This work is also a result of great collaborations. Having Lauren Rosenfeld, Brian Storm and Eric Maierson to help me make real what I envisioned in my head has been critical. Making multimedia is essentially a collaborative effort.

I believe we all dream of producing work that has the stamp of our own authorship. Whether you don’t care if your closest friends see it or the whole world sees it, there is still a commonly shared goal, dream, passion, belief in, desire to create something that is purely our own. I am also driven by a desire to share that work with others; to get reactions, make people question, think, open their eyes, hearts and minds to a story I want to tell. As Joan Didion has simply put it, “we live to tell stories.”

I learned years ago that envy, bitterness and the desire to please this profession are all recipes for internal discord, loss of energy, inspiration and ultimately a creative dead end. I love what I do more than ever and eagerly hope to do it for a lot longer. Part of making that a reality is to stay inventive, fresh and open to new ideas. If others don’t see my work that way, that is par for the course. I”ve also learned that this profession and the arts in general are suffocated by people’s opinions, prejudices, petty politics and the age old problem of “monkey see, monkey do.”

My goal with this flipbook and anything else I do, is to communicate in an engaging and powerful way. This is a very humble dream, yet one lined with creative, professional and personal landmines and roadblocks. To flourish, and not merely survive, one must have the backbone and energy to avoid those pitfalls and break through the road blocks. Everything else is excuse, weakness, lack of willingness to take risks or just simply frustration.

Ed Kashi

Categories: Notes From Ed