“If the decisive moment reflects reality in tune with the photographer’s intuition, flawlessly combining composition and timing, then the abandoned moment is the consequence of a fractional instant of surrender. This collection, made over a 40-year period by renowned photographer Ed Kashi, reveals imprecise glimpses of transitory events filled with frenetic energy – the chaos of everyday life. Embodying photography’s intrinsic power, they preserve moments that can never occur again in exactly the same time and space.”
Ziyah Gafic: Thank you for that. I would like to welcome Ed Kashi, our dear friend from VII, who’s been with us on a few occasions here at VII Book Club where we talk the books we like with people we respect. And Ed was with us a few months ago where we talked about his book, Cali Years, which by the way is sold out. So whoever is watching this, I’m going to share a link where you can get hold of the current book that we’re going to talk about. But before that, I would just like to say feel free to ask any questions. But please use q&a for that rather than a chat because it’s easier for us to collate the questions for Ed. And we will try to get them answered. Let me just share here, first, the link here is— sorry. Here is the link to the website where you can see a preview of the book as well as order it. So this time, we’re talking about a book that just literally just came out by Kashi and it’s called Abandoned Moments: A Love Letter to Photography. And it consists of photographs by Ed and his almost 40-year spanning career and also an essay by Allison Nordstrom. I apologize if I mispronounced and the book is published by Kehrer Verlag. So thank you, Ed, for joining us again.
Ed Kashi: Thank you.
Ziyah Gafic: I would just like to—the first thing when I read this title, Abandoned Moments, A Love Letter to Photography, it almost sounded like a farewell.
Ed Kashi: Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me that before I published this?
Ziyah Gafic: I don’t think— Well, I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with farewell. I’m sure it’s just the next phase in your photography. So can I can I challenge you just to clarify a little bit for us the title?
Ed Kashi: No, absolutely. And it’s interesting, because in a recent review of the book, someone said that I was in my golden years. So I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m not done. Anyway, I hope I’m in mid-career, but um, so you mean the title? Well, yes. Um, so Abandoned Moments. It’s interesting. I came up with that term back in 1981 when I was like, in my early 20s, just getting started, I had moved to San Francisco after graduating from university. And I started to do this to sort of experiment, if you like, with this approach to photography. So on some level, I didn’t know what I was doing. But, you know, I was just beginning, just learning, and there was something very exciting. So the term Abandoned Moments for me—and I realized, in retrospect, when abandoned is the idea of like, I’ve abandoned something, I’ve left something behind or neglected it. But what I meant more is ‘out of control.’ Like where I’m in a state of abandon, and that was, that’s about the moment of making the picture, I’m in a state of abandonment, as opposed to where so much of the work we all do, I’m in absolute total control of the moment I trip the shutter. I know exactly where I’m standing. I’ve got the camera to my eye. I’m meticulously framing and all of that. That’s not conventional, I mean, in a negative way, but that’s the way most of us work. Most photographers work in that way. And the idea of the Abandoned Moment is that the camera is not at my eye. I’m almost like sort of guessing in a way. It’s this sort of visceral out of control dance with the reality around me. And so that’s where the idea, the concept came from.
Ziyah Gafic: So this is, if I’m not mistaken, this is the fourth book you created from rummaging your archives, right? So this is something— before you start showing us some of the samples from the book—I’m fascinated by archives. I’m also by profession also by, among other things, also a librarian. And for me, there’s two types of archives, right, there’s an archive that is static in nature, because the archives usually are static right? And they have their place in our culture and civilization. But they are inherently boring, right? Because it’s just pile of books, negatives, disks, paintings, whatever. So only if we, you, or researchers start using those archives, then we have the real value, and they receive the attention they need. So you’ve done already four of these books, four books out of your archives, and I think it’s a very noble and clever and creative way to put your archive at work, because you might as well either sell your archive to a university, like many photographers do, or libraries and so on, or you could have put it on some, you know, stock, whatever, sales platform, which— and they’re all legit ways of dealing with one’s work. But I find this one particularly inspiring because I know for a fact a lot of our colleagues around the world who have massive archives, like you do, also organize like yours. But that archive we hardly ever see. So, I’m just curious, how do you make that— I mean, it’s an extensive effort to dig in especially because it’s always, like in this case, it’s spanning through, you know, decades of your work, like so it’s a massive effort. And eventually, obviously, you made it happen, you made it happen with a brilliant publisher. It’s obviously hopefully another way to generate both revenue for you and publisher, as well as to give another life to your images. So I’m just wondering, where do you sit when it comes to archives?
