‘Majority world’ photographers showcase work at Aurora Forum

L.A. Cicero Photogs

Altaf Qadri speaks at the Oct. 1 Aurora Forum, “Making Connections: Photographic Storytellers from Around the World.” Qadri, who grew up in Kashmir, is a 2007 All Roads Photography Program Award Winner.

"These are the kinds of pictures that can only happen when a photographer is married to the cause," Shahidul Alam explained last week in Kresge Auditorium, discussing the work of National Geographic's All Roads photographers and filmmakers. "For these images to be created, certain relationships need to be there."

At the Oct. 1 Aurora Forum titled "Making Connections: Photographic Storytellers from Around the World," Alam and seven other photographers and filmmakers from diverse cultural backgrounds shared their work and perspectives on covering their own communities.

Alam said that, traditionally, North American and European media have not included photographers from what he calls the majority world, or non-western cultures. Alam recalled that a curator once told him they "do not have the eye." Alam has established two photography schools and an activist news agency in Bangladesh, and he believes that, on the contrary, when photographers are connected to their subjects, they produce more intimate and revealing images.

Conceived by the National Geographic Society, the All Roads Film Project gives artists who cover their own communities the opportunity to display their work. They participate in seminars, exhibitions and public conversations like the Aurora Forum, and share the unique stories and vision behind their images with audiences around the world.

One of the All Roads photographers, Altaf Qadri, grew up in Kashmir, the heavily militarized region between India and Pakistan, and chose to focus on the indiscriminate violence that pervades his homeland. In his images, civilians lie dead on a bloodstained street, and a field is filled with row upon row of makeshift gravestones, emblazoned with Arabic handwriting. He knows firsthand that innocent people will get caught in the crossfire in a region with one of the highest soldier-to-civilian ratios in the world. "When a grenade is hurled, it doesn't see who [it] is killing or who [it] is injuring," he said.

Akintunde Akinleye presented what he sees as the Nigerian government's mismanagement of its oil wealth through his photography. He covered a 2006 petroleum pipeline explosion in which more than 250 people were killed, and shot an image of the apocalyptic destruction that won the World Press Photo Award. In it, a man washes the soot from his face using water from a plastic bucket. He is surrounded by crumpled sheet metal and billowing black smoke. Another picture shows a woman crying in horror at the devastation.

Israeli photographer Oded Balilty won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography for his picture of a solitary woman struggling against hundreds of Israeli soldiers clad in riot gear, sent to remove settlers in the West Bank. Her face is contorted in anguish as she fights in desperation to save her home. "For us [photographers], it's not work, it's a way of life," Balilty said of his photography. "It's part of me."

On Saturday, Oct. 20, the Stanford University Art and Art History Department will present "Documentary Photography in the Digital Age," a symposium examining the impact of digital technology on photography and photojournalism, to be held at the Annenberg Auditorium. Registration is free at: www.photosymposium.stanford.edu.

John Cannon is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.