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Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur on the Work-Home Balance

By Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur


Ed Kashi Witness Number Eight: Photojournalisms
© Ed Kashi/VII Photo
A journal entry by Ed Kashi opposite a photo of him with his eldest child.

Photojournalist Ed Kashi began keeping journals almost 20 years ago as a way of staying connected with his wife and collaborator, Julie Winokur, while he was on the road, and she stayed home to raise their two children and pursue her career as a writer. Kashi’s journals began on paper, and then took the form of e-mails by 2000. Over the years, he recorded his private thoughts and observations from all over the world: Ukraine, the West Bank, Syria, Pakistan, India, China, Iraq, Nigeria, Vietnam and other places. To Winokur’s dismay, Kashi recently published excerpts of his journals as a book titled Witness Number Eight: Photojournalisms (Joy of Giving Something, Inc., distributed by Nazraeli Press). The journal entries, and Winokur’s impassioned afterword, offer a rare glimpse of a marriage and partnership (Kashi and Winokur have produced several documentary projects together, including Aging in America and their newest project, Bring it to the Table) strained by the career demands of photojournalism. These excerpts from the book are re-printed with permission.

From Ed Kashi’s Journal:

5/15/94—Ma’ale Adumim, West Bank

Today has been a good but confusing day. This morning I photographed a circumcision in a settlement. I think I got some good pics. Then I went to a settlement next to Jericho and the new autonomous zone for Palestinians. Things finished up early, so I went into Jericho, saw my first official Palestinian policeman and soaked up the festive and surreal (especially for the Arabs) atmosphere of a town without Israeli Security forces.

My personal work here is done for now, and I’ll leave with some confusion. Not having had enough time to get firmly planted in this project, but having seen enough to believe there is something interesting and worthwhile to capture.

By the way, tomorrow I have an assignment to photograph Hanan Ashrawi, the PLO spokesperson, for The [New York] Times Magazine. It will be very interesting, and I’ll be anxious to talk about the settlements. Except only after I’ve got the pics! So, can you put up with my lifestyle and work? If so, I need to know. Will you work with me, if I work with you? Please think about this very crucial issue, ‘cause I want to know … then we can know how to proceed from here …

Get my drift?

LOVE

6/12/01—Danube Delta, Romania

My love,

I just came back from photographing a funeral in a little Delta village. The man who died was 61. He was walking his herd of cows by the river, collapsed from a heart attack and fell into the surf. He wasn’t found for two days. The funeral was very moving for me. Once again, I was heaving with tears and emotions. The scene was so beautiful, with his body in an open casket, candles lit around the periphery of the box, with his family and many members of this small fishing village around. The priest, a Russian Orthodox, prayed and sang, while the people obeyed his commands, crossing themselves at the right moments, approaching the coffin in waves and indulging in the proper mood. Everyone was present, from little children to elders. I broke down in the church, thinking of how beautifully this man’s death was being witnessed. The tenderness, ritual and attention to detail was moving (all the pall bearers had cellophane wrapped new shirts pinned to them as an alm from the family). It all made me think how hard we humans try to recognize and respect the possibility of a spiritual world, and even if we are deluding ourselves and a human death is really no different than a dead seagull’s unwitnessed passing in the lonely shores of some far-off island, we at least try to create a memory and belief that these acts will make sense and give meaning to it all. It also made me think of my mortality and that it feels too close. In the end, I made some strong images, which helped lift my spirits that maybe something meaningful is being created by all this time away from my family.

6/18/06—Nigerian Prison Journal

Editor’s note: On June 16, 2006, Kashi and his fixer, Elias Courson, were arrested at gunpoint while photographing an oil flow station on the Niger Delta. Kashi recounted the ordeal in detail on paper during his detention. At first, he berated himself for taking a risk to photograph an off-limits oil installation he already had good pictures of from a previous trip. For two days, Kashi expressed his annoyance and frustration over his detention at a military outpost, and his impatience to get back to work. When he and Courson were suddenly loaded into a military helicopter on the afternoon of June 18 and taken to a regional office of the State Security Services (SSS), Kashi’s mood changed quickly. We pick up his account after he and Courson had been handed over to the SSS.