Ed Kashi: Yeah, well, you know, this is not something I planned on 20, 30 years ago, when I was still generating work, a lot of work and kind of building my archive. But it really is sort of evolved organically. The first book of this, of these four was three, look at using triptychs. And then the next one was Photojournalisms, which was a very intimate looking back at journal writings I made to Julie, to my wife, over a 20-year period, and then matching images. And then Cali Years, which was looking at the 25-year period I lived in California. And then now this book, Abandoned Moments, which is really probably, for me the most profound, if you like, statement I’m trying to make with and through my photography, but the idea of kind of harvesting from my archives—this is something I learned many years ago, which is that, you know, an archive is like a garden. I’m not a gardener, my wife’s a great gardener, but you know, it’s that idea of that, you know, it’s something that’s alive, and, and whether you are you have stopped creating work, or you’re continuing to feed it, you know, and so like a garden, you need to weed it in and take out the the crap, so the things that aren’t so good and, you know, you want to make sure that you keep it up to date in the age of the digital workflow. You want to make sure your metadata is excellent. And you know that the naming conventions, like all this sort of infrastructure, if you like, of your archive is solid, and whatever that means for you, because it’s going to be different for each of us. And so because I started to do that very early on pre-digital, I was, I ended up in a good position, if you like, to be able to be to find creative ways of harvesting from my archive. And all of these things really, as I said, it came organically, it wasn’t like I was devising some plan here. It was more like, something would strike me, maybe I was going through my work or where I’d seen something or where I’d had a conversation with someone. And then I would have this idea of like, Huh, it’d be really interesting to do a book of triptychs, or, in this case, with Abandoned Moments, as I said, it’s much more aligned with a statement about photography than I’m trying to make that is my own and this sort of approach to photography. So in each case, we’re we then go into the archive with a through a different prism, if you like, through a different angle, to harvest out images that hopefully will be cohesive and make some sense.
Ziyah Gafic: Would you mind showing us a bit by bit of the—
Ed Kashi: Sure.
Of your love letter.
Ed Kashi: Okay, yes, yes. Okay, so let me share my screen and off we go to the races here, okay.
Ziyah Gafic: Yeah, we see it.
Ed Kashi: Whoops, sorry, sorry, sorry, I’ve started in the wrong spot. Let me just quickly correct that. There we go. Okay, so, this is the cover of the book and what I’d like to do is share with you some images, also a short video, and then kind of go through some of the spreads in an effort to kind of explain my thinking, but Ziyah, please welcome any questions at any time, except during the video. It’s a short one. And of course, excited to hear from folks what they’re thinking, as well. So as I said, the concept of this really came to me when I was in my early 20s and kind of just beginning my career. I’ve been a freelancer my whole life, never had a staff job or permanent job with photography. So how can I explain this? Also, I love collaborating to go back to your comment or question about using archives. I love collaborating. So through the years, I love saying to folks who are working in the, hey, I have this idea. And let’s go and run with it, you know, and then sort of, you know, work with the crew I have for to go in and harvest and then reevaluate. So, anyway, I’m so excited. Okay, there we go. So, these are the end pages, excuse me, of the book. And we came up with this idea, it actually grew out of the video I’m about to show you with this idea of the words and the concepts and the feelings that, as I started to write more than 10 years ago about this book, you know, we decided to do this sort of creative endpaper approach. And so as I said, the concept of this began over 40 years ago, but about 10 years ago is when I started with different folks, different crews that have worked with me in my studio over that time to put this book together. So it’s been an over a 10 year process of compiling the images, writing, editing, curating, and then ultimately designing a maquette or a book dummy, that then we brought to publishers. I’d like to play you the short video which we created as a kind of companion for the book. And then we can carry on.
Ed Kashi: All right. So— VIDEO PLAYS
Ziyah Gafic: I have to jump in. And you already touched on that, but some people are asking, and you kind of— it’s more complicated and it takes a little bit longer to explain. But the basic question is, again, how do you tackle 40 years of work and squeeze it into a hundred and something pages of the book? That’s—
Ed Kashi: Yeah. Well, first of all, this book is not meant to be a retrospective of my work.
Ziyah Gafic: No, no, I understand. But like, it’s still, we’re still talking about a massive body of work that you wanted to shape into a book, right, of limited size, volume, and so on. So I’m just curious, how one tackles that, like, is it like the first picture? Well, and then you move from there? Or will you try to find some conduit that connects it or I’m just like, I’m interested and people here are interested in sort of this, a method or mechanism or, you know, call it whatever. A method of tackling that.
Ed Kashi: So I can only speak of my process. But you know, for me, well, the image that’s on the screen, this is where it all began. And then I’ll address your question and the folks who are asking this. So in 1977, I was a 19-year-old photo student in London and I was with a friend. I think he’s playing the harmonica.
