Book Club – Zalmaï, Dread and Dreams in Afghanistan

In this Book Club event, Ziyah Gafic speaks with Zalmaï about his book “Dread and Dreams.”

Afghan-born photographer Zalmaï was forced to flee to Switzerland at the age of 15 after the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a freelance photographer, Zalmaï spent years capturing the human cost of war around the world and in his home country, Afghanistan, where he also sees signs of hope. Dread and Dreams brings together photographs Zalmaï made between 2008 and 2013 against the backdrop of the 14-year U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that culminated in 2014 with the withdrawal of American troops.



Ziyah Gafic: And that’s a short video from our partners and supporters. This time we have, I think we have a very timely speaker and a book to talk about. Our guest today is Zalmaï. Hi Zalmaï and thank you very much for your time. Just a few housekeeping rules for people if you have for the audience if you have any questions, feel free to use the q&a box. And we will convey the messages and questions to Zalmaï. The reason other than being an amazing photographer one of the really important reasons why we are having and hosting Zalmaï today is Zalmaï is an Afghan-born photographer who left Afghanistan in his teenage years back in the 80s, after the Soviet invasion, and then he came back in 2001 after Taliban’s were overthrown. And we are going to speak about his book Dread and Dreams. I think it’s super important to have a photographer who’s, for lack of a better word, at least I don’t know it, a native photographer. Someone who’s, who is coming from the country that he’s left long ago because of the war and so on. And who finally came back after 20 years almost, to photograph it. I think Afghanistan is in a particular situation, because pretty much 90% of the pictures we know about Afghanistan, were made by foreigners, including me, I photographed Afghanistan as well. And, and I also come from a country Bosnia, which also was largely photographed by foreigners. So I think there’s something special about something it does something special to us to photographers when they see their country in other people’s pictures. And in Zalmaï’s case, you basically grew up seeing your country through the eyes of other people. Am I correct to say that?


Zalmaï: Unfortunately, yes. Yeah.


Ziyah Gafic: So what did that? So you left Afghanistan in 1980? Right? You were, what 12, 13 years old? How old were you?


Zalmaï: Almost 14.


Ziyah Gafic: 14. And then you were out of the country for 20 years, right?


Zalmaï: Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: Okay. So, but obviously, you became a photographer in the process, right? You were already a photographer, when all that stuff, all the conflict and everything was happening in Afghanistan. So I was just wondering, what did it what did sort of seeing your own country from other people’s perspective did to you as a photographer? Does that make sense?

I mean, I, I want to just say a little bit before about the photography for me.


Zalmaï: I mean, I, I want to just say a little bit before about the photography for me. Before I left Afghanistan, at age of the 14, I fell in love with photography. And I wanted to become a photographer. And that was just before the war. And the war came and I had to leave and exile in Switzerland where I studied photography, I became a photographer. When I left Afghanistan, I wanted to be a photographer. And of course, during my study, I was looking at all the pictures coming out of Afghanistan, and it was always bloody and always war and always. And that was not the Afghanistan I knew. And then of course, I feel when we are from outside, and especially the one where we come from from Europe or US or Japan, and we have already a background to see our object the way we want to see. And we are looking, what we have, what is in our mind. What, but actually, most of the people don’t really open their eyes is what is there, what we can take. Now I was most of the time disappointed to see just war pictures. And at some point, I do understand why because the rest was not interesting to anyone when the Russian left Afghanistan. During the 1980s, Afghanistan was very important for all the wars, you know, Afghans are fighting Red Army and they are here. We were heroes of the planet fighting against Russian. But then with the Russian left, and the international community said, “Okay, this is now your problem, you fix it, we leave.” But the international community, we sent a lot of weapons in this country. It was a vacuum what we had, actually and this year and August this year, and for me was, I wanted to go to one day to go back and Afghanistan and I didn’t know when what would be possible.


