“Four Questions on Photography: Ilvy Njiokiktjien in Conversation With…” is a series of events where well-known photographers discuss with Ilvy their response to the four questions below.
– What is your most important photograph, how did you make it, and what impact do you think it had?
– What is your biggest photo failure; an image you wanted or needed but you messed up somehow?
– What is your dream image or story?
– What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thank you Photo Wings. It’s really amazing that we get to do these lovely chats together with photographers from all around. So, the concept for people who have just joined or maybe it’s your first time joining something like this, the concept here is that I get to ask Ali four questions. But you guys get to ask him many more questions. So feel free to do that. But please, if you have questions for him, put them in the q&a box, because usually they get lost in the chat. If you have other things you want to say to Ali, which are not questions, but just praise or whatever, please put that in the in the chat box. So Ali, let’s start. And I would love it if you would do a short introduction of yourself. Who are you? What moves you?
Ali Arkady: Thanks. Thank you very much. My name is Ali. And I’m a photographer from Iraq. And we can say, in a small town near the middle of the Iranian border, and in this area, we speak three, four languages. I graduate fine art school, then I start to change my work to be photojournalism. Then, step by step, I did some project and then I participate with the mentor program in VII in 2014. And then, in the end, I start to be a member of this agency. And that’s it. I’m here now in Europe, I cannot back in Iraq, because from my last project, and now we try to do new work and continue this. And also we try to teach online and the future may be… We have VII Academy, and this is me, thank you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks, Ali. Perfect. Thanks for this introduction. So let’s start with the first question. What is— it’s always difficult. I find it difficult to phrase it because the question is actually, what is your most important photograph, but it can also be your best photograph or the photograph that moved your career forward? So yeah, if you would like to share this.
Ali Arkady: When you contact me, like two months ago, I think, maybe more, or maybe less. And it was really difficult to, to find the pictures. But then at the end, I find it which is, you can see the picture, I think.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, yes, definitely.
Ali Arkady: In the end, I try to find that pictures you ask for because I can see the first pictures I did, which is I’m really inspired. I was inspired for the pictures when I came back, it was part of the workshop. And also the trainer. They were very, very excited about these pictures and very nice they said. And then the teacher she’s come back and she hugging me and she gives me thanks for this pictures you did. And it kind of, I didn’t realize how is this picture, what it means, and then because we had like 10 days workshops about how we work in the long term project, especially the photo story in Iraq and the first generation we try to do work about photo story in Iraq, local, we do about any subject we choose from our country. And then these pictures, it was meaning a lot from me because it let me, it gave me motivation and led me to use it as a base, you know, use it as a source for me. Because the way it was my eyes, my feeling, artistic, I wait in the morning early to catch this light with that feeling. I didn’t know, this is related from my childhood, some lighting and event. And then I started to discover, how is this I have this relationship with these pictures and what’s mean these pictures for me? And then even like kind of first day or first pictures I did was succeed for me. And I put it… yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Why did you feel it succeeded? Because I think I have an idea. But let’s first let’s first before we answer that, can you describe what we’re looking at? What’s happening here?
Ali Arkady: Yeah, you know, when we start to do photo stories, like anyone, they need to choose subjects, I choose a lot of subject, was very funny, everyone, they love me in the home. I have videos on that. I was like very, very shy. And then I chose these subjects of a worker in Iraq, worker, daily life of worker in Kurdistan. Which was the interesting thing, first time I meet people in the street for me to not to be shy, to go. And to let people to understand you with your camera, let you take the pictures, was not easy for them. No one did that for them. And for me it was important to have this relationship first with these people and took very nice pictures with them, which is they not really realize that, because they think I will go to do like, posed pictures.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Not like documentary.
Ali Arkady: And then I come back. I give them the pictures they inspired. This is me, how you shoot these pictures. How I sleeping? How you thinking? They didn’t understand. And maybe they didn’t like. But it inspired.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes.
Ali Arkady: I knows. It’s something different in that moment in that time for Kurdistan, for Iraq, and I follow the cultures so we can— One minority, Yazidi minority within that time, 2011. They come from south and Kurdish people, they have phones, they had money and they free group, they work together to build house, to destroy, you know, to make concrete or something like that.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And they, and what do you feel is strong about this image for you? Because I have a very specific idea why this image is strong for me, but I’m very curious to know how you kind of felt about it when you were shooting it.