Ziyah Gafic: Can I just interrupt because I keep hearing your ear buds cracking. Can I just ask everyone else , do you hear well Ed, or you also hear some cracking noises? I’m just wondering if it’s just me or— okay. Yeah, there was static. Okay, cool. Okay. Can you switch to your just laptop mic? I think you’re now back to my to laptop.
Ed Kashi: Can you hear me now?
Ziyah Gafic: Oh, yeah. Much better. Way better, way better. Sorry. Sorry, people for that. We’re back. So yes, sorry. I know, you lost train of thought, but basically is like, how do you tackle this? What’s the method?
Ed Kashi: So it started from this photograph, which I took as a photo student, then put it aside. And then a couple of years later moved to San Francisco, as I said, I start my freelance career. And then I like hit the streets of San Francisco. Like, aggressively actually with a flash in one hand, and a camera in another, film, of course, and I was just stalking the streets. And so anyway, so that’s where this began. And then 10 years ago, when I sort of decided, Okay, I’m ready to kind of deal with this body of work, this sort of sub-text in a way of my career of my photographic practice, because, again, what I’m known for and so much of my work is very focused on issues and you know, human rights, geopolitical issues, social issues, so forth, you know, photo essays, large documentary projects. And so this was kind of trying to slice into this archive,through this different, as I say, this different prism, this different way. So, the first step, of course, is to go through the archive and look for images that would match the concept. You know, it’s almost like you come up with an idea, and then you go into your archive, hoping you can actually prove that idea. You know, in their times, you know, like, I’ve thought, like, I want to do a book on like, my first year of Instagram pictures. And then like, thankfully, you know, folks who work with me are like, No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. You know, there’s not great pictures there or whatever, it doesn’t hold up. So anyway, in this case, we begin with the concept, then you go into your archive, you again, harvest, pull out the images, probably, we’ve pulled out 2-3,000 images to begin with. And then you just, you know, like any editing, large editing process, you winnow it down, you know, multiple rounds over years, quite frankly, in this case, because we have the luxury to do that. And then you get it down to that essential core 100 images, whatever it was. And then from there, you begin to lay up the book. And then again, I think we ended up with 68 images in the book. Now, every day I look at my archive, or sometimes I’m making new pictures. And I’m thinking, damn, that would work in Abandoned Moments, you know. So it’s an approach and a concept that lives on. But I hope that answered you guys questions. Please bring on more if you need to.
Ziyah Gafic: Well, yes, it still concerns, obviously editing, but it concerns the cover image. And Chuck is asking, How did you settle on the cover image for the book with so many fabulous images to choose from? What was it that told you, Yes, that’s the one?
Ed Kashi: Klaus Cara. We were in a design meeting with him, oh, gosh, back in, I don’t know last year as we, once we started to engage in producing the book and we had a Zoom meeting with him and his designer. And originally, we were going to have no image on the cover, just Abandoned Moments. And he was like, No, Ed this—and Klaus is just fabulous human being and great, great book publisher. And he was like, no Ed, I think it’s a bad idea. While I understand the principle or the spirit in which you want to have it be very spartan and clean, I think, you know, in terms of— he was thinking as a publisher, how’s it going to look on the shelves in a bookstore or online when someone’s looking at it. And so I thought, okay, good. Again, I love collaborating, I’m very open to ideas, as long as they don’t violate my basic spirit and approach. And we were looking through pictures. And over a period of weeks, we came upon this picture from India, because of the vibrancy, the color, and it was interesting. And then from there, we then chose that sort of reddish maroon color to be the concept throughout the book, not just on the cover. So it’s, you know, one of the things I love about producing, well, anything quite frankly, but books in this case, is this kind of, it’s a journey, you know, it’s a journey of creativity, but it’s also a journey of discovery. So, you need to remain open and, you know, also in my case, I always invite other ideas. Because as I said, I love collaborating.
Ziyah Gafic: And just while we are still on the editing front, Ted is asking, are you able to edit this archive objectively? Or is it as it is for me— for Ted—an emotional roller coaster of extremes of memories from joyful to painful, happy to sad? If it is difficult, how do you do it? Do you take frequent breaks or just soldier on through the process?