Same time I just before I had just the opportunity to go with Northern Ireland’s with Massoud from the north. And again, that was not exactly my point, to see this. And of course, 9/11 happen and suddenly all the planet is looking at Afghanistan. And of course, at that time I was in New York, I was working as a freelance photographer for different magazines and news weeks and media. And it was very strange. I was in Tajikistan on the way to Afghanistan. We had a convey of more than 500 journalists, media around the world. We’re all going to Afghanistan. And I remember perfectly this image of this convey, and I was saying “where have we been in the last 20 years? Why? Why do we have to go now? Why we cannot follow up the story and change something?” But, again, when we arrived there, everybody’s running to find Afghan fighters, Taliban fighters, and Americans. And that was kind of, but for me was more about, say, when I arrived from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, and border control was a smaller office. And I started speaking Farsi the guy was he couldn’t even believe like, “Are you Afghan, you’re coming back?” He was like, “Oh, we are proud of you for what you didn’t forget about Afghanistan.” And this is suddenly I felt, “Wow, this is a place I can tell some story different than other people.” And then of course, they received me well, and I started doing my work.


Ziyah Gafic: Just to answer part of your question, but let me I’m gonna start sharing some of the pictures from the book, so people can enjoy some of the symmetry. And I think the reason why the part of the answer to why people photographers and journalists flock to certain areas and countries and places is because most of us are largely reactionary, so to speak. That’s how journalists and photographers usually think we react to events. And I think it’s, I think it’s actually wrong, to keep only that sort of motivation to keep reacting to events. I think we should be more proactive if that’s the word. And I think that’s part of the part of our craft and our business, you know, people just follow the news and react and flock to certain countries. So I think that’s, you know, that’s part of the reason why journalists behave in such a way. But I’m just curious before we move on, so did you. But when you left, I assume you still had family in Afghanistan. Right? I assume you left with your parents and so on. But you still have family extended family in Afghanistan, are they still there?


Zalmaï: Actually almost all my family left because, at that time, we were kind of at I can say middle class of this time. And that, in the rationale didn’t want especially my father was in the government. And they didn’t like these people, you know? No, I mean, I left. Yes. I can say, I don’t have any more family there, no. And especially when I went back in 2001, my father was in Switzerland, and he told me you want probably we have some very extended family and he was worried about me going there. And he said, “If you want I can find someone to contact and can watch for you.” And I remember perfectly I said to my father and I said “Dad, I want to see my Afghanistan. I don’t want to see the Afghanistan of my family and I don’t want to see Afghanistan of. I want to see my, my, my, as a professional photographer, and I don’t know the condition of anything, just be clean the way I want to see.” And he said, “Okay, that’s your choice. Good luck.”


Ziyah Gafic: So what was the first impression? I’m really curious, how does it feel? I was a refugee as well, but only for like a year and a half. So I just wonder, how is it? I mean, what was the first impression when you came back? You know, after, you know, you left a kid and you came back a grown man? I’m just curious, what was the first impression?


Zalmaï: The first impression of it was in the north of Afghanistan and the countryside. And what I remember, when I was a child, I didn’t know about the countryside of Afghanistan. And I see just the big city, my family, and we were not really traveling, we went to maybe to Iraq or Mazar, but it was something very special. I, before that, I traveled a lot in Africa and South America for my work. And then I arrived in this country is like, “Ah, this is a country I can talk. I can, but I don’t feel is my country.” It was unknown, all this behavior of the countryside for me. But I found myself in a country. I didn’t know much. But I could talk and I could connect very quickly. But it was very strange and very unknown. This first contact when I arrived in Kabul, that was different because I had memories and I had a lot of, but the countryside was very different than  I thought, but I was well received. And suddenly I look the eyes of this man, and he looked at me. And suddenly, I was, of course, scared, “What’s going to happen?” And as a being Afghan not being caught by the Taliban, or, I don’t know, Northern Highlands what are they gonna think about me because I left I didn’t do anything for the country. But suddenly they look at like, “Oh, what, come back. Thank you for coming back.” And it was very powerful and is strange at that time for me. Yes. But it was unknown. It was a strange country for me. Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: So the images we are, I’m just going to browse quickly, and then we maybe can talk about particular images. So this was taken in the period from 2001 until the book was published in 2015 if I’m not mistaken, right?


