So much, moving fast

Posted on May 20, 2018 by Alexandra Avakian

Working on two yet-to-be-announced media projects, and spending time with my beloved family. Need to find time soon to write and edit my pix for another, quite different book! 

My son at boarding school:

 

 

An upcoming documentary

Posted on March 1, 2018 by Alexandra Avakian

A notice about a Canadian documentary on three women photojournalists who have covered wars, famines, revolution, and more:

Yunghi Kim, Carol Guzy, Alexandra Avakian

Directed by Andrea Pritchard

https://www.facebook.com/RiskWomenPhotojournalists/#

New cover of Smithsonian Magazine

Posted on March 5, 2016 by Alexandra Avakian

The new Smithsonian Magazine cover features my photo below of an ancient Assyrian monument in Nimrud, Iraq, now-destroyed by Islamic State. IS has shattered it.

(The black marks are by an artist working for Smithsonian Magazine. She also turned my color pic into B&W)

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Posted on October 12, 2015 by Alexandra Avakian

A post from my first experience with breast cancer, which was photographed by my family a me.

Lens: The New York Times published it and so did their Wellness site:

In honor and remembrance of the Armenian Genocide/100th Anniversary

Posted on April 24, 2015 by Alexandra Avakian

For the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24th!

The Turks committed their many rapes, torture, thefts, starving, and massacres of Armenians not only in Turkey, but in in Syria where they marched them through the desert. Syria was under Ottoman control at the time.

I had to document some of these Armenian Genocide sites secretly, as it was a forbidden subject there at the time. Thanks to a grant from the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation, a top Syrian diplomat, two genocide experts, an Armenian-Syrian driver and a tailor who hid me in his home, I was able to spend three days on this project. People I visited were later questioned by local government spies but were told I was a Canadian looking for relatives. I left the country quickly and from a Aleppo instead of Damascus.

In these photos:

Der Zor Armenian Genocide Memorial Church, which was destroyed by rebels in the current civil war taking place in Syria.

Der Zor was a major Genocide site.

Aleppo was also destroyed in the ongoing civil war, including the church in the Aleppo photos.

Aleppo was a major survivor home for nearly 100 years until the civil war.

Many of the sites in these photos have been destroyed or damaged in Syria's current civil war, including those locations I photographed in Der Zor and Aleppo. The others are at risk constantly, as battle lines shift.

Please double click link below:

http://www.alexandraavakian.com/galleries/armenian_genocide/

In celebration of hopeful progress: U.S.-Iran Framework Agreement

Posted on April 3, 2015 by Alexandra Avakian

Some pictures of my deep journey in Iran for National Geographic:

http://www.alexandraavakian.com/galleries/iran_gallery/

Happy Holidays

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Alexandra Avakian

From a Christmas with my husband in Oman:

Smithsonian Magazine: My photos of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Posted on November 9, 2014 by Alexandra Avakian

For the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall tomorrow, Smithsonian Magazine website publishes my photos and story of what it was like to be there:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/amazing-rare-photographs-berlin-wall-coming-down-180953278/

Filed Under: Germany

25th Anniversary/Fall of the Berlin Wall/ exhibit at Goethe Institute Washington DC open now!

Posted on October 27, 2014 by Alexandra Avakian

Excited to be in the art exhibit The Wall in Our Heads at Goethe-Institut Washington DC, celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Open now: http://thewallinourheads.com     [Photo: (c) Alexandra Avakian/2014/All Rights Reserved.]

 

The War Photographers showing in LA & Poster

Posted on October 1, 2014 by Alexandra Avakian

In Los Angeles, the documentary The War Photographers ran for a week in Noho 7 theatre. The film is now traveling to film festivals. I am honored to be in the film with several of my colleagues, and my photo of this South Sudanese child was used for the poster:

 

.

Trilon cover

Posted on July 10, 2014 by Alexandra Avakian

Very happy to have the cover photo on Michael Shrieve's new album Trilon!