Ali Arkady: You know, I say what I feel. But I cannot say more than that. And you can say, anyone they can feel what’s mean these pictures and why I choose that and it will be nice to hear from you also. And then maybe I can find a word, good word to describe.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, I think for me why this image is so strong is because it’s, at the first glance, quite unclear what is happening. You have the feeling, oh, this person is working and it’s on a break. Or maybe there was a robbery and he got killed or maybe— and the light makes it very gloomy, but also very romantic almost. So it’s an image that raises a lot of questions. And that’s why I like this image a lot. I feel it makes it strong, because you can make up 10 different stories by looking at this image. That’s why I feel it’s very strong because it kind of does something to your imagination. If there’s no caption in it, if it would be captioned, you would know but then still, it’s a super strong image. So I think it has a lot of sides.
Ali Arkady: You’re right. It was a very, very simple moment and feeling. And you know what’s happened because when— it was free, I was inside. And I did a lot of nice image for them face inside when we went to the road with the light of this street. Really, really strong. But I didn’t feel it that much like we do. Why? Because it was one moment. And we speak. And we go out, and I just go out, I wake, I looked for him. And he said, I need to rest a little bit. We will have hard work. And why he did that? Because this is the moment exactly. Like, you know, the child, he likes to play with something, go down, you know, to hang and jump. And this is like kind of child. He was laid down in it, was straight in the same position of the car. And automatically it is coming down. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s amazing.
Ali Arkady: Moving inside. And I’d say no, it’s down. And I shoot pictures. Yes. And that moment, it was like maybe one or two pictures I did. And you can say in Arabic is the the name, is the number of the car. In Arabic it is called Iraq Sulaimani. Iraq Slimani. And this is the even mentioned, from where this guy. It’s not a big deal.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And where where did this project go? Because it was shot for the what do you call it? You just mentioned it.
Ali Arkady: Workshop, it was the workshop.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Sorry, I couldn’t think of the word workshop. Exactly, masterclass. But did you then also publish? Did it get published somewhere or?
Ali Arkady: Yeah, the second motivation for me, because I was an artist, I had room, all the painting around and everything. And when I did this project, a break, I come back to home after one month and see, I give all my stuff to friends. I bring one computer, one table and say, I can’t do art now because that project, it’s made me crazy. I love to do pictures and do kind of this feeling to transmit it. And it’s very fast for me, and I can’t do an artistic way, why not I can do anything I like to do with a photograph. And it’s another language, which is I don’t like to stay behind the painting for hours and hours. But no, I’d like to go because I start even in that time to know a lot of things about Iraq through photography, which is so important, what we can do and how much opportunity we have to transfer the stories. I didn’t work with news. With TV. No, I started to do project directly. Then it was… After that, with Anastasia, she was my teacher as digital. She’s amazing. She is really amazing. And we are in the same age. And you know, and at that time I’m saying oh, she is doing well. And I love also to work and doing like Anastasia because she did amazing work that you see, she’s project because she started when she was 16 years old.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. I know.
Ali Arkady: In the mountain. And that what is inspiring me, how the age, say okay, now I’m 29 or 28 or 30. And how Okay, let’s do and she was like, supporting. What happened when I finish the story. They selected as best story. The first day, 10 days before, they found they love on me. After that, after this was first, and this story—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Well done.
Ali Arkady: From 23 photographers.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And were you— one quick question about that. Were you also surprised that you were in the selection of the best? Were you?
Ali Arkady: Yeah, yeah, I was like, Well, what’s happening? And I had, I was taking that time typhoid. Why I had typhoid? Because I, you know, there’s the climate change, not the climate change. There’s something we drink as a milk. At that time why I chose this story because I couldn’t go in front of the sun. You know the sun?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, of course, because you couldn’t so you had to work late.
Ali Arkady: I couldn’t. What I did I start work from 2am and fall to sleep two hours every night or three hours. That was the things because next day we shoot pictures at nine, we meet the teacher, they give us advice. We do selection. At four, we come back, we start work. Or, you like to go to sleep. But I continue like several. What’s happening? I didn’t I, I take that opportunity to do this project. I shoot like 3000 or 4000 pictures. And Anastasia, she told me early Thursday, I did pictures with the jpg and JPEG. She told me early, why JPEG? See, I don’t know I have memory for gigabyte with the camera five divided by two. So why you are here? Why you’re here, go to buy— less money—and I go to buy eight gigabyte and shoot raw. I started from that time to shoot RAW.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s nice that she was strict about it that she said, Okay.