Zalmaï: No, I mean, this particular work, it’s I started in 2008 to 2013. But before that, I had another book, and I was working very differently about Afghanistan. It was more about the hope of Afghanistan, and suddenly in 2006, 2007 everything changed. And I felt like, “Okay, this is a time.” And I was based between New York, Geneva, and Kabul for almost 10 years. And I was doing a kind of round trip. And I was working a lot with the UN, I was working with the Human Rights Watch, and also with the media. But the problem for me was nobody was really looking, what was, what is Afghanistan, really? And everybody was coming all my colleagues, all my friends also. We are doing, just embedded, okay, with American with British or whatever. But I felt like, you want to tell the story of Afghanistan, and you’re using the military? And I think, and I told them that “the military use you.” You think you are free of doing things, but  they are not going to say, “Don’t do this.” But they were never going to show you something. And that is very controlled. And inside of this controlled environment, you feel free, but you cannot tell the impact of a war on a population to military and that was something. And of course, I was embedded. Because this is part of this story. And I could not tell Afghan history without going with the soldiers. But at the same time, that was not really my point of it. If you look at all the books, I think I’m talking about the war in Afghanistan, but you don’t see any dead bodies in my book. Except one and he was. But my point…


Ziyah Gafic: I’m going to share now the book. Sorry, sorry go on.


Zalmaï: No, no, I mean, telling the story of about the war it’s not always important you must have so much dead body and I risk my life and I was almost blown up. I think everybody knows, right now we know what caused the war on a population. But why we are searching always this James Bond or Indiana Jones-style behavior and in that is something I think put a lot of distance between you and your subject. For me. I can say I want to be embedded with the people, not with the military. And for me, it was very difficult. I went a lot, a lot of parts of Afghanistan and one was possible. And each time I try to go live with more what is those? Those people like this picture? You show me like this one? This one? Yes, this is a picture you can make it 500 years ago is the same?


And next picture is almost kind of the same composition. And why didn’t work this? What we did in Afghanistan because this is the difference totally between this and that when we try to combine this in try to make a peace. Without all this middle what is what’s going to happen? And because of that, it didn’t happen. But that is I think that these two pictures for me give you a good way of seeing what is happening and why it didn’t work in Afghanistan. And yeah.


Ziyah Gafic: Can I just jump in? I think you mentioned embedding, I think the whole system of being embedded with the military made a huge, caused a huge damage to journalism. That’s my humble opinion. I know that in many situations, in many, let’s say periods. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that was the only way that you could work because it was so dangerous. And because unlike before, when journalists were collateral damage in violence in Afghanistan, contemporary war and in Iraq, journalists, you know, became a, I hate to say they became like, they were considered a legitimate target. And they were targeted. So I can understand that because of the dangers, it was the way to do it. But I think it caused a huge damage to the integrity of journalists.


That’s one thing, and I also think I am going to be candid here. But I think a lot of journalists are people who were too afraid to join the army, professionally, but they still wanted to experience you know, part of the adrenaline rush and, and the thrill for action. So I think there is a huge I mean, there’s a dominant macho culture in our business. And I think that’s partially the reason why so many photographers are chasing the violent graphic imagery. And also because I think they, like you say, like James Bond kind of experiences. And I also because ultimately, they think that graphic imagery is stronger, has more impact, and so on. So, which I totally disagree with, by the way, so, and I totally agree, you know, dead bodies don’t really speak. And I also try as much as possible to avoid graphic imagery in my work, but it’s not always possible.


Zalmaï: I mean, I think the imagery we see from the war we, of course, we have to do for myself. I think it’s a different kind of photographer, you know, some photographers they like just to go in the war zone and they cannot do anything else. They are waiting for the next one. But for me, I’m not a war photographer, and war comes into my work. It’s in my country. And I wish I was going back to Afghanistan, not taking picture of this and taking a picture of something else. But unfortunately, the suffering is there, the war is there, and we cannot close your eyes and tell something else. But I think we, probably since 500 years, we are looking all the planet in the same way and the Western way of seeing the North East, the West.


