Ed Kashi considers himself a long-form visual storyteller involved in advocacy journalism.
Huh? Wait, let me get my brain around that…I get the storyteller part, and using visual as the adjective tells me the stories are in pictures. For Kashi, “long-form” means the projects take place over a longer period of time than typical photojournalist projects allow. His Aging in America, project, for example, was an eight year labor of love.
What about this advocacy journalism bit? Is that an oxymoron? If it is, Kashi’s not worried about it. He believes in the power of the photograph, and wants to create pictures that instigate passion to affect change in the world. He has seen evidence that a single image can call someone to action, and creating more of that action has become his mission.
At the morning’s lecture, Ed shared a number of his long-form visual stories with thousands of enthralled Chautauquans…his work in Madagascar, the Niger Delta, the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
His latest form of visual storytelling includes sound and voice and movement…creating multimedia pieces bringing the voices of his subjects to a wider audience. He believes the more we can tell people’s stories, the more chance we have at change.
There is an unspoken power to the still images Kashi makes. Pairing those photographs, then, with voices and music, moves me from sitting quietly with a picture of a landmine victim (Kashi tells us there are more landmines than people in Northern Iraq) toward a more contextualized understanding of what I am seeing….I can no longer be a dispassionate observer. I am hearing the voices of the people living these stories, and I feel their anger, their frustration, their cries for justice.
A number of years ago Kashi felt compelled to turn the camera on our own culture – and specifically on issues of aging in America. These photographs are a marked contrast from his work in developing countries…and for some reason I hope to find out before the end of the day, are in black and white. They are moving, glorious, heartwrenching celebrations of life and death, capturing deeply personal moments that are universal to us all.
Kashi’s work has clearly shaped who he is…he says that in his twenties, he realized, “I didn’t need to become a better photographer. I needed to become a better human being. That made me a better photographer. “
And now he hands his work to us – in hopes that we become better human beings with him.
Pamela Sanchez is a member of the Senior Staff of George Eastman House.
She's a blogging neophyte just venturing into the 21st century.