Ed Kashi: Well, that was beautiful. That was more than a question. That was a beautiful statement. I wish I had said that. No, really, I honestly, so it’s such a mixed bag, man. You know, there days, I look at my archive, and I think it’s all crap, you know, and sort of depressed and shut the computer down. But and then there are days where it’s like, I can’t believe how many pictures I love that are in here. And you know, of course, there’s also besides the, you know, good or bad pictures, which I find a bit limiting and judgmental and not the right spirit within to which to look at anybody’s work, quite frankly. But the memory aspect of it is so important. It’s a crucial part of that statement, that question he’s made, because there are images and I think we all fall for this in a way. You know, there’s images we’ve made, we’re, we’re the the sounds, the sights, the smells, the personal experience, all the things around the making of the image are what make the image important to us or a value. But to a viewer who has who knows none of those things and is not was not there with you, it might be a boring image or a flat image, you know. So, there’s always that. So, the way I get around all of those things is by being graced with working with incredible people in my studio, and that they, giving them the the autonomy and support or allowing them to have the autonomy and support so that I can entrust them, it becomes this beautiful collaborative process where, you know, I know they have my best interests at heart, I know that I respect their judge their their opinions of photography and visual world and all that. And so it’s that way that you work together. So that, in a sense, what I’m simply saying is, you need someone else quite often to help you edit. You need that buffer, that other voice or you know, that person who will, who will be able to distinguish the experience you had from the image that you’ve made.
Ziyah Gafic: That’s beautifully said. And, again, still along those lines, Jennifer, I just want to try to go through as many questions as possible.
Ed Kashi: And I just wanted to say Ziyah, and I’m so sorry to interrupt, but the pictures I’m rolling through now are from like, 1981, 82, in San Francisco, the very beginning. Carry on.
Sure. So Jennifer is asking if you can offer any guidance for someone who is starting the conversion of an analog photo archive to a digital collection. And it can be it could be a tip on how to implement effective metadata or just advice on how to keep sane when facing what feels an unfeasible task.
Ed Kashi: Yeah, and this is, and I’ll tell you, this is why it was like, with so many things in life, don’t put this stuff off. Because the longer you put it off then when you finally deal with it, it becomes a much bigger mountain to climb, you know. So—
Ziyah Gafic: A bit like with taxes, right?
Ed Kashi: Yeah, or emotions.
Ziyah Gafic: Yeah.
Ed Kashi: But that’s a whole other topic, we’ll have a psychology session sometime in the future.
Ziyah Gafic: As soon as, as soon as we’re done with this one.
Ed Kashi: Exactly. Um, so. So what I would sort of behoove you, what I would urge you all to do, if you haven’t done this already, is first come up with a naming convention, you know, a nomenclature to, to literally, that will literally stand up. So that every single image you’ve made, has a unique number, and particularly in the digital age. So the way we adapted what I had come up with in the early 80s, an alpha numeric naming system, alright, that I’d made on my own, and thank goodness, it’s held up. We adapted that to the digital age. And so for instance, it’s much easier with black and white film to adapt that because you’ve got, you know, you’ve got hopefully proof sheets numbered, sorry, get very wonky and nerdy here, we have, you know, you have proof sheets that are numbered, then you also the individual frames are numbered, because that’s how film is produced. So that makes it easier. What’s harder is with color negatives, because, generally speaking, they do not come back from the lab, numbered. Now, I know that there were some labs back in the day, where you could pay a little extra to get them numbered. And thankfully on like National Geographic projects, which I had the good fortune to work on many of those, they did that. Anyway, that was part of the process. So in some ways, I also learned from working with National Geographic, where you’re working with huge amounts of film, you know, 20, 30 40,000 images in one story, I learned a bit from them as well, in terms of how they did it, because the whole idea, which I really subscribe to, I think is so valuable. And we can learn so much about how we photograph, how we think, and how we react to the world is that when you would sit down with your editor, you would literally go from frame one and roll one straight through. Now there are also some very embarrassing moments because you would reveal sometimes, like how badly you operated in the field. You know, where your editor would be like why did you leave that scene? Anyway, but that’s a that’s a different that’s, that’s a little, that’s a digression. But the point is that you need to start with a naming convention, and then everything can flow from there. And then once you have that— now in terms of the my physical archive that is organized in an alphabetical order, like a traditional, you know, card catalog in a library or a traditional archive, you know, from A to Z. And in my case, because I’m an English speaker, and then every shoot has a folder that has that number, and it holds, you know, the ephemera, the notes, proof sheets, slides, whatever it may be, that are associated with each of those shoots. So if you can employ these very strict rules, if you like, from the beginning, or if you can start now go backwards and catch up, then everything flows so beautifully, and quite frankly, so easily from there. And then you have, not only a living archive, but a living archive that you can actually access. And you can make sense of, and then the final thing, which is metadata. And the digital revolution has been a gift in that sense, it has enabled us to include so much more valuable information, particularly as a photojournalist, and a documentarian where the, the context, the information around my pictures are, in some ways as important and sometimes more important than the image, quite frankly, in terms of maintaining facts, and, you know, accuracy as best as possible. So the metadata is also really important, because then you can take advantage of these inter relational databases, whether it be Lightroom, or Photo Mechanic or Phase One, whatever the different digital asset management tools that are out there. And there are many, you know, I use Lightroom. So hopefully that answered your question.