And we, right now I’m, for example, I’m in Cambodia and I am working on a project and I had some course and I’m training some photographer here because I believe when the people are from the country, they can tell a better story than we if we go from the way we see the planet. And how we can change this point of view we have since 500 years, how you can do it today as photography is kind of accessible for many people before the camera was expensive processing and yes, but today even the tuk-tuk the driver here takes pictures. He has a phone in his pocket. Photography is more democratized in that is good for the general. But now I think we have to go a little higher about the quality of what we people see. People can I think most of our information come from, from our eyes, all the people know how to see. But what to do. Today, we have 1 billion or 2 billion pictures produced every day. And we are consuming. It’s good for photography, but our job as a professional, we have to show what is good photography and what is the meaning of this, what is the power of this, how we can do it.


Right now we are I feel we are in a confusion time, I think our value is falling and the value of no photographer going up. And we have to somehow adjust this because then we have fake information, fake news, and all this manipulation we have. We are in a very tricky situation right now. And I hope we are strong enough to close this and keep the integrity of the photography or journalists or the storytelling, you know. We are going all kinds of directions today for me and what I can do with my photography with trying to little bit to support some local photographers. So I do what I can, but I feel it’s very important time.


Ziyah Gafic: I totally agree. And here’s my sort of beef with our business. I also work a lot in educational sort of department. And we do a lot of training. And we are at VII Foundation and VII Academy we are focused on, you know, countries that are outside of G20 group and so on. But you know, even like today, when you look at, for example, the most recent event in events in Afghanistan, okay. With the withdrawal of the coalition forces, the Taliban is overtaking the country overrunning the country to be precise. Even today, you know, the majority of the pictures we see from this last series of events were still taken and again taken by foreigners.


Now I have nothing against foreigners don’t get me wrong. But it’s kind of depressing that we have this super cheap tool, right? The phones, everyone has it even you know, in the poorest countries. Everyone has access to the internet. And yet somehow I have a feeling that not enough opportunities are given to people coming from places well, like Bosnia, like Afghanistan, like Myanmar is probably a specific case that doesn’t really apply. But anyway, I’m really troubled by the fact that still majority of images that we see in the mainstream media, obviously, are done by foreigners. And I think that’s I don’t see that changing very soon. And that’s quite depressing. For me at least.


Zalmaï: Yeah, but also who, who’s consuming this? This is the people I mean, I understand, we are not finished with this, but I feel if we are conscious of this and we can do something one day would be important to not looking. As I said before, we are just looking at the same way and we are consuming exactly the same way. And most of the time what is the problem then is misunderstanding is miss. And then what happened in Afghanistan, we went to Afghanistan for 20 years. 3 trillion, I think, you know, and suddenly a few 1,000 People take over with a motorbike and one Kalashnikov, I mean, try to understand what we are doing. And I think, as a photographer or journalists, we have responsibility. We have the hugest responsibility, we are the eyes of other people. We cannot just be focused on one thing and this made Afghanistan and these Afghan people. It’s one our job and our colleague and our around us. And but the impact of our work is much more than our friends and our network.


And for me, I think this is, we have to be very, because of that I, I make I did this decision to make this book because this is a place a book for me, I’m free. What I want to do, this is my space. I’m not dealing with the editor and US media or European media. And I was in Afghanistan, working about the war on terror about Afghans. And I went to New York, and they were saying, like, “We don’t care about the African people. You don’t have any things embedded and Kandahar and this.” And then I said, “You know, if you want to see what’s happening, this is the story of Afghanistan. This is another story of Afghanistan, but we have to balance it to try to understand.” But I never published it. Because I was not part of this media or way of seeing and why I make a decision. Because of that, I made my decision to make a book, and the book, you’re totally free to express yourself the way you want. And I like the exhibition, also, because I have control.


When I work for a newspaper or a magazine or an NGO, we have always to have to adjust ourselves to what they want from us. And I feel we are just one element of a very big machine. We feel we are, “I’m independent, and I am going to do this.” But after all, I think we are all our work is manipulated again. And for me, a book was a solution for me to try to tell the story. And if you see the book, I don’t have caption I don’t have location. Because…


Ziyah Gafic: Why is that?