Ali Arkady: It’s really, if you don’t bring raw for me, it’s better you don’t bring any pictures. Because when she see the pictures, she said, it’s impossible. You don’t need to do the jpeg, you need to do them raw. This is a professional one. But anyway, then the workshop is finished. I was working in local agencies called Metrography. Who was the editor there, Sebastian Meyer, the editor of this agency, and co-founder for the agency with Kamaran Najm. And they told me to continue with this project. I continue this project another three months, I keep in touch with them. And then after four months Sebastian, he took this hard drive to UK, he meet Anastasia in that time. There are 4,000-5,000 pictures. And they select twelve picture and it was very hard for them. And then they send to CNN and that time was first the Iraqi photographer local to do long term project with kind of this photo stories. And that was the second motivation.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And it was published then. And they were…
Ali Arkady: Whoa, yeah. That was really, really interesting. And like, that thing led me to start thinking about doing projects.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So, was this project—really, if I understand, right, I’m asking too many questions. I know it’s not four, but we’re having this every time around. So did it really move you from the art world to the photography world? Because I know you’re now in art school, right? So you—art, photography, art, or am I wrong?
Ali Arkady: Yeah, yeah. First project was, before that I did kind of project about my town at night. It was at night. It’s kind of certain project. Certain photos. I go with the real light in the street. I did photos, this kind of you can say artistic project and documentary. And I did exhibition. And when I started to go this workshop, it was different. Because then you are dealing with the work as artists, and you are kind of chill. You don’t need to face people, speak, to have information, captions, you don’t. The state with the journalism, for me, it was important because it broke my shyness. You know, it’s broke everything and I start to go to speak with people and also not just that, it let me be aware about Iraq, aware about the situation politically, are going to make journalism, everything, and I think journalism, it opens your mind. And that moment changed my life. That moment led me to totally come back and change from journalism, but during this years when I doing journalism, I was artistic effect on my pictures. I don’t know most of the people, they told me, Ah, your pictures. It’s really journalism and it’s really artistic and really true and very nice. In Mosul— I don’t know if you remember this project about Kissing Death. It’s very, very graphic and strong pictures about the crime committed by Iraqi armies. And still show people and these people they go, Oh this is really beautiful picture and then really it’s about the composition, the light, you know, this is this artistic eyes. Always, when I was in fine art school I was for tests, for training, transfered Rembrandt painting, like example, and in Iraq we don’t have the electricity we have this, what’s called, this light we— it’s work with oil.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes. Like oil, like a palet with oil paint on it, you mean.
Ali Arkady: Yeah. No, is called panels. And then we choose at night we use them. We do that and that light affected me and that light was part of my work. I’d love to catch the subject during good light, nice light, yellow light, like dark, you know? And to make something beautiful, more artistic. And then could show journalism also in a way. For me in general, I don’t know what is the difference between both, but maybe it’s a way. It can be start to be kind of style.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Your art background and now as well with the art school, I think it’s a great mix with photojournalism because it has a more softer approach sometimes. And I think you kind of see that in your images. Not necessarily sure if it’s only the light but maybe also the approach. There’s actually a question not about light but quite similar on the q&a, I don’t know if you see it. It’s a question from Gwen Bala. It is, let me see where it is. Why was this image edited with vignetting that creates part of the romantic feeling rather than a possible cold feeling?
Ali Arkady: Obviously this is a real vignetting for the objective.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Ah. It was on the lens.
Ali Arkady: Yeah, yeah, yeah, because I didn’t have good objective. I asked Sebastian Meyer, do you have 50mm. He said which camera you have? I said a Canon. He said, Yeah, I have objective which is more expensive than your camera. So it was it was 51.2.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Wow. So he lent you the lens.
Ali Arkady: And I was really scared about the objective more than my camera. I did that and I think this is objective. I did it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You didn’t edit it.
Ali Arkady: No no no no no. There may be just a little bit exposure, like a little bit, but I have this.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But not the vignettes like this.
Ali Arkady: No, no. This is real. I don’t do vignetting for pictures.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Actually, no, you do quite little, right?
Ali Arkady: Right, even not crop.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You don’t crop at all?