What was so hard throughout this ordeal was the not knowing. The way we were still being held. The fear of no due process, no logic translated into very dark thoughts. Until now, I was anxious and angry. Fear had taken over now, and I was shaken and feeling desperate.

The next morning, as people shuffled into the building, we were told to move immediately. But before that happened, a guard from the night came in and said, “Let us pray now for you.” I couldn’t believe what was happening. Were these our last rites???

They gathered all our belongings. Panic returned, as we were crammed into the back of a dusty station wagon with three goons. My chest grew tight, and my breath became harder to draw. The heat of the day became stifling. I was looking for any hopeful signs. I asked the man in front of me to, please sir, open the window a bit. When he complied, I took that as a hopeful sign. Then Elias drew near to me and whispered, “This is death.” I was beyond my wits, formulating in my mind all the possible scenarios and worrying I would never see you or the kids again. When he asked where we were being taken, they just looked off in the distance and nodded their heads with disdain. I clutched my water bottle, having not eaten for the past 24 hours. I was not hungry anyway. After two hours of agony and deep breathing, we arrived in Port Harcourt, the capital and the headquarters of the SSS. Fear permeated the air, and, in the waiting area they stuck us in, I finally broke down in tears. I pleaded gently with the man to explain what was going on and what was going to happen. That I just wanted to see my family and go home. I just wanted to be free and would leave Nigeria immediately. I also said that I feared being sick and that my heart was beginning to hurt me. This was all true, but I played it up hoping to appeal to some aspect of their humanity.

We were finally brought up to an office, where our possessions were meticulously logged in, and, once all was settled, the goons from Yenagoa were allowed to leave. Now we were in the hands of a new group of men, but this was the headquarters. I broke down again when a gentle mannered man in a green suit came in. He looked at me with pity and reassured me that everything would be fine. Just relax. No problem. I have come to learn that when people say no problem, you must worry. Anyway, he turned out to be correct, and, within an hour, we were taken to see the director of the SSS. He was a Yoruba man, dignified and in one of the long flowing gowns they wear. He informed us that we would be released and lectured us on how to work properly. Within an hour, Von [Dimieari Von Kemedi, main Delta contact] and Oronto [Douglas, human rights attorney] and a group of people came to take us away. Von was dressed in a fancy suit to project importance. We hugged, and it was amazing. But then you called Oronto, and he handed the phone to me. As we were talking, the director came in and saw this and became livid. He immediately grabbed the phone and confiscated it from Oronto and dressed down the agent present in the room. Apparently no visitor is allowed to use cell phones in this building. Oronto followed behind him and rescued his phone. It was dramatic, and all I could think was—this is a setback! But no … we were gone within ten minutes, and then I called you from the car.

It was over, and I could taste freedom again among Nigerian friends who had proven their commitment and goodness. For them, this was a human rights issue and further emboldened me in my understanding of what is at stake here and why my work must continue.

4/13/09—Aleppo, Syria

This trip is filled with roiling dreams of fleeting images, disconnected but rich, indecipherable but powerful. My mind is tired but working hard. My soul is restless and searching for some kind of peace. My heart hurts, whether from my stomach or by some fruitless search for peace in it. I awake each morning from my busy night of dreaming, trying to make sense of what the day holds and how to approach it positively. Today in Aleppo, it’s a brilliant, crisp, sunny day, after a night of thunder and rain.