Zalmaï: Because I don’t… It’s about Afghanistan and it’s about what is happening there. When you put information, then you give a lot of how I can say? A lot of tools to see your picture. But for me, I believe more in photography. And the way you compose it, why you know, like this book, this book is around 60 pictures, 70 pictures, but for four years of work, you choose one by one and you know why? For me when you touch someone, someone will say I like your picture, but I don’t know why I think this is the best compliment for me. Because for me, I touched somewhere something very deep, a subconscious level. That’s I’m interested I’m not interested at all before that. And people come to to see their book or exhibition and they go back home and one or two pictures stay with them for a few days thinking and maybe this can change something that is my point. It’s not about I’m not recording the story. I’m not recording the history. I mean, I’m not trying to actually I’m just a photographer, I’m not a journalist, and I try to just photography can tell. For me, I’m touched by photography a lot and I think people can understand can feel it. And that is one of the reasons. I’m interested. This is my sixth book I did.


Ziyah Gafic: Well I think certainly photography works better, as a, as you said, as something that’s going to touch on, you know, some subconscious level of subconscious level, rather than, rather than explaining things photography is not very good at explaining things no matter how good we are as a photographer. So I think it’s brave to tell such a complex story, such as Afghanistan. I mean, all stories are complex, but Afghanistan, Afghanistan is a particularly complex country. And I think it’s really brave move to basically create a book without much context, in the sense of the words. And I do agree with you that whenever we work for publication, whatever we do, our work is being put in a context that we couldn’t have imagined as photographers, right? So you know, aren’t your pictures or my pictures might end up between two pages of advertising for, you know, a new antidepressant. Or you know, sunblock. And I think that’s really, I totally agree with you. And I suffer this from the same illness, so to speak, when I see my images in the publications.


So yes, indeed, books are a space of freedom where you can do things the way you wanted, but I am I have to say it’s a bold move to omit text from the book. I think that’s really, that’s really bold. And but I think it works very well, in your case, because what I say? It makes it somewhat less pretentious, I don’t know if that’s the right word. Because, as you know, photographers, when they make books, sometimes they try to do too much, you know, and now I’m going, you know, now I’m going to tell you the story. You know, it’s.


Zalmaï: And then make a book about it.


Ziyah Gafic: Exactly. So I think it’s really it’s really, it’s really brave, as you said, but you did one more book on Afghanistan, right?


Zalmaï: Yeah.


Ziyah Gafic:  But you did it after this. Right? Or before this one?


Zalmaï: Before this one, yeah.


Ziyah Gafic: Okay. So when was the last time you were in Afghanistan?


Zalmaï: The last time I was in 2013.


Ziyah Gafic: Oh, okay. And so can you like for those who don’t know or who didn’t follow, I put how this whole thing that most recent events now this has nothing to do with photography, but just as you know, insight from someone who’s worked in a country for so long. How did country collapse so quickly? That’s like, this is the fastest collapse of country in history I would say almost, right?


Zalmaï: Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: The latest you know, the latest dissolution, so to speak. So I’m curious how did that happen? I mean, like…


Zalmaï: I think this is a big question for everyone including myself. I cannot understand in till now really what happened. I think it was something really, okay. Maybe I can say, you know, why collapse everything? Because of the negotiation in Doha last year when Mr. Trump tried to make a deal as a dealer and I think he sold the country.


Ziyah Gafic: But sell it for what? What did he sell it for?


Zalmaï: He sold for leaving and not having any more dead soldiers in Afghanistan. For him was just one small deal but behind this deal is a country, is 30 million people and energy investing and so many Americans die for what? You know you have to ask this question, why? And then of course when you see what happened the US creates Afghan army with the supply chain as American but the supplier left but how are you gonna? How you’re gonna make, when you’re a soldier on the front and you cannot have food in relation to. And you know, you can resist for one week, but the supply chain is not working. And you’re gonna die and you give up and you go say “No, I’m not fighting.” And it’s happened like this.


Sincerely, I cannot believe how even I had a discussion with one of my friends said “Okay, you know, all the provinces are falling one by other one,” and I was like “Kabul is not going to fall. You know, if Kabul is going to fall is going to be a shame for all the planet, what is happening? How we can accept that?” And in the other side with the Americans or the international community or NATO 52 different countries, they send their own force to Afghanistan, and they try to do a war, inside the small villages in the countryside without seeing what was the real problem of where it comes from.