Ali Arkady: I don’t crop myself. Sometime for magazine, some place they crop, but for myself I don’t because was part of our master class to not do that. And sometimes, even there’s mistakes related—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: …you just let it in. I also hardly crop, but I always had the feeling I don’t do it because I’m a bad cropper like it never looks nicer than the way I had it when I framed it. Sometimes I think oh maybe it’s nicer if I take a little bit off and I do it and it doesn’t look nicer, so I also stopped cropping. Yeah exactly.
Ali Arkady: Make person and why— it’s part of reality.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: The way you shoot it, and it’s also I think the way you shoot it. By the time you see the frame on the back of your camera you’re already used to the way it looks. So that’s the one you have in your mind. So when you crop something I feel like, eh, that’s not the original. So we should move to the second question, Ali, otherwise we’re gonna get in trouble with time. I don’t know if anyone will get angry at us but still. Yeah, I don’t like the word but what is your biggest photo failure? I don’t like the word failure. But let’s say a picture that you feel did not turn out the way you thought or maybe the work was not what you— I don’t know. Could be…
Ali Arkady: Yeah, I didn’t know this concept. Sorry for that. It’s, something about, how can I say? We don’t say failure. You say okay, it’s not finished. It needs more work. It is at the beginning.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Or good taste. It’s not what you said. So when other people think it’s a failure, it’s just they have to have better taste.
Ali Arkady: We are not saying from another word, it’s bad and failure, because it’s not exist, that will be document anyway. It’s part of this reality and capturing it. But then independent of the subject or the situation. It’s independent with you how we need to present things we like do. But then there’s something else with another picture I want to next, now. It’s about— it was part of the project. But all the projects— I did similar frames, similar portrait, which is then I hated. And I say no, it’s not real, like first project, because that was second point. Because that project, this failure, we didn’t accept about three months I go very dangerous place to just do portrait about families and how they face hard situation in Iraq, then, because that also I find another subject, which is a follow up. And then there’s always when you fail, when you— the project is not doing well, very well, absolutely in the end, they give you something other than motivation to do something else inside, like, families I follow. I find one stories I follow that stories four years.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Wow,
Ali Arkady: Yeah. And I will show you this picture.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I really liked the picture.
Ali Arkady: I know I know. But that place was real place. The girl she was playing here. But then I told her, I need to do portraits for you, you can go there. And she was looking for me and I respond to shoot pictures. But then I didn’t feel it’s more real. And how— what means that to show Iraqi families face harsh situation of the desert you know. It was one pictures which is mentioned as a— it’s a good picture, it’s nice, I can print, I can send to them because— this I say a lot of these projects, there’s a lot of good pictures could be used in a way, but then other stories, as it’s— Some pictures I did here was not good for feeling. Like example if we come back to this, it’s really different feeling. And this is for me more kind of not too much documentary. And I’d love to do documentary and also I’d like to have relationship with the picture and also to have real real vivid insight, and real movement, and real emotion.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But do you do— so if I understand correctly you mostly feel that this image which was part of a series doesn’t really work because the idea wasn’t as strong as you’d like it to be and then the pictures of course followed. And was there any moment where you thought I would like to shift the idea a little bit and work on it in a different route to change it so that it would work or did you leave it?
Ali Arkady: Obviously I, because I was in that time test and I need to do something good. Also others maybe I see some projects I like, okay, this project could be doing portrait. Okay, I will do portrait, which is normal. But then I don’t, I didn’t feel it like first project. I didn’t feel as real. Because each family when I go maybe I stay one hour with them or two hours, in one day. With the previous story I stay with them four months, sometimes. Same person I go three, four times, I went in his house, photographed his children. This is real following, is evident. This is real project. I feel it. It’s really, I can tell it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah.
Ali Arkady: And tell stories about that moment. This could be good for magazine, reportage, photo essay, which is— I was far still, I’m not very close of that concept. But if I had assignment, etc. And I must do because from work, like, you need to also live for photography.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: No, of course.
Ali Arkady: Original project always I do in this way. Then what’s happening? I come back to the agency. I show pictures with this guy doesn’t really know why. Why we need to do this? This is not the story.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh yeah. They also said like, it’s not, it doesn’t work for us.
