Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Ed Kashi - In The Thick Of It All
Amidst a revolution in the fundamental nature of photojournalism, Ed Kashi stands as the quintessential next-generation storyteller
Touching again upon the theme of ownership, Kashi explains, “Every night when I download in the field, I can write excellent captions. I can capture the nuance and the detail of the information that's fresh in my head. I couldn't do that in analog. I could take copious notes in the past, but how was I going to get all of that on a three-line slide label? That didn't prove effective when distributing my work. Now, I can write a 500-word caption, if applicable, or a three-word caption through my control of the metadata and keywords, which I find incredible.”
In 2002, Kashi realized that digital cameras and the associated technologies would dramatically shift the way he would acquire and distribute his images and, therefore, he could tell stories in new and exciting ways.
Recalls Kashi, “I had an epiphany about digital in 2002, when I participated in A Day in the Life of Africa, when I chose to go to Somalia. It was the first Day in the Life project we had to shoot in digital, and we were working with big, bulky Olympus cameras. At the time, I didn't know what I was doing with digital and was turned off by it. But later on, I had this epiphany in the streets of Somalia. I thought, ‘Wait, now I get it!' This is what it must have been like in the 1930s for Cartier-Bresson, Lartigue and Kertész when they could suddenly walk the streets of Paris with this little Leica camera and plastic roll film. They were no longer stuck to a 4x5 Graflex, taking one sheet of film at a time. What a revolution that was for them! And you see the work they created, work that at the time had never been seen before: street photography. This kind of photography was more fluid and serendipitous. From it came the ‘decisive moment' that we associate with Cartier-Bresson.
“That's when I realized that we're sitting in a moment that's far more powerful than that revolution was for those guys because now I not only can do all of the things I've already mentioned in terms of control over my work in postproduction and increased control of authorship, but in an instant I can have it distributed all over the world.”
In addition, shooting with film implies that one must scan all of it to data in order to work with it. Says Kashi, “I also wanted to get away from film when I realized that I had to scan a huge library of negatives and slides. It takes a tremendous amount of time and expense to digitize the old analog media. Of course, I must still see to it that over time my legacy work, most of which is on film, gets digitized.”
Regardless of the tools by which Kashi or any other photojournalist acquires his or her images, there's an underlying element of craftsmanship. “The digital revolution has brought the darkroom back into my life because, for close to a decade, I never had time to use the darkroom,” says Kashi. “I always took my work to the lab or my master printer for my black-and-white work. Now, we do it all in-house. I have an Epson 7600 that we can use for large archival printing. Being able to do all of that—having that darkroom back in my life—is a very fulfilling aspect of this change.”
To avoid the trap of software and new technology sucking the time out of the day, Kashi does his best to keep things simple. “Photography is a world of variables,” he says. “I've always been a believer that the way for me to be most effective is to reduce the variables to the smallest number so that I can focus most of my energy, my heart, my soul, my vision and my brain on the subject, on making images, and on telling stories. So, for me right now, I could go on making images forever with iView MediaPro and Photoshop on the Mac platform and my Canon EOS 5D. It has reached a level of quality and efficiency that's ideal for me. Sure, it could be made better, but for now, for me, it's great. But the reality is that I know I can't do that. The technology will change and I'll once again have to change with it.”
The Next Project
The world in which we live is changing in many dramatic ways. If Ed Kashi could, he'd cover it all. As to current and future projects, he recently has begun working with National Geographic to undertake a multimedia project on India. He also has been to Iraq six times and worked in the Middle East for over 16 years. But balancing current and future projects while maintaining his family life is challenging.
“I'm deeply concerned about what's happening in the U.S. and the world,” says Kashi. “I often struggle with the fact that there are so many issues I'd like to tackle, but I can't do them all. Therefore, I try to focus my energy and attention to a smaller number of topics for now and make sure they're more fully fleshed out and in depth in coverage. At the end of the day, this work will be more powerful and meaningful. And there are so many issues to attack, but I'm just one person, and I also have to be a husband and a father, and I have a family that I'm deeply committed to, so it's a tough juggling act.”
To see more of Ed Kashi's photography, visit www.edkashi.com.
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