Of course, some of you, you know, the role of Pakistan and what is and how they train all those people, you know, they are now they are saying Taliban is around 80,000, 60,000, 80,000 is suddenly they appear all over Afghanistan simultaneously. Who organized this? Who can plan this? This is not the soldier he never went to school. Or he went to Madras High School. No, this is a much bigger organization. And it’s, I feel like some kind of deal was done before with Americans, Pakistanis whatever, to give up because we don’t know. I don’t know what or I can say also the President Ashraf Ghani the last speech he gave he said, “I’m going to do something. You will understand in three months, six months.” And then he left and he said, “I don’t want anymore the Afghan people going to have to fight.” And I think that that initial community or Americans wanted this fight to continue because we have a presence in Afghanistan and this and this and that but I’m just thinking loud it’s maybe it’s crazy what I’m saying but you know.


The President left just before that he prepared all the government in Afghanistan they are digitalized now, everything, finance, school, army, everything. And a few months ago he take out of the few billion of Afghanistan money and put it outside of the country. I think he had this plan to, “I’m gonna give the key for the for the Taliban,” but I know because he’s an economist before everything and it’s gonna collapse anyway and what is my point? I think the international community right now playing this game okay, “We are not going to recognize this. We are not going to support them financially. They’re gonna collapse. How are they’re gonna collapse? All Afghan themselves they gonna clean up.” But very high price because the work the army couldn’t do it with all forces for last 20 years with 3 trillion now we are expecting the ordinary Afghan do it.


Ziyah Gafic: So what is sorry, I’m just gonna switch the camera off for a minute. So what is next in the pipeline for Afghanistan? Now, this again has nothing to do with photography but I’m just curious as a concerned citizen of the world what’s next in the pipeline for Afghanistan? If you can if you could, you know an honest assessment what is it I mean we already seeing you know, this new terrorist whatever group coming up in Afghanistan bombing the Taliban and so on so what’s gonna happen? I’m just curious.


Zalmaï: Sincerely it’s very difficult to but this is a little bit last chance if we want to do something we have to do it now. I don’t know what is we have to do but if we don’t do it I think we have to go back what by the military by force again in a few months or a few years because the job is not done that’s all. Should be left better off. For me Afghanistan was like an injured body and we had doctors around and Afghanistan was an emergency room and everybody trying to help to save this Afghanistan and suddenly the doctor the nurse everybody left. And how you can survive? No, I think Afghanistan is gonna be, it’s gonna suffer even more now. Because the International Committee gave so much without any results. And the Taliban takeover. They don’t know how to run a country, economic wise is not going to work.


Some people say yes, “Afghanistan and they can produce opium, drugs.” But if you look at the numbers, you cannot run a country with two and a half billion. This is the many drugs from the UN. They’re saying it’s not a lot. And the other saying, “Oh, maybe the Chinese gonna help them because,” but the Chinese they are not helping like win-win right now they don’t see a solution, a win-win with the Taliban, because they don’t know what’s going to happen. Probably they’re gonna have a few 100 million dollars for this and for that, but they are not going to help for rebuilding the country because it’s not secure. It’s not sure, which means for me, which means this parliament gonna collapse. And I think the Afghan people are gonna get rid of them.


Ziyah Gafic: Now, just to go back, just to go back…


Zalmaï: That’s my way of seeing, but I don’t know.


Ziyah Gafic: I tend to agree with pretty much everything you said. Just to go back to the books, I asked everyone. Here we are in the digital age where everything is on our screens. Why do we make books? Why not just make, why do you make books? Why don’t just make this book digital, you know, to sell it as an e-book? But why make these expensive? Terribly, you know, hard to make objects. You know, this one was printed in China, it doesn’t really matter. But I’m just saying this complicated. Why go? Why bother going through this expensive, long, painful, complicated process, when you can just put it up on the screen? So why do you make books?


Zalmaï: I mean, before the screen, we had books, and as a young photographer, I was impressed by the book because it’s an object you can touch it. You can carry it with you. You can look at any time. The quality of the printing, by the way, this book was printed in Italy that was I don’t know what is wrong with the…


Ziyah Gafic: Chinese print, but Chinese print pretty well anyways.