Ali Arkady: Yeah, sure. Sure. The peer team, we discuss with the editors. And because also they feel something very strong with the first project they want—I’ll have another good project. Then they, Ah, okay, who is this guy? I’m sorry. I don’t know. I just went. I shoot two, three pictures. He says stay. And I stay two days. And three days he not let me go out. And I did a lot of pictures, it was soldiers. He was losing his leg. After two months, I see him and I feel the pictures, I’m really close on that story. Directly. I close everything. Next week. I went to Baghdad, I stay one week. And still like that into diamonds. When the story was a positive way. And my pictures, my pictures in the middle of the time because some situation is happening for this. We published, we sent for organizations and they given help to make the lake.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s beautiful. That’s how you really make a difference in a way like this.
Ali Arkady: Yeah. And then there was really make difference and started to be very, very positive story in Iraq on that day. And we publish again for CNN Global. But now, we sell.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes. Ah. Even more important.
Ali Arkady: I spent like $2,000, like example. We sell by $600, and $300 for the agency. Thrilling for me.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah.
Ali Arkady: But these things wasn’t important for me. It was how— who I am and where I am now. And what I did. I started with kind of a voice transferring something, a lot of stories, which was not immediately interested in it, and they don’t like to publish it and because it’s not part of their business. So okay, let’s— I do it. Even if I don’t need to sell it. I have like, maybe stories I didn’t publish it and sell it. But start to be part of the history, documentary, you can do [inaudible.] And each thing, the time will come. We don’t need to think about that. We will not speak about the part maybe [inaudible.]
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And when you published the story that you just described, did you personally also get a lot of comments about it. Like were people reaching out to you because it’s interesting to see these different kinds of stories making it through which, like you say, is not very common. I’m wondering if people also reached out to you and that kind of gave you the power to continue as a photojournalist because it’s not always easy and like you say sometimes you don’t even make the money all the way back. You put in your own money like this.
Ali Arkady: Obviously it was good in journalism level in Iraq.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah.
Ali Arkady: That was the first level, there’s motivation for me. First I sent it to a competition [inaudible] I forget exactly the name. It’s kind of academy, journalism academy between Kurdistan and Berlin, Germany. They have this office and they do a competition every year for photo stories, websites, reportage, economic, something like that. And I win. This story wins. That was the first time I went to Europe, in 2012. And they invited me because that story wins. Second, when I came back, two times in Iraq, once in Kurdistan and once in Baghdad, they invite me and I speak about the stories. How’s that to be positive?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s so…
Ali Arkady: Why? Because this is a story that change the guy, his name Hussein, Hussein’s life, because with the photos he could do the new lake very fast.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Exactly.
Ali Arkady: He gets engagement and marriage and now he has two or three children I think. Firstly, it’s because he was soldier when— he Iraqi soldier at the time wounded, with the wound in the frontline or explosion and [inaudible] in that day, 2011. The governor, he cut the salary for half or less than half because he will not— he will be retired. You know. And when they published the story, the story is published in the social media, that was the beginning of the Facebook and is making an explosion and all people, they speak very bad about the governor.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, so they also couldn’t cut his salary anymore. So he kept his original…
Ali Arkady: We changed that.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Amazing.
Ali Arkady: The Vice Minister of Military or something like that, they contact me. They said, okay you are Ali, you are doing this story? I say yes. And do you know the number of Hussein? I said yes, I can send you but I say don’t [inaudible.] No, no, we will not do, but we need to make sure if this story is real. I think change lives of 1000s of 1000s of soldiers and the soldiers changed their salary not to be retired. They let them kind of soldiers but they not go to the…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And they got tenured payment from …
Ali Arkady: Exactly. Like normal soldier like normal soldiers go if they’re not wounded, you know same person, which is he is completely okay. He go to the, to his work. But this all soldiers when they get wounded from war, violence, I don’t know. Explosions in that time. They will have the full money there.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You changed—just with the story how much you can you can change.
Ali Arkady: … succeed. And I believe story…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: …can change things. Yeah. It’s interesting. Once you realize that, right? You realize, oh, wait, I have a voice, that people hear it. And by the way, everyone who’s listening, please feel free to put any questions for Ali in the q&a because we’ve only had one. Let me see, one question. So feel free to put any questions in there. Ali is it okay with you if we move to the third question?
Ali Arkady: Sure.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Hey, the light just went off. Must have been in the whole building then. Because I didn’t do a thing.
Ali Arkady: Like Iraq. We call it traffic light.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So what is your dream image or story that you would like to work on and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a real story. Like it could be a dream story that’s maybe even impossible to make.