Ziyah Gafic: I think it did. Can you show us a little bit more? And I’m sure—
Ed Kashi: Yeah. So this section, where I want to talk about, so this, this idea, this approach started as a lark, you know, like, I’m young, I’m pissed off, nobody’s giving me work. I’m in San Francisco, what the hell am I gonna do? I’m gonna hit the streets with a camera and armed with, you know, Plus X film and a flash, and I’m going to blast people in the face. And it was actually pretty obnoxious in some cases. I would never work that way now. But anyway, so but then as I started to fully get into my career, into my work, and my first personal project was in Northern Ireland, what I realized was that this approach to photography had tremendous value when I was in dangerous security situations, whether it was conflict, or like in the case of Northern Ireland, or, you know, Palestine or other places I’ve been, where there’s a certain amount of civil unrest. So therefore, the act of bringing the camera to the eye can not only expose you to insecurity and danger, but it also changes the scene. So I started to use this approach of like, the Abandoned Moment, shooting from the hip would be the conventional way that it’s referred to, in these situations. This is in the West Bank and Hebron. And so, you know, this became actually not only a kind of creative outlet, to sort of, you know, work in this kind of visceral, kind of exciting out-of-control way, but it became a way for me to, it became sort of a tool in my toolkit in working as a documentarian, and as a photo journalist. And so through the years, I kind of adapted this into my— it was always just a natural, you know, like in a given situation, I would deploy this approach when it felt right. Now, I was also aware that most magazines and publications that I worked for, it was hard to publish these kinds of images. And I think that’s something that I hope you all find this in your practices in your careers, is, you know, you have to make the pictures that you want to make. You have to do this for yourself, not just for editors. Of course you want to come through with flying colors for your editors in the publications you work for. You want to make them happy and be great, be great, but don’t lose sight of the need to fulfill your own, your own self you know in that work. And I don’t mean that in a selfish or narcissistic way at all. At all. I’m just saying that generally the greatest work we will do comes from within us. Generally speaking, it will not be because someone called you or emailed you to go and do something. Okay, generally speaking. This is in Warsaw in Poland. These are heroin addicts from a personal story I did about the narco money, the heroin addicts in Poland. This is 1990, right after the wall had come down.
Ziyah Gafic: Sorry.
Ed Kashi: Please please.
Ziyah Gafic: Since we are seeing individual images rather than you know, spreads of the middle of the book. So did you—
Ed Kashi: We’re coming to those.
Ziyah Gafic: Ah, okay, but I can. Okay, so it’s a good introduction. So how did you structure the book, because it’s obviously rummaging through archives? Did you use the what’s the word? Was it? Did you try to use chronology as sort of the most obvious way to structure the book or you broke down the chronology? I mean, historical chronology, you know, the old, from oldest to the newest, or you broke that apart? And what kind of method again, you use to sort of structure the book once you came down with, with an edit.
Ed Kashi: Yeah, so great questions and really relevant for this particular book, too, because it’s sort of an unusual compilation, if you like. So we thought about, well, should we do this chronologically? And then we threw that out. And then I thought, we were — also, my crew, including Julie, my wife, who had not a big role in this, but is always hovering there in her brilliant way. You know, was like, you know, Ed, you have to write, you have to write, you have to write stuff down, like, what is this? No one’s gonna get this unless you are able to kind of cogently express what is the Abandoned Moment? Why is it important? What does it mean? How have you used it, all those things. So I started to just, you know, over a period of time, jot down notes, you know, force myself to write. And then we again, just like the pictures, we would go through the words, and we would edit those and then as we started to go through the text I had accumulated and I got massive help from the folks who are working with me, too. We jettisoned the idea, we let go of the idea of doing it chronologically. And instead, we decided to do it based on kind of like emotions or impressions, sayings. I’m not— I’m trying to think of phrases, phrases that reflected kind of concepts in the book, and ideas behind the abandoned moment. By the way, this picture, the newest picture, was taken a year and a half ago, in Rodeo Drive in LA. So it’s, again, it’s still something that is alive, then I’m using. Okay, so to directly answer your question, we came up with these terms, I don’t know, phrases, if you like, and in some ways, they weren’t—they were like, emotionally chronological. Right, you know, sort of, in some ways. But they represented kinds of feelings I had, you know, this fear of people. I grew up being really insecure and shy, and actually, it was the camera that brought me out of that. Because when I was 18-year-old learning photography at Syracuse University in upstate New York, you know, I was like, Oh, my God—I don’t know, if we’ve all done this, the first picture was a beer can and grass and I thought I was the greatest genius artist in the world, you know, or painting, peeled painting from a door, you know, and then I started to photograph people, trepidatiously. But once I did that, poof, the magic of photography, this, like, wow, this is amazing, this tool, this device has became, you know, as I say, a passport into the world. It’s a way to connect with people, to get into great conversations, maybe to even make friends, not only to make pictures, so you know—and then the chaos of reality, this idea that, you know, so much of reality is chaotic. And I think one of the things we all try to do as photographers, particularly photojournalists, and, you know, journalistic documentary work, not talking about conceptual photography, particularly those disciplines, we’re so often trying to nail down visual facts, you know, make sense of the world. Even if we don’t provide answers in our pictures, we’re trying to provide evidence, meaning, context, facts.