Zalmaï: Yeah, yeah. Now because digital, they just apply numbers, you know, before it was interpretation. The Italians knew exactly how the ink reacted with this paper. And I did the same thing and I choose the paper. I mean, we still buying a Picasso for $450 million. I mean, why we buy this because we can have it as digital? It’s part of our culture it’s part of our stories. And having a book, it’s, for me, it’s more than just seeing a picture on the screen, it’s almost e-real is not real, it’s digital. You can turn it off or turn it on. A book, you cannot do this, you cannot, yeah, you can close it and open it. But I mean, we are in the generation. I think my nephew, they’re like 18-years-old, 19, they don’t understand the book because they don’t even have time to look at it. But again, we are in a very complicated position about photography and the young generation, they want to see a different way they want to see VR, they want to see some whole other way. But for us, for me, a book has much, much more power than seeing something on the screen.


Ziyah Gafic: I agree. I think the tactile experience cannot be replaced with a touchscreen that’s it.


Zalmaï: Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: And a book also has this monumental aspect that regardless to the size and shape of the book, but it has this almost like monumental aspect and adds value to the content. Just a final word from you. We get this asked a lot you know like how do I make a book? And so on all those various questions from photographers. So do you have a final word of wisdom or advice on making books? It can be anything from raise funding, fundraising to you know printing but anything like any final words of wisdom for bookmaking.


Zalmaï: I think, first of all, you have to ask a question, “why you make a book?” And what, especially for me for the book, it comes by itself. In the beginning, you start working on something, you know, it’s not for a magazine is not for. It’s not a small thing, but I think my advice is for a person is just you have to believe. And you have to be sure it’s worth it to put so much energy on something. It’s, how I can say, is worth it. For each person is very personal. For me, I think you have to believe in what are we doing. This is the most important thing. Fundraising, publishing those things is come by itself. If something strong comes from you, people can see it. But it must come from deep inside of you what you’re trying to do.


A book is not just a publication, or a flyer or something is much more than that. I think, yes. You have to believe what are we doing and is worth it. And then the power is gonna come by itself. For me, nobody gives me financial support or anything about this book. I took everything on my shoulder. I was shooting this in Kabul and everywhere. Without knowing exactly, but I knew I’m trying to say something. First,  you have to feel it. And then okay, you can transfer it on a book.


Ziyah Gafic: And before we let you go, so you are now in Asia, right?


Zalmaï: Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: In Cambodia, right?


Zalmaï: Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: So you said earlier, you’re stuck there? Is that because of covid? Or because of your project?


Zalmaï: Actually both.


Ziyah Gafic: Okay. Can you share with us what are you working on?


Zalmaï: Yes, I am working since almost two years on a photography project about Tonlé Sap Lake. It’s one of the biggest lakes in Southeast Asia. And it’s dying because of global warming. And because of construction of the dam on the Mekong and is a huge problem here. It concerns about one and a half million people. And I focus on one part of this lake and it’s a very special project. I took pictures for one year. And then I went back and I make a show for the people there. I didn’t invite anyone else because it was part of my mind. I take all the time, I want to give back some of it. I want to give back. And it was quite a good experience and then become a little bit more movie project. And right now I’m working on a movie project. It’s very strange. It’s about the lake about a clinic flooding clinic, they’re helping me to go there to do this. And about photography probably is going to be an almost one-hour movie about photography. It’s going to be public in a few months. So right now I’m editing the film. Yes.


Ziyah Gafic: Thank you very much Zalmaï my for your time. And thanks to everyone for staying with us. I’m just gonna remind everyone of what we have lined up on our sorry, let me just share it on our VII Insider. I’m sure you have. There’s something for everyone. We’re gonna have another book club next week. Then there is another presentation on representing refugees and telling the story of migrants and then obviously the session with Italy for questions on photography. So make sure to sign up. And once again, thanks to our partners PhotoWings. Zalmaï, thank you very much for this. Stay safe everyone. You will also be able to see this recorded and everyone stay safe and thanks for joining us. Thank you take care, bye.


Zalmaï: Thank you, bye.

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