Ali Arkady: Yeah, I think I have one story which is impossible to make. Go back to Iraq to finish some projects. I did now this project I’m working. It was really interesting for Iraq. One of them was environment. There’s a lot, but then there’s some project was kind of planning to do it in a way you could be have the same effect, which is the Hussein story had at that time and it was just as a journalist, just transfer the situation and lets people know what they can do. But now it’s impossible because you say imagination, and there’ll be some kind of imagination for me, because it’s not normal the situation now.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: How long have you not been in Iraq?
Ali Arkady: It’s almost five years. Almost five years.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. The last story you did there was five years ago as well, right?
Ali Arkady: Yeah, the last story was the documentary project and stories about the soldiers.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. It’s really sad that this is keeping you away from dream stories and your home country. And yeah. I’ve asked this question to all the previous guests as well, and a lot of them are like, Oh, I would love to work on a story like that, but it’s too expensive. Or I would love to go and shoot a story there. But I can’t do it at the moment for several reasons. But we haven’t had anyone answer yet. I would love to do a story in the place where I grew up, but I can’t go there. I can’t go back out of safety. It’s very unfair.
Ali Arkady: This is— we need to think about. And this is what I go through when I feel it because me with my friend, she’s Gentia. She’s from Holland. And now she is working in Free Press Unlimited. She has position there. Yes. And she worked with us in Iraq.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: She works where, sorry?
Ali Arkady: In Iraq with our agency, Metrography. She was the fiancee of Kamaran Najm, which is he was killed by ISIS in the front line [inaudible.] And then she’s continued that work and issues. And you know what she said when I went in, I think 2019 for this free press unlimited prize for my project, is Ali, why you say international photography and photographer and local photographer. Feeling good. Just say national. Not say local.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, national. I agree.
Ali Arkady: What do you think of this? i said, Yes, that’s really good word. Yes. To present and also respect? Because no, I think, especially with the [inaudible] in Africa, there’s a lot of photographers start to go out, they do amazing work, especially with the mentor program and VII agency.That is a really unique program for local photographers because it builds you as a real photographer and then you don’t think about to be national, to be international. That structure is important to know. You need to work because of your house.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes, that’s so true. That’s what I really like about the master classes, actually. In the workshop when they’re local, because when you’re teaching workshops, and you know this, as well, and you’re in someone else’s country, you’re learning so much from local stories, because all the photographers that are coming into the program, they’re showing you these, these stories, and I have it now as well with my mentee in the mentor program. She’s from Libya and to just see the stories through her eyes. It’s amazing because you learn a lot and I’m pretty sure she might also refer to herself as a local photographer. But yeah, I would say a national one going international because she’s bringing the stories to a wider audience. There’s a question for you in the q&a. And it says thank you for sharing your amazing work. Could you share how you balanced the work you have to do for keeping the bills while working on projects you want to do even when there is no interest from it from anyone? That’s a really good question. I think a lot of photographers and photojournalists are dealing with this, like you want to do assignments and you need to make money and you want to work on projects. So how do you balance this?
Ali Arkady: Okay, I did a lot of work behind. We can see? I did, you can see me? I just lost the video.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You lost the video. There we are.
Ali Arkady: Now you can see me.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I can see you. Oh, no, not anymore. Yeah, now, you’re back? Traffic light.
Ali Arkady: You’ll lose when you—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But you can also maybe stop screen sharing so we can see you bigger. If you don’t want to share anymore, then we see—
Ali Arkady: Still…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There we go. There we are. Hi.
Ali Arkady: Yep. I think even was for me, the first one was really great to give us a good basic about this. And an Iraq was easier because we are living in the same place. We say we speak same language. We can access someplace and we stay long time. Find friend, you know. But if we compare that with a foreigner photographer, they can try to do what about the stories and like example in Iraq or anywhere, it’s cost for them. Like, they need transit, the fixers, they need accomodations. As you can imagine, you know, maximum, you need 200 euros, is the maximum. Yeah. And for me, I can spend 10 euros, maybe sometime nothing, because, and even you will have good hospitality.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: People will invite you to have dinner with them, and you wouldn’t spend anything.