Suspended isolation reflects the state I occupy, where I’m always coming and going from home. Home has become a base for me, so when I leave I take time to separate … although I never entirely do. Then upon reentry, I reconnect, yet much of the time I’m already thinking about where and when I’m going again. This constant state of flux creates this sense of being suspended between worlds and always feeling isolated on some level, since I can’t ever get grounded or fully connected either at home or on the road. One of the issues at home is how distracted everyone is, whether from your work or the digital gadgets and friends of the kids. And of course, you all must live your own lives, and so, you are not in sync with my rhythms and moods.

From Julie Winokur’s Reflections:

The following text by Julie Winokur, written in 2011, appears in Witness Number Eight: Photojournalisms after the last included journal entry by Kashi, which he wrote in Vietnam on July 13, 2010. The essay has been edited for space.

To be frank, I’ve had ambivalent feelings about these journals. While they are intended to be a bridge between our parallel lives, for me they represent a chasm …

… When Ed asked me to write something for the book, I told him I was afraid to express my feelings because it might insult him and make me sound bitter. He insisted …

On the one hand, I admire Ed’s humanity and perception. I am inspired by his commitment to important work … On the other hand, the journals were gnawing reminders of the rich life he was living all these years, while I was desperately trying to catch my breath, raising two children while building my own career, caring for my ailing father while managing our home and our studio. As he waxed poetic about the world, I felt like I was drowning. There was nothing romantic about my circumstance, and I was afraid I had become some abstract ideal, conveniently positioned to unlock his greater existentialism while I exhausted every ounce of energy I had keeping the ‘shared’ part of our lives on track.

To be the one who stays home … Frustration becomes a permanent state, a feeling so familiar that my face is creased with its persistence …

Then I think of how much he has missed. The birthdays and Valentine’s Days and Halloweens. The first bike ride, the lost tooth, the revelation of the first kiss. These are the monumental events that I have had the privilege
to share …

I never wanted to ask Ed to stop traveling. I wanted him to come to the conclusion himself—because he missed being present for the kids or he recognized that home was where he belonged or the allure of foreign countries paled next to the depth of what he and I share … Ed’s identity, his entire being, is wrapped up in being a photojournalist. Truth be known, I didn’t want to suffer the miserable soul who would be around the house if he ever abandoned his dreams.

The saving grace is that Ed is 200 percent present when he is home. He gives an inordinate amount of his energy and enthusiasm to family life, and he carries a huge load of the responsibility of day-to-day life … It’s not surprising when he texts from Syria to ask if the chimney cleaners have come to the house yet, or he e-mails from Nigeria to remind me of our daughter’s dentist appointment that day. His proclivity for detail is epic … It helps him feel grounded when the ground is constantly shifting beneath his feet.

From the time the children were very young, I made little of their father’s coming and goings. I never wanted them to feel the loss of his presence … or worse yet, a sense of abandonment … Even though my husband was in Pakistan or Syria or some shithole I couldn’t locate on a map, a couple of weeks of single parenting seemed perfectly normal. But week three would arrive, and the inevitable meltdown hit. The exhaustion and the feeling of suffocation took over … The toughest stretches were during Ed’s visits to Iraq, and his detainment in Nigeria … I don’t allow myself to imagine terrible outcomes for Ed. Neither of us could live this life if fear were part of the equation. I send him out the door with a kiss and a hug, but rarely a goodbye. I’m superstitious that way. Occasionally, the possibility that Ed has played the odds one too many times and might not come home is palpable.

The life we’ve chosen would not appeal to most people. As time goes on, Ed is home less and less … Most photojournalists are either single, or without children. The rest are in varying stages of divorce … Now our children are growing up, and, in a few years, they’ll leave home. Together we fantasize about a second honeymoon, a life where we can travel together again and collaborate more fully, like we did in our early years together. Ed has brought me the world through his journals. I look forward to bringing our parallel lives together so we can share the experiences rather than the reflections.

Photojournalisms is now available as an app through the Apple iTunes store. Kashi and Winokur will present the seminar “How to Evolve Across Media Platforms” at the PhotoPlus Expo in October.

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