I met Iranian photojournalist Majid Saeedi at Visa pour l’Image last year when his exhibition, Life in War, was featured in the core program. Since then Saeedi has gone on to win the 2014 FotoEvidence Book Award for the same work, with the official launch of his book, Life in War, in New York October 16th.
Saeedi has covered the Afghanistan conflict for more than a decade. But his interest in that country and its people extends beyond the news headlines and since 2009 he has lived amongst that country’s inhabitants and focused on telling the story of daily life in a war zone.
When we spoke at Visa, he told me his motivation for looking beyond the death and destruction of war to the individual is influenced by a desire to know the people that he comes into contact with, beyond a superficial understanding.
“As a photographer I believe it is my responsibility to show how other people live their lives…a lot of us sit at home and don’t even know our neighbors. I wanted to get closer to the normal people of Afghanistan, to live with them, eat with them and talk to them. To tell their stories, which have become part of my life also.”
Saeedi, who has been covering conflicts for more than 20 years, is a multi-award winner and has been named Photographer of the Year in Iran eight times. While these awards acknowledge his professional achievements, it is seeing the reaction from the general population to his work that is the greater reward.
“For me the most important thing is to show the daily life of Afghanistan. Last year I won a World Press Photo award, but I wasn’t as happy then as I was when I saw my exhibition and how the audience was affected by my images. The reactions of their faces…that made me the happiest.”
Saeedi says being able to show his work in an extended format, such as a book, enables him to communicate a more complete story to the viewer as opposed to one or two photographs in a news context. “The images we see in the news are part of a bigger story. I hope through this collection of photographs that people gain some understanding of the reality of life in Afghanistan”.
In Life in War, Saeedi has focused on those living with the constant threat of violence, where explosions and gunfire are part of everyday existence, and where landmines, that litter the countryside, can rip human flesh to shreds in seconds. Yet amongst the devastation and pervasive sense of danger, life goes on; babies are born, couples wed, children play and people do their best to make a living.
When you consider Afghanistan has been at war for 35 years, there is a generation who has known no other life, a terrifying statistic that mark the faces of those in Saeedi’s book.
“People don’t expect to return home every time they go out,” says Saeedi. “War is death. It is all around them but they go on living. Life in war. They are living in a paradox.”
Shot in black and white, Saeedi’s images capture those everyday moments that make up a life – baking bread, making clothes, shopping at the bazaar, families eating, and children flying kites amongst rubble. Juxtaposed with these fleeting views of normality, are the images that reveal the deeper scars of war; the women who have set themselves alight in protest of harsh laws that confine them; the adults and children who have lost their limbs to landmines; the numerous families who have buried their loved ones too soon; the shattered buildings and the decimation of infrastructure.
Saeedi wants us to see what he has, to look closer at the person behind the face that has been etched by war, to the individual. “We have seen countless images of Afghanistan, particularly images of soldiers and aid workers throughout the country, but these images don’t portray the real Afghanistan. War is not the only thing going on in Afghanistan,” he says.
In Life in War Saeedi’s photographs leave the viewer with little doubt that in Afghanistan war is omnipresent. But they also convey the strength of the human spirit and the will to survive. Despite the hardships these people live with daily, hope is still present. His is a unique view of this war-torn country.
“In my work in Afghanistan, I have focused on everyday life,” Saeedi says. “The good that people live even during war. The most important thing for a photographer, I think, is to live with the people as they live. To experience life as the people experience it. I reached that in Afghanistan.”
Life in War
85 B&W images
Introduction by Ed Kashi
Personal note from the Afghan Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah
Published by FotoEvidence
FotoEvidence is a platform for documentary photographers whose work focuses on social justice and human rights. Every year the FotoEvidence Book Award recognizes a photo project documenting evidence of social injustice with the publication of a book. The selected project is published as part of a FotoEvidence series of books dedicated to the work of photographers whose commitment and courage deliver painful truths, creating an awareness and intolerance toward violations of human dignity.
Life in War
Life in War
Afghanistan has been dealing with war for 50 years. Sometimes with countries attacking it and at others with civil wars. Intentionally or locally, the Afghans are people of war and bloodshed. They are suffering from some serious traumas and hurt which take a lot of years to be he...