Ziyah Gafic: We try to organize it in that little frame.
Ed Kashi: Exactly. We devote our lives to that slavishly, right, how to make an image that is beautiful, amazing, complex, whatever it may be, or simple and elegant. But say something. And the idea of, well, that’s not reality. And so anyway, so each of these concepts became the organizing principles, as opposed to just a chronology. And so anyway, so that’s how the book came about. So in some ways, this is the most experimental, if that’s the right word, book I’ve ever done, you know, where I’m not trying to make a comment about the world or about an issue or an event. It’s really about luxuriating in the abstraction of the ambiguity of photography, which is inherently one of its most beautiful and enduring qualities.
Ziyah Gafic: I would actually—sorry to interrupt. And I would actually argue that, if you think about it, this is, again, very personal. But I don’t find photography very suitable for linear storytelling. I actually think photography works better in this nonlinear storytelling. So when you put that in a context of, say, the oldest pictures taken 40 years ago, and the youngest last year, I think doing it linearly, would be quite obvious and simplistic. And so I totally agree this sort of, this emotional chronology, if that’s the right word that you used, was a good choice for the way to structure the book. I think things when done in linear in linear forms is just boring.
Ed Kashi: Absolutely, unless, unless your your work is at the service of, of course, explaining something.
Ziyah Gafic: Of course, of course.
Ed Kashi: And God knows we have to do that
Ziyah Gafic: All the time.
Ed Kashi: All the time.
Ed Kashi: So, that’s one of the other things, folks, about doing your own books, about whatever, book, a website, or social media campaign, whatever, but something that is just your own, no one has assigned you to do it, no one has told you to do it. No one’s even suggested for you to do it. It’s come, it’s like been born out of your mind, your heart, your gut, whatever, and a conversation, something you see. And then it sparks a creativity, you know, inspires you to look at your work, or maybe create new work, or both, whatever it may be, but to basically have authorship, as we always talk about so often in VII and in many circles is that, you know, authorship is so important. And doing a book gives you that opportunity to have like absolute authorship and ownership of your work, of what you’re trying to say. And it’s daunting, it’s also scary, because what if you realize you know what if you don’t have anything to say or what you have to say isn’t very interesting. So—
Ziyah Gafic: Jennifer wants to ask you something about— she would like to, if you could comment on this part of the text you wrote in the book on the importance of still photography, and let me quote you so you know what is she talking about. “The magical and fictional qualities of still photography embody the unexpected essence of existence. They grasp a mysterious spiritual aspect.” So, if you could comment further on it.
Ed Kashi: Yeah, so, and thank you for alluding to that. You know, sort of, when everything with doing photography, when everything is kind of going right or feeling, you know, like you’re in the zone, as I say, in the groove, the experience of making images, the experience of interfacing with the world, through the camera. You know, while on some level, we’re trying to nail things down, you’re like, we’re trying to concretize things within this mechanical device. It also, what I’ve learned, what I found, what I experienced, is it sort of opens your mind and opens your heart to the sort of unexpected, the things you can’t control, you know, always feel like when I try to do street photography, you know, so much of the time, I’m in turmoil, because nothing is working out like I want it to be or it’s like, there’s this great character, but the background sucks, or whatever it is, you know, but when it’s working, it’s almost like the photo gods just keep on throwing gold dust in front of you. And then it’s sort of like it allows you—I think Cartier-Bresson talked about this idea of the zen of photography and that in its essence we have to forget about ourselves, we have to be able to go outside of ourselves. I don’t care if your knee is hurting, or you just broke up with your girlfriend or what, God knows whatever it is something that legitimately is a concern that’s on your mind or in your heart, you have to be able to let go of those things. And just, it’s like it’s an openness. I don’t know if I know the words to describe it. Maybe that statement you alluded to does it, but that’s kind of, that’s the spirit of that statement is that if you allow yourself to be open and to be fluid, that there are these magical qualities that happen. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been out in the world with a camera, and then something I could have never imagined seeing or experiencing happens.
Ziyah Gafic: Can I just can I just comment, as you go through your through the PDF, I noticed that you approach this in a very simple, as you said earlier, Spartan way, when it comes to design and layout, unlike the Cali Years, which was heavily on, you know, I wouldn’t use overdesigned in a bad way. But like super hyper-designed book, whereas, and I mean that in a good way, whereas here, it’s total opposite. It’s almost, how can I say, reductive in terms of design and layout.