Montreal World Film Festival & L.A. Shorts Fest & More

Posted on November 30, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

The War Photographers (2013) is a film originally produced for The Annenberg Space For Photography in LA, directed by Steven Kochones, and it ran continuously on a huge screen during the LA run of the exhibit WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath. I am honored to be featured in the film with such amazing photogs. After its premier at Annenberg, it was released in August & is traveling to festivals:
NEW OFFICIAL SELECTION:
Cameraimage, Bydgoszcz, Poland (Nov. 16-23, 2013)
Screening: Nov. 21 9:45am
Completed Festivals:
Montreal World Film Festival, Montreal, QB (Aug. 26 & 27, 2013) 
LA ShortsFest, Los Angeles, CA (Sep. 10, 2013)

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5453376/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr65

Corcoran Gallery of Art

Posted on August 3, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath is now showing at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC! http://www.corcoran.org/warphoto

Major Work Anniversary: 30 Years

Posted on June 7, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

I realized today I am celebrating 30 years as a pro photojournalist and documentary photographer, from 1983 - present.

My very first paid assignment was for Newsweek in the fall of 1983 after graduating Sarah Lawrence College that spring.

Of course I had been shooting longer than that, back to the 1970's while still a teen.

Clearly my calling in life. It'll be time to do the retrospective book soon!

LA Update

Posted on April 23, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

 

Dear Family, Friends, Colleagues,

Update: LA was amazing! 


I was working with The Annenberg Space For Photography as a featured artist in the WAR/Photography exhibit they have up till June, 

and am featured with several esteemed colleagues in the companion documentary.

The Annenberg Space is a gorgeous palace for photography in Los Angeles, and has done an exquisite job with this exhibit. 

I am very honored to be a part of this show, which was created by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Deepest thanks to you at MFAH and ASFP. Next the exhibit will travel to The Corcoran Museum in D.C., and The Brooklyn Museum.

I did The Annenberg Space For Photography's Iris Nights Lecture Series on 4/4, titled: Malibu Teen to Conflict Photographer and Beyond

and a signing of my memoir Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World,  published by National Geographic Books with its lovely John Fahey, Jr. - written introduction. 

The LA audience was the best ever! Could not have asked for a better one. Very expressive, they really got it and gave back the energy and passion. 

I did much press, including the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Malibu Times, radio, podcasts, blogging and more. 

Here is my interview  on Los Angeles' most popular drive-time radio sho KPCC's Take Two! 

KPCC Radio Link

Now multi-tasking as ever; at work on 3 exciting personal projects.

Thank you. XOXO,

Alexandra Avakian


Los Angeles Magazine, April Issue

Posted on March 27, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

Blog for Annenberg Space For Photography

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

Today's blog post for The Annenberg Space For Photography:

http://www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org/the-shot-blog/girl-and-her-dove

National Geographic Traveler 10 Best Photos of 2012

Posted on January 11, 2013 by Alexandra Avakian

Very honored to have a photo chosen for Dan Westergren's list of the 10 Best Photos of 2012 in National Geographic Traveler!

http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2012/12/12/the-10-best-traveler-photos-in-2012/

Ethiopian clergy on the roof of Church of Holy S., Old CIty Jerusalem

Posted on December 22, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

This pic shot for National Geographic Traveler for a 2012 story.. More soon.

Lake Sevan, Armenia

Posted on November 21, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Windows of the Soul Exhibit Opens At ACCEA

Posted on November 7, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

I'm in Yerevan, Armenia, where my exhibit Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World opened at the Armenian Center Of Contemporary Experimental Art! It was curated by the eminent Edward Balassanian.

This exhibit was originally created by Jean-Francois Leroy and Robert Pledge for Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan, France, and was expanded by Mark Bussell for my exhibit on NYC's Broadway at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

The exhibit in Yerevan is supported by ACCEA, the distinguished think tank Civilitas, and the U.S. State Department. I'm doing four speaking events and many interviews associated with this exhibit.Today I was honored when the US Ambassador Heffern gave a lovely speech and Salpi Ghazarian of Civilitas did a live interview with me in front of a packed house at ACCEA.

Afterwards was the opening of the exhibit.I have worked in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh countless times since covering the Armenian earthquake in 1988 for LIFE magazine, including photographing the war in Nagorno-Karabagh for The New York Times, Time, and National Geographic, and publishing a 28 page article called The Rebirth of Armenia in the March 2004 issue of National Geographic Magazine.

In Paris

Posted on October 30, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Got out of NYC just ahead of Hurricane Sandy. In Paris working and playing. Armenia next!

