Serendipity. Things coming together in just the right way. Luck. Being the right place at the right time. It happens to all of us at some time but some people take the initiative to create it for themselves. Top American photojournalist Ed Kashi is one of these people -- a serendipity engineer. His award-winning photographs evidence his skill and delicacy in entering his subjects' lives and witnessing their most precious moments.
Kashi has been taking photographs for National Geographic and others for over 20 years. He won the 2010 UNICEFPhoto of the Year award, as well as awards from Pictures of the Year International, World Press Foundation, and American Photography. His editorial assignments and personal projects have generated six books, including 2008's award-winning, Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. It was a coup (and a bit of serendipity) that we enticed him to come to Zimbabwe to share his skills, philosophy and humor.
Kashi narrates slideshows of his work in a dynamic, folksy way, articulating his fundamental belief in telling the stories of forgotten, poverty-stricken people and the power of pictures to change peoples' minds and, more importantly, to change the world. This is American journalism at its best -- honest, bold, respectful, objective and introspective. It is the concept of journalism and citizen activism that we at the US Embassy in Harare want to share with Zimbabweans.
Through another stroke of serendipity, the NGO Zimbabwe in Pictures and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe agreed. With these local partners we brought Ed to Harare February 21-26. Ed trained 12 local photojournalists on a wide range of professional skills including copyright protection, editing software, and collective bargaining. He opened an exhibit of his work from Vietnam, Syria, Nigeria and Madagascar at the National Gallery. At the opening, Zimbabwean Minister of Education, Culture, Sport, and Art, David Coltart said, “This exhibition is so important, because it sets a standard for us as a nation regarding what takes place elsewhere, and, importantly, it shows us that this can be a positive thing. It's something we should not be frightened of.”
Ed has agreed that we can exhibit his work around Zimbabwe for the next year and then permanently donate the photographs to the National Gallery. Although the audiences in Bulawayo, Mutare and Victoria Falls will not get to hear him tell the moving stories of his pictures in person, they will see brilliant, powerful photographs of pain, joy, desperation and hope. They will see it in the Nigerian mother baking her tapioca with the heat of a pipeline fire, Arab Christians raucously celebrating holidays in exile, and a Vietnamese girl with Agent Orange birth defects alone in her room.
Ed wrote in his artist's statement to accompany the exhibit, "As many good people, governments, and organizations diligently work to promote solutions to combat our troubling global concerns, the role of photojournalists is to support and encourage these efforts, as well as uncover and bear witness to the problems. It is essential for the public to know what those in power are doing and what is happening to the less fortunate; to be made aware of how we are all connected in our societies and, ultimately, on this earth. Visual storytelling plays a unique role in affording this transparency. Whether uncovering human rights violations, confirming the impact of war and conflict, revealing corruption, exposing violence against women, etc. - the camera provides a voice for the voiceless."