Iraqi Photo Stories, As Told By Iraqis
Claire O'Neill
Friday, December 16, 2011 at 11:41 AM
Font size: A | A | A | A |

The first Iraqi photo agency tells Iraqi stories from an insider's point of view.

Iraqi photographer Pazhar Mohammad tells the story of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in northern Iraq with a grisly past and an uncertain future. His portraits show Iraqis who have been injured or who have lost loved ones.
Iraqi photographer Pazhar Mohammad tells the story of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in northern Iraq with a grisly past and an uncertain future. His portraits show Iraqis who have been injured or who have lost loved ones.
Pazhar Mohammad | Metrography

Photographer Sebastian Meyer is somewhat new to the trade. He's been shooting since 2004, and has been in Iraq since 2009. But he's already trying to change the industry: "I personally, as someone who photographs here, am kind of tired of how foreigners see Iraq."

So he teamed up with Kamaran Najm to form the first Iraqi photo agency, Metrography. Meyer says the idea came when Najm, a photo editor and native Iraqi, had no central place to find pictures. Today, the agency represents some 60 Iraqi photographers. Surprisingly, there's now no shortage of photographers; if anything, the problem is a shortage of work.

The reality is that there's just not a huge demand for local photography within Iraq. The average price per picture in an Iraqi news magazine is about $8, Meyer says. Most people rip them illegally from the Web anyway.

"The thing I'm very focused on is reminding people that Iraqi photographers don't just have to photograph Iraq," Meyer offers. "American photographers work all over the world. Just because we're an Iraqi photo agency doesn't mean that our photographers are limited to photographing Iraq."

The odds are stacked against them, though. It's hard enough to survive as a photographer these days, let alone as an agency, to say nothing of an agency in the Middle East.

Plus, in a world flattened by the Internet, how relevant is nationality, really? Do you have to be from a place to really get it? Meyer would argue in the affirmative: "I know some brilliant photographers who have an amazing gift at getting close to someone ... but when you speak the language, there's an intimacy that comes out in the images that you don't see in a lot of foreign stuff."

The for-profit aspect of assignments and commissions is only half of Metrography. The other and arguably more important half, Meyer says, is about training: "What we're really about is teaching photographers how to tell stories."

Take Binar Sardar, for example. She had little experience when she showed up to one of Metrography's summer workshops. Now she's in the position to turn down a mentorship offer from renowned photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair. Not that she wants to turn it down; another unfortunate reality, Meyer explains, is that most of these photographers still have full-time jobs — and can't afford to leave them.

Sardar, being a woman, is an exceptional case. The large majority of Metrography photographers are men, which comes as no surprise. "The biggest problem we face is that journalism isn't considered a particularly classy kind of job," says Meyer. "The other issue, obviously, is gender, where a lot of women aren't allowed to work in the country — especially [if] they'd have to go out and talk to a lot of people."

But Sardar's doing it, at least on the side. As a working woman, she takes an interest in working women. One of her projects tells the story of an Iraqi policewoman.

So what's the photography culture like in Iraq? "I think a lot of people just like photography — just like we do in the States," Meyer says. His goal is to provide Iraqis with tools to establish a local viewpoint, and to get eyes on it. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

This article is filed in: World News, Home Page Top Stories

Also in World News  
EU Human Rights Court Could Be Last Stop For German Claiming CIA Kidnapping
Khaled El-Masri says he was mistakenly flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan by the CIA.

Civilians Flee, Soldiers Dig In On Sudanese Frontier
The U.N. is threatening both Sudans with sanctions if they can't reverse their escalating feud.

How To Address France's New, Unmarried First Lady
France's new president was inaugurated Tuesday, and he's moving into the presidential palace with his longtime "companion." Host Michel Martin and the Beauty Shop ladies weigh in on political protocol when it comes to heads of state, politicians and their unmarried significant others.

At Trial, Serb Gen. Mladic Taunts Survivors With Throat-Cutting Gesture
Charged with 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, he remains defiant.

Atlanta Opens New International Terminal
Officials hope the facility means more international businesses will choose to locate in Georgia.

Post a Comment