By Amma Aburam
Catching up with Reza is always a pleasure. The photographer is a humanitarian force, consistently using photo to change the lives of people around the world. With him, there is always something new to discuss. This time he tells us about projects: a recollection of stories and photographic plans, never picked randomly but always made to have an impact on the people who participate in, see and share them.
One of his on-going projects that he brings to life through various initiatives as time goes by is called A Dream of Humanity. The idea is to have an umbrella term for his various humanitarian endeavors that take place in different parts of the world. His most famous initiative is called Exile Voices, which consists of giving cameras to children in refugee camps to take photos of their daily lives, joys and struggles. Exile voices is a project he aims to pursue for the next five years.
Reza is currently working on an interactive book around the theme of Afghanistan Peace Warriors. He believes that the Internet with all its tools is an important vector of connection and knowledge. He reckons its ability to help reach millions of people with an idea is priceless. “The book is a way to link Afghanistan to the modern world, to move it away from its traditional cultural biases and ancient stories”, he explains. The book is a way to reach Afghan as well as global citizens, hence its multilingual and interactive approach designed to allow readers to engage, explore and grow their knowledge.
Another project seeks to engage the youth on current social issues. “I love Nature, I hate Pollution” is a competition created and launched by Reza in 2012 also titled Children’s Eyes on Earth. It does not only aim to raise children’s awareness of ecological issues but also to teach them about the power of photography. “I believe that 15 years ago, to be a photographer you had to have a reputation and the means to buy the material, as well as the ability to learn techniques. Today’s generation has access to limitless technologies like smartphones and I-pads to take photos” he states. For him, this can make photography trivial at times. His project is to show children that some themes and issues are so important that you can use your smartphone camera for more than just taking selfies. “It is important to have the youth know this, and to train them about it at a young age”, he adds. The competition aspect is simply to make it more exciting for them; kids love its game aspect and engage fully because of that. When I launched the project, kids from 90 countries participated; they all proved their creativity, curiosity and enthusiasm about nature and environmental issues “At the end of the day, adults see these photos and get a unique insight on how kids view their surroundings. From the refugee camp to this competition, it is easy to see that kids have a photographic eye that influences people differently”, he adds.
Reza has travelled the world and his photos have focused on various peoples, in struggles and in joys. One of his series focused on farmers in Morocco and their stories. This was in support of an NGO called AgreSud, which lacked funds while supporting agriculture in various places in the world. Reza’s humanitarian work extends to NGOs such as this one and his photos allow for the stories of these peoples to be told.
Similarly, he photographed women in Rwanda in a series called Words of Rwandan Women, as part of a project on women and their role in shaping the future of humanity. “I believe the world would be a much better place if women where in domains and positions of power and decision-making: in politics, communications, education and more”, he says. “War is the affair of men, just as we see males in various species battle things out. Women are mothers, nurturers, they give life so they don’t want to take it away”, he adds. In Rwanda and Burundi specifically, he was working on a before, during and after the genocide conflicts photo documentation. The women in these series have untold stories, one of them being about those who were raped during these conflicts. These women decided to keep their children despite the circumstances and were rejected by their families, tribes and friends, kicked out of their communities and villages. Once their tragic stories told through this series and in New York Magazine, many NGOs felt called to action and went out there to help them.
With Reza, there is no underestimation of the power of photojournalism and its endless impact on communities and lives. He has a real heart for helping others and using his talent to bring positivity to the world.