Ali Arkady: They let you come to home. For me, it’s what I did, like example, I did kind of studios for photography, like from within, like from one two years. It was good income, I give my families a little bit and I put in my project, I put this for years, five, six years, I spend too much without waiting from any [inaudible.] Then I started be teacher, fine art school in primary school. And two years. I was not good or it was good. I didn’t know. But then in 2014 I quit everything. And I go to the real risk, to the journalism. And then when I do that risk, I have like two, three months very hard. And then I start to get assignments and awards because the situation in Iraq was very hard. And even if, a lot of agency and in newspaper ,what they know, there is local journalist for journalists, they are doing good photography, and they know what to do. And I start to be photographer from a lot of magazine and the Washington Post they had a lot of assignment and that’s money would come. It was good for me also to expand to do my project. And also to live for two or three years.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, because I think the change from going maybe from local clients and from working weddings and then making the jump to international media. It’s all different.
Ali Arkady: Idea to do wedding in stages, but it was important. You can’t move and you need to do something. I didn’t like to work from some of the things. I’d like to work with my cameras, just this is the camera I can use it in this way. And even I will just work with the camera to not lose the conscience, to not lose the way.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think you made a smart choice there. Because I’ve seen many photographers, especially when starting out, and I almost did the same who then diverted to other side jobs and you put your camera on the side and you go work in a restaurant or whatever, and you kind of lose your way. I think it’s always better if when you can to stay with the camera, even though you’re shooting things that are like, not important to you. Maybe.
Ali Arkady: Exactly. You can imagine this workshop, Metrography Agency, the local, I think [inaudible], he chose to do full time job. And then I started to go with this method again. And I started to work with a camera with photography full time job. Especially, 2013-14 because no one they have this, because in Iraq, if you are a teacher, you have your salary, all the month you can do another work behind. Like my father, he told me, okay, do you understood you will do your teaching, you will have very great money. All this bullshit, you know, what? Does that speak with me.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, yeah. Yeah, of course, I can imagine. You were moving in towards this photojournalism world. And in the country you were in, you know, exactly, and it wasn’t safe. I can imagine he were saying that like, hey, Ali, what are you doing? Just do a normal job. Like, other—
Ali Arkady: We get a lot of problems, even my wife, all the families.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think people are proud of you.
Ali Arkady: Oh, yes. Sometimes, there’s neighbor, friend or relative come behind me. Okay. Where’s your house? Did you buy a house? Did you buy a car? What you do? And I’ll say yes, yes, I did. I have house. I took the computer, Oh look, I took pictures for this house.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You were just lying to them to show like, Oh, I’m doing well. I’m not putting all my money into photojournalism. Don’t worry.
Ali Arkady: Yeah. Like that was really hard to explain to them. This is something about history. And it’s more important from money and life and everything and I feel each pictures was like one house, was one of the last things was happening. Because my gear was like, cameras, small things, I didn’t have cameras. And I need also the video stuff. And I had one car. I just had that one car. And I went to Kurdistan [inaudible] and I came back and my mom said, Where’s your car? I don’t see it. I had this bike. This is my car. I open it and there’s two cameras, with two lenses. I think you’re crazy. And why you did this. My mom she support, you know? Yeah, my mom really, she support.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: This is the car, the house is on the laptop…
Ali Arkady: Everytime when I did these kind of mistakes they feel, she was not. With my father, she was angry. He was angry.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But they both found their ways, I think. We have a last question. Time is running very quickly this time. Look at the time. We have one minute, but let’s go a little bit overboard. I think no one will cut us off, I hope. But the last question to you is and maybe if there’s a last question from someone, put it in the q&a if someone really has last last question. But my last question to you is what advice would you give your younger self?
Ali Arkady: I think you did this question and you open up something which is lovely to speak about, which is really important. Now I am here, I’m studying fine art school, cinema photography again. I mix journalism photography now with a new technique I call monolithography. And I seem young because I’m old in that school. It’s most of them young.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So you’re in a class, but like, how old are the other students?
Ali Arkady: You can find 18, 17, 16.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And how, how old are you, Ali?
Ali Arkady: It’s 59.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Okay, yeah. So you’re definitely the oldest student in the class.
