What will you do with this plant? I'll make a tree
23 Oct 2010
My friend Felipe Sabogal and I had the privilege to meet the legendary Reza this week. 17 of his photographs exploring the theme of children and war were exhibited and Reza presented his life, his work, and talked to us about his motivation.
Reza is a photographer with a purpose. He is a witness, a chronicler, a historian of his time; but he is also an actor, a doer who wants to make a difference and succeeds in doing so.
Take his Rwanda joint project with UNICEF: in 1995, after the genocide, Reza, with a team of 3, photographed 12000 stray children. The pictures were printed and displayed at every refugee camp, hoping that their faces would be recognized and their relatives would find them; three months later over 3500 children were reunited with their families.
He is what the French call "un homme engagé"; travelling 3000 km on foot with the Muhadjadin during the war against the USSR; sitting on the landmine protection platform of a train in Cambodia; starving himself before doing a reportage in Somalia, Reza doesn't alienate himself from the suffering. He shares the suffering of his subjects to better show their humanity, looking beyond the pain.
Appearing in all the major publications worldwide, from Times to Paris-Match, he has made innumerable magazine covers and introduced the human portrait to the National Geographic, who mainly focused on wildlife before Reza's contributions (http://photography.nationalgeographic.co.uk/photography/photographers/photographer-reza.html)
Observing, witnessing and spreading, showing the world, showing us so we understand, so we react, so we move. Reza fights war, grief and wounds with a camera. His photographs are a war against war.
"What are you going to do with this plant?" I am going to make a tree with it" the answer of the young Afghan boy became an inspiration to Reza. Reza likes trees; he builds for the future, a future that belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. When asked about his reason for giving conferences, he tells of an old tale: An old man is planting a chestnut tree at the top of a hill. Some young boys, who are passing by, stop and laugh at him. They say "Old man, why do you bother planting a chestnut tree if by the time it gives fruit, you will be dead!" the old man replied "Because all of the chestnuts I ate in my lifetime were planted by other people before me". Reza hopes to plant the tree that will give youth the seeds to continue his fight for peace, equality and fair opportunities for all.
His Aina foundation "promotes independent media development and cultural expression as a foundation of democracy". This foundation is the publishing centre of Kabul Weekly, a much respected newspaper; Malalai, a magazine for women; and Parvaz, a magazine for children, the last two being the first of their kind in Afghanistan (www.ainaworld.org).
When asked how he manages to take such compelling and yet natural pictures of people, he said that first he gets to know the people, share experiences with them, through difficult and good times. After that binding experience, he takes pictures as a means of documentation, so his pictures reflect a human being, a person with real life problems, and not an idealized, staged scenario.
When asked about his photographic equipment, he laughs: "The tool does not matter, do you ask a poet what pen he's used to write his poem?" and then "the importance is to have a signature, your photos are your own, no one else's".
He is inspired by the tenacity of the human spirit and he is inspiring to old and young alike.