Stepping Out Into Their Dreams Or How Two Young Photographers Inspire

She was a sales representative when I first met. Nadia Shira Cohen was introduced to me as the woman who would introduce me to editors in New York and help pass my work off as something worthy of being published. She actually managed to do this, and convince editors to give me work. But it was apparent from the moment we first met that simply helping SIPA Press sell images was not what she really wanted to do. Over the years we developed a friendship, trust and a shared conviction that where she had to be was out in the world, behind the camera, telling stories.

And today she is.

Nadia Shira Cohen is a young woman becoming a photographer and doing it in her own, individual way. On a recent visit to Rome, where she lives, it was so inspiring to listen to her talk about her projects and the stories she wanted to tell. Nadia has an amazing ability to find some fascinating stories, a fact borne out by the fact that she has managed to convince editors from HarpersVanity Fair and The New York Times to assign her to stories that she pitched to them. This is the first sign of a good photographer – an instinct for the story, the curiosity to explore it and the talent to sell it.

Nadia is currently in Cairo, documenting the situation there for The Virginia Quarterly Review, providing images for The New Yorker amongst other magazines in the USA and in Europe. She has recently received a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant that will see her working in Europe just as soon as she helps topple the regime in Cairo. Not bad for someone who just a couple of years ago was still pawning around the works of others while dreaming of getting out there on her own.


Elliott Woods is a journalist. When I first met him two years ago he was young, passionate and determined to make a career as a writer. He and I were working together on a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant covering the consequences of Israel’s assault on Gaza, the operation known as Cast Lead. But just being the writer was not going to be enough for Elliott. He had his note pads, he did his journalist with determination and seriousness, but every day he would also go out with his cameras. As we worked in Gaza together Elliott continued to keep his pen and his shutter finger working. Very often the people we met thought that he was in fact the photographer, his digital gear representing his professionalism, while my little film cameras suggesting the intents of a tourist. The confusions aside, Elliott was serious about the photographs he was making, and it was obvious that this young journalists was determined to push his camera eye, and find a place for himself as a photojournalist as well.

He has managed to do just that. An extensive tour in Afghanistan has seen Elliott produce a wide range of work from the country, and to reveal himself to be a photographer and a story teller.

Afghanistan's Burned Brides By Elliott Woods

Elliott was selected for The Eddie Adams workshops in 2010. He is now also in Cairo, providing written and photographic reportage for The Virginia Quarterly Review. His recent work from Afghanistan has been published in a number of journals, including this essay in Mother Jones Magazine on burned brides which reflects Elliott’s growing photographic maturity and his passion for getting to stories.


I can’t say enough how inspiring it is to watch these two young photographers and their careers as they develop. I could not have been more than two years ago that they were stepping out into the field, both chasing individual dreams and working hard – professionally and personally, to achieve their goals in what can only be described as difficult industry conditions. Today here they are out there, traveling, exploring, pitching work and finding ways to live the lives that define them. I wish them more success, and more possibilities.

Elliott was generous enough to write to me from Cairo to tell me that he has appreciated my support for his work over the years. Nadia too has always been generous in suggesting that I have in some fashion given her support during this period. But frankly I want to remind both Nadia and Elliott that watching them out there, working, producing, chasing, growing and doing so with passion and joy remains an important inspiration for me. It is the conversations that I have with young photographers like them that keep me going as well, the help me cut past the cynicism and exhaustion and find again the joy of this act called photography. As I land here in India, my cameras once again in my hands, I am strengthened by the knowledge that I am part of a community of individuals who are serious and inspired. Thank you.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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