Ali Arkady: We have like, two of three people of the same age. And then they get excited to go to frontline, to war, to do this. And this mentality is happening because news and photography. If you need to be famous photographer, dangerous photographer, war photographer, you need to directly go to Mosul, to Syria, to Libya, I don’t know. But I don’t think this is really wise. Because this is out of reality. And you will destroy yourself directly. And you make yourself traumatized. And after that, maybe you will escape for this for journalism and you will not continue. I think it’s important things each country now and every time, each place. I’m here. There’s a lot of story talk about, a lot. There’s a lot of the same, but a different way. But that’s not meaning you need to go to transfer some dramatic pictures in Iraq. This has make you famous, make you a good photographer. No, I agree if you go to Iraq, you need to really spend time, really know the language, see it, one month, two months, three months, understand and then start to work. And that will be really important to know the culture, not just read in Wikipedia, I don’t know, some reporters. No, you need to go with yourself. And this is real journalism and documentary long term project. But the other things, stories for this essay and reportage, that’s another thing we cannot compare with. Only speaking about long term project. I’m speaking about that feeling we need to have, if you like to do something good. Is not important what you like, what you write, and when you put in the main, the main mind to go there to do it. You will be changed maybe sometimes. You need to go to see what will be happening. What you need to do. Understand and you will figure it out. You’ll find it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: If you spend enough time yeah.
Ali Arkady: This is one of the secrets.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Like you said, yeah, exactly. You have to be there for a long time.
Ali Arkady: Say one quick. Always and say the the good scenario for the documentary project is the patience.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes.
Ali Arkady: Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So you’re very right.
Ali Arkady: …scenario, but it will be not real good. Work and good results. I think you need to worry to feel and follow your feelings. Follow what you— make yourself free, study, see a lot. Discuss with people, copy work, but don’t, just for test, see how it look like.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Copy work, don’t publish.
Ali Arkady: Don’t copy work and publish. And this— you know, this really dangerous for the beginning. This is normal for beginning. Anyone, they will do that. And even journalism, they will have some mistakes right off.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Of course.
Ali Arkady: I think this is important. You don’t do it and just wait to have patience where you will be coming out.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So it feels like because— so the question is what would be the advice to your younger self but it really feels like this advice wasn’t advice to your younger self but also to students that might be listening in. And I mean, this seems to be a really good advice to any younger or any starting photographer. That is this again because—
Ali Arkady: They can begin in your country from your house, with your neighbor. There’s a lot of environment issues, climate change, pollution, problem with the seeds. You know, I did project about seeds seven months here. I do project about following some project they do kind of theater. I did— I want to understand, I study here. Why? Because I need to understand this culture. How it works. And now I decided tomorrow to go to do some new work after five years. And to do, really go to the real place and real event will be. First, I couldn’t because you need to know the language at least 10%.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: How’s the language now? Are you now?
Ali Arkady: It’s not good. It’s not good.
Ali Arkady: But your English has really improved over the last year. It’s amazing.
Ali Arkady: Yeah, because I think it was something about need. I need the language to speak here. It’s really important. And sometimes you not finish your work because we’re not speaking. Take example, this language. But I feel the English is more important for me because there’s another level of responsibility of me, front of my country with the stories going through media now. And also, if I need to teach, you know, like teaching something, exchange and try to transfer something you had some experience in your life, you have to be able to be pupil, photographer, student, I don’t know. And this is, for me, was important to push that. And maybe one years, I will speak English and I can start to learn another language.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think you’re a quick learner. Timewise, we have to end this webinar Ali. I really hate it because I love chatting to you. Well, people don’t know this. But we were in Arles last year at the same time at the photo festival. And Ali and I were just chatting away and chatting away. So I knew this webinar would go over the hour that we usually have, because we always have a lot to discuss. And I love that you shared so much of your stories. Thank you for that. There was also—
Ali Arkady: Thank you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah–
Ali Arkady: …in person…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: In the chat, there’s love coming in as well.
Ali Arkady: Thank you very much.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Saying that they really liked it. And someone on the staff said I was on the way, that’s why I couldn’t ask any questions, but they’ll listen back. And, well, thanks so much, Ali.
Ali Arkady: Thank you very much.
For everyone that’s listening, please check out the website to see our upcoming events as well. So check VII Insider and oh, there’s more love coming in. Are you reading this, Ali? Are you seeing that?
Ali Arkady: Yeah, I see it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Make sure you’re reading it before we’re closing the whole thing. Okay. Okay. Well, thanks, everyone for watching.
Ali Arkady: Thank you very much. It was very nice to speak with you and anyone with us. Thank you very much.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks for being here everyone. Thanks, Ali.
Ali Arkady: Thank you