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Bringing the photo-story to Osh: “seeing the beauty and hearing the untold stories”

Written by on Friday, 13 December 2013
Kyrgyzstan, Media and Internet, Photoblog
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One of the photographs from the workshop, by Jazgul Madazimova.

This past weekend, Elyor Nematov and I went to Osh to deliver NewEurasia’s three-day workshop on photojournalism. In fact, calling it a workshop on “photojournalism” is a bit deceptive, since it was much more than just an extended seminar on the technicalities of using photographic and videographic equipment. Elyor explained the principles of creating a photo-story, and he also elaborated the philosophical implications of what it really meant to be a photo-journalist.

This was the third and final workshop of our current arts and culture project, which has been supported by Hivos Foundation. Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing from various sources that our adventure in Osh may very well have been one of the foundation’s last direct endeavors in Central Asia. After 19 years of hard work in the region, it’s perhaps a fitting end for them, too. A cornerstone of Hivos’ mission has been to break down barriers, foster discussion, and in general promote pluralism, and it was precisely these kinds of things which Elyor elaborated upon, both from a philosophical perspective and a technical one. As he put it, the photo-journalist’s duty is not just to record events, but to break down the subject-object divide. In this respect, the photo-story, with its essay-like to meditate upon and explore all the different facets of an issue, is the photo-journalists’ most unique creation and tool.

Moreover, Osh proved to be a perfect site for our workshop. This was my first time visiting that city, and in just a few days, I was nearly overwhelmed with its ethnic and ideological complexity. Osh is more than just an ancient, tiny city in the middle of the Eurasian landmass. With a metropolitan area of almost half a million souls, and with a history that stretches back into the shadows of Central Asia’s early history, the city has long been touted as a melting pot of cultures, almost an archetype of Silk Road and Soviet internationalism. Consequently, Osh emerges as a dual-sided symbol, of what the Kyrgyz call “маданият” — civilization — and what Kyrgyzstan could be. The two sides of this symbol need not be mutually co-exclusive, much less violently so, although controversies continue to swirl around them as a consequence of the June 2010 events.

The group of students was relatively small but very professional, with good instincts and sometimes also previous technical training. The results were therefore quite satisfying, sometimes even really surprising; there’s real talent down in Osh. NewEurasia shall soon be publishing everyone’s photo-stories, so stay tuned.

As for how our students felt, they explained to us that they were surprised by Elyor’s philosophical approach, as they were anticipating something more technically-focused. But we’ll let one of them do the talking themselves: in the words of Jazgul Madamizova,

“The week-end was full of work, story-telling, emotions, condolence, questioning and searching. After all, it was seeing the beauty and hearing the untold stories of the surrounding that we do not recognize every day. And certainly, it was the sympathy and appreciation that we felt while leaving it all. Thank you Elyor Nematov and Christopher Schwartz for the great workshop on photojournalism. It was way more than photography. Your approach was very inspirational.”

[Photographs of the workshop are courtesy of Zach Krahmer, a photojournalist on assignment in Osh for Search for Common Ground.]

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