Ed Kashi: It’s somewhat classic, classical, maybe, you know.
Ziyah Gafic: I avoid the word classic. I don’t know, what does it mean nowadays, but anyway, so I’m just curious what was— I mean?
Ed Kashi: It’s like Beethoven. No, no.
Ziyah Gafic: I’m just, I’m just comparing it to the previous book. I mean, so for people who haven’t for people who haven’t seen the Cali Years and if you don’t have because it’s sold out, if you’re don’t have a copy, have a look at our archive so you can see what Ed did with Cali Years. It’s like graphically, he has one, obviously, it’s entirely different graphically, I just think that’s, I think it’s awesome that within a very, within two books that came out in a year, you managed to, you know, employ two radically different approaches when it comes to layout and design of your own work. Yeah, it’s just a comment. Yes, sorry. Yeah.
Ed Kashi: So you know, Cali Years is like, basically three small books, or zines, within this, you know, it’s handmade, there’s lines and all kinds of sort of design elements. And obviously, that was purposely, consciously done. Because, by the nature of it, we wanted to be a little more playful. And yeah, a little more design-y. Whereas with Abandoned Moments, what I wanted to do was, first of all, have no text on the pages with photographs. I wanted it to be clean. So that, and I’ve done this before, it’s similar in other books, where, you know, I just— sometimes it’s imperative, and I want to have captions with the pictures, excuse me, like my Curse of the Black Gold, looking at oil in Nigeria, you know, because it’s serious, it’s documentary, it’s informational. I don’t want people to have to go back to the back of the book to know what they’re looking at. Whereas in this case, you know, I don’t know what term to use. It’s more of a fine art. I hate these terms. But you know, more of a book that is meant to really be a celebration of the images only, you know. And so that’s why we wanted a clean, whitespace, no text on the pages other than the page numbers, because then, as I’ll show you, at the end of the book, we could we had a glossary, and I did this with the triptychs Book Three, same thing. I didn’t want text on the pages with images. I wanted— but of course, because of the work I do, and I know that people want to know, oh, where was that picture taken, that we would have that basic information, sort of where it was taken, when and maybe a line of what it was. So yeah, that was the thinking behind that design element. This is actually one of the last pictures I ever took of my mom when she was living in Florida. So yeah. More questions?
Ziyah Gafic: Sure. Yes, let me just—
Ed Kashi: One thing that was interesting was because I shoot so few verticals that we had, you know, out of 68 images we had like four verticals or something. I was like, Oh, my gosh, how do you—you know, but we didn’t want to get rid of the pictures, but how do we, you know, how do we deal with that? So this is what we came up with. I think there’s only two spreads like that in the book. Sorry, Ziyah.
Ziyah Gafic: There was a question from Frieda. And I’m quoting, I’m sure it’s changed over the years, but what is now your internal sense of naming and offering some information about the people in the street in your images? I mean, do you stop in your tracks to get this info from the people?
Ed Kashi: Right, right. I think this feels like a sort of respect for subjects kind of a question, you know, how do we, how do we be— how do we honor the people we photograph and not abuse them? I don’t know. But anyway, so you know, with street photography, it’s very difficult to get sort of name and all that, you know, personal information. I don’t do a lot of street photography. It’s usually in connection with a story or project that I’m working on. But in general, I, I try to collect the personal information of the people I photograph. And I try to make a connection with them. Because that’s also my nature, how I am as a human being, which is intimate and personal. But it’s also, you know, again, to be respectful of people. As I said at the beginning, some of the pictures I’ve made, like, if I may go back, you know, like a picture like this, on the left, this is a picture from 1981 at the very beginning in San Francisco. I don’t know, like I’d be, I’d be more reticent to take to make pictures like this where I’m basically kind of like springing on people, you know, because I thought her face looked interesting, you know, so I’m much more cognizant of the kind of almost violent impact we can have on people with our camera, you know, and I don’t know if that’s a good development for me in terms of my, the what I create down the road, but I know that it feels right to me, because of the kind of person I am, because of the world we’re living in. That anyway, that was a very long-winded answer your question, I hope I actually answered your question. So—
You know, it’s an interesting time we’re living in where, you know, people, there’s sort of, you know, new generations of people who are definitely more sensitized to the impact of so many things that have gone unquestioned up until now, not just with photography, you know, but in this case, we’re talking about photography. And I think, you know, it’s definitely impacted me, and it’s made me reconsider kind of my approaches and my intentions and what am I actually trying to achieve? And, you know, I’ve always asked the question, especially because of the kinds of work I do, and the environment and situations I’ve been, I’ve inserted myself in where people are often in compromised or vulnerable positions, I’ve always asked myself, you know, is this image worth making, you know, whatever, whatever negative impact I might have on the people I’m photographing, is whatever I’m going to produce worth it. And sometimes it’s an impossible question to ask. Sometimes I get it totally right. And other times, I’ve failed, you know, because I’m human, and we make mistakes. But now that question is even more pervasive, and, you know, kind of more like hovering all the time. But my concern with that, is that we start to have self censorship. It’s another conversation, but I just had to throw that out there. So it’s a fine line.