Teaching Workshops at International Center of Photography in NYC

Posted on October 22, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Teaching workshops again in NYC at ICP this year in the second half of October. ICP posts announcement and my missive to students here: http://tinyurl.com/9ekdv2c


MFAH & New Yorker Magazine

Posted on October 1, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Happy to have several prints in this seminal exhibit opening this fall at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Curators Anne Tucker & Will Michels have done a stunning job, and the show is unique and exciting.

It will travel to L.A., New York, DC, etc. Also pleased to have a photo here representing the show, on the New Yorker website:

http://tinyurl.com/93z99re

DC

Posted on September 10, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

On deadline in DC on two projects.

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Winners

Posted on August 14, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

The winners were announced today! Click through the photos and read about the top three winning pix. As a judge I provided commentary on the Nat Geo website:

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/2012/

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

Posted on August 3, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Judged the award this week with editors of National Geographic Traveler. A great selection to choose from. In the end we had to pick 10 excellent shots and were pleased with the results.

In New York City

Posted on August 1, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

I will be working in New York City until August 19.

In Italy

Posted on July 2, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

I am in Italy until 7/15. 

Scala dei Turchi, Sicily:

National Geographic Traveler Blog

Posted on June 20, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Check out previously unpublished photos from my latest National Geographic Traveler story plus an interview, here on the Nat Geo website:

http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/21/behind-the-lens-in-jerusalem/

Avakian’s works collected by HMFA

Posted on May 5, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Very pleased to have my photographic prints in the permanent collection of the renowned Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Robert Frank donated several of my black and white prints to them as part of his large gift to the museum, and three more of my photographs are in their major new show WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY, and are now part of the permanent collection. The show will open in November 2012.

http://tinyurl.com/6wg8l8b

National Geographic Traveler Magazine: Jerusalem By The Book

Posted on April 26, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

National Geographic Traveler sent me to Jerusalem to shoot the story in this month’s magazine: Jerusalem By The Book.

Click here to see it: 

http://www.alexandraavakian.com/galleries/tearsheets/  

and pick it up at your local newsstand.

RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights Photography Award/Judge

Posted on April 15, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Joined 4 others to judge the RFK Journalism / Photography Award today. Some excellent work!

On assignment in…

Posted on April 2, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

On assignment in Midwest for the next ten days....

 

(c) Alexandra Avakian

International Center of Photography/New York City

Posted on March 29, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

 

So pleased to be have been in Manhattan to teach

my yearly intensive workshop:

 "The Woman Photojournalist"

 at the International Center of Photography.

Full-time students only, each deeply committed to

and in love with photography.

While in NYC, I collaborated with partners on two

 

other exciting projects of my own.

Marie Colvin’s death in Homs, Syria

Posted on February 23, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

I am utterly sad that my old friend, mentor, and traveling companion of days gone by --- the legendary war correspondent Marie Colvin --- has died under fire in Homs, Syria, while reporting for the Sunday Times of London, her newspaper. I owe her undying gratitude for her influence on my career early on, and our unforgettable times together: especially in Tunis, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Jerusalem and the West Bank. We recently spoke of meeting in Oman soon. I’m so sorry. Love to you Marie. 

Below: please click on Marie's last story, written just before she was killed. Also click on my blog post for Oct. 20, 2011 for a story about me and Marie, flying into Libya on Yasser Arafat’s plane and meeting with Colonel Qaddafi. See also our NYT Mag cover story for that journey, which was our first together.

http://tinyurl.com/7ta87gf

http://tinyurl.com/7g2ohwq

 

Slide Show/Book Talk in Dubai

Posted on January 21, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

Those in Dubai, welcome to my slide show/book talk:

Teaching: New York University in Abu Dhabi

Posted on January 1, 2012 by Alexandra Avakian

I'll be in the United Arab Emirates teaching at New York University Abu Dhabi from Jan.1 - 19:

Photojournalism: Your Personal Vision. Full-time students only.  

 

Camel race in Umm al Quwain, UAE. (c) Alexandra Avakian

camel race united arab emirates

Jerusalem and Gaza

Posted on November 1, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Just finished an assignment in Jerusalem. I’ll post the story when it is published in a major American magazine soon, but till then can’t discuss. I can tell you though that Jerusalem is as extraordinary, passionate, and lovely as ever. I have been there countless times.