Ziyah Gafic: I don’t think we have to, because I have a similar experience. The more mature, we get as, let’s call it content makers, or photographers, I think we, I think we develop this sort of emotional intelligence, if you like, which makes us more sensitive to other people, right? Now, some— and we all mature in a different way, right? And some of us don’t mature at all, right? So I think what you were, what you described, when you were showing that picture of that lady in Germany, if I’m not mistaken, that you might have taken it in a different way today or not taken it at all, and so I don’t think that’s self-censorship. I don’t think that’s— I think it’s actually a process of our emotional, I would, above everything, say emotional growth. And I feel the same way. Like, when I look at the older stuff, I’m like, Oh, my God I’d never do that now. Like, Oh, that’s so—
Ed Kashi: Right.
Ziyah Gafic: And so yeah, so I don’t think it’s, I find that as a positive development or change if you like, right?
Ed Kashi: I completely agree with you.
Ziyah Gafic: And so, and I think we can end on that note, unless you have a few more pages. So, this is it right?
Ed Kashi: Well, so, what I want to just—
Ziyah Gafic: Oh, go ahead.Go ahead. We have.
Ed Kashi: There are just a few more. Well, I think, what—you know, that’s a really great point, you make, Ziyah. And, you know, it makes me think also of like, the sort of what, you know, so often in this profession, what are the incentivizations? You know, what’s the incentive? And so when you look at World Press, and you see all the winning pictures are people with guns, or people dying and bleeding, you know, this high drama then you’re naturally going to be, you know, you’re naturally going to sort of, it would seem to me, think, Oh, well, that’s the kind of work I need to make—
Ziyah Gafic: —that works.
Ed Kashi: That works, right. And so I welcome this new mentality, this new approach which your generation and even folks younger than you, even more so younger than you, that are really almost militantly pushing. I think it is—What is it is doing? It’s accelerating our emotional growth.
Ziyah Gafic: Yes, yes, I guess I think it also has to do with the fact that we are living in an all- digital world. And everything we do is much easier to scrutinize than before.
Ed Kashi: That’s right.
Ziyah Gafic: Right. Before, you know, when we were shooting films, on film, it would take you know, weeks before you see the results, then more weeks before the paper sees it, unless we’re talking breaking news, obviously. And then, you know, it could take whatever, a month or whatever to get in print. And then the magazines were distributed only in print which means their outreach was limited, and so on and so forth. So it was much more difficult to scrutinize what we do. Whereas today, this, what we are doing right now, it’s, you know, it’s live, it’s instantaneous. People are here.
Ed Kashi: Global.
Ziyah Gafic: Exactly. It’s global. There’s a ton of people here who can scrutinize every single word we say and picture we show in real time. So I think that’s what making us sort of, you know, grow emotionally or as human beings at the end of the day,
Ed Kashi: I totally agree. Totally agree. And it makes us more responsible.
Ziyah Gafic: I think so.
Ed Kashi: Yeah.
Ziyah Gafic: I think so.
Ed Kashi: So, this is what I wanted to show you, just that, you know, this was the glossary at the back of the book so that— there’s a thumbnail of each image with it. And then you can, you can, at least if you’re interested, one is interested, they can learn more about where it was made, and something about the image. And this is the last sentiment.
Ziyah Gafic: Yeah, well, I have to say along this, the last lines, I think photography is one of the, for me at least, one of the ways that I don’t lose our wonder of the world so to speak, or my wonder of the world. I think the camera keeps me on my toes because you know, as soon as you pick it up, there’s a whole lot of well, first all the various muscle reflexes jump in, but that eventually affects the way I see things. So I think cameras do help us to keep seeing the world in a fresh way. So thank you very much Ed. I’m gonna do it once again—well, I had just shared the link to Ed’s website, if anyone should like to have a copy of the book. As everyone, as you already know by now, we are recording this so you will be able to access the file very soon if you missed a part of the conversation. Again, Ted Ovstrovsky, thank you very much as you join every single time. Ed, good to see you again.
Ed Kashi: Great to see you.
Ziyah Gafic: Thank you very much. Take care.
Ed Kashi: Take care everyone. Be well.
Ziyah Gafic: Bye.
Ed Kashi: Bye.