After Jerusalem I spent three blue days in Gaza. Though under a blasting autumn sun, it is darker than the last time I was there. People are so quick to anger now, their frustration deeper and their sense of hope all but vanished. I was looking for the “dove girl” in this photo, in the Shati refugee camp, to see what her life is like now. No sign of her and I ran out of time, had to tear myself away…but I will continue next time.

It was wonderful to see friends there and to know their views on how it is to be Gazan now.

I worked on the story of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peace process on and off for eight years----between 1988-1996, and lived in Gaza from 1993-1995, and Palestinians is the name of a chapter of my photo memoir Windows of the Soul, My Journeys in the Muslim World, published by National Geographic.

Remembering when I met Qaddafi, with addendum for Marie Colvin

Posted on October 20, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Today Libya's revolution has peaked with the death of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi. When I was a hard news photographer I loved being present at the peaks of revolutions. Now as a documentary photographer, I love photographing the aftermaths: every bit as fascinating.

I remember meeting Qaddafi, the man former U.S. President Reagan called "the Madman of the Middle East." The region was so different then: truly ossified, except for the Palestinian Intifada.

It was the 1988, the first time I covered PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (for a NYT Mag cover story.) Journalist Marie Colvin and I flew into Tripoli on Arafat's plane, loaned to him by Saddam Hussein. Arafat was to meet with Qaddafi the next day, but Qaddafi stayed out in his desert tent and made himself unavailable. For about two days Arafat stewed in the PLO villa. Even his aides and hard-bitten guerillas were afraid to talk to him, he was so angry. He did let me take his pic when he was bald though, having breakfast. His body guard controlled his Cornflakes so they would not be poisoned. He loved Cornflakes.  

Finally Arafat was so furious with Qaddafi at making him wait, he used Marie and I in a feint:

He had his guards put us into his car, with all his baggage and his dry cleaned uniform on a hanger, and sent us to the airport in a ruse signaling Qaddafi that he was leaving in a mighty huff. At sunset on a highway clogged with traffic, a  Palestinian guerilla forced us off the road and told us "The Colonel (Qaddafi) has called for you!" Marie dug her fingers into my thigh and said "Whatever you do, whatever they do, don't leave me alone with him!" She meant Qaddafi.  I promised I would not leave her alone with him but that I wanted to know why later. 

Off we rushed to Qaddafi's barracks, Bab al–Aziziya.

We waited for some time in a luxurious waiting room with high ceilings and soft ornate couches. One of Arafat's advisors, Abu Daoudi, told Arafat I’m Armenian. Arafat stared at me with big eyes and almost breathed the sound "Ahhh," as if now he understood me. Then, to my embarrassment at the time, Abu Daoudi told Arafat I had a dream about him and I was forced to tell my dream to Arafat. "Well, we were swimming in the ocean---you were doing a breast stroke and were surrounded by swimming bodyguards---I had a long lens on my camera and I kept trying to get a shot of you but I couldn't manage with the bodyguards blocking my view." Arafat said in his high, little voice, "Sank you, sank you, sank you." He meant thank you, of course. Arafat believed in dreams. After this trip for many years I had the best access of any non-Arab photographer to Arafat---I flew with him to Morocco, Washington D.C. for the signing of the Oslo Accords, and Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize.

SO...finally we were ushered in to see Qaddafi. I took some pictures of the two of them hugging and kissing hello, and we were introduced to him. He flirted with us but Marie was safe by my side.

Then we were ushered out while Qaddafi and Arafat got down to business. I photographed Qaddafi several times over the years. He was always dressed in something spectacular, whether an Italian suit or desert robes, puffing up for the cameras.

Arafat and Qaddafi are gone. 

And the Middle East is more interesting than ever. Much of the rest of the Arab world hangs in the balance as revolutions, civil unrest and also oppression go on. The rest remains to be seen.

PS: Marie later explained her apprehension when Qaddafi demanded our presence. Qaddafi had tried to seduce her by having her locked in a room by female bodyguards who told her the Colonel had ordered her to change into the traditional white wedding dress laid out on a bed, as well as the tiny green satin shoes laying there. She refused and managed to talk her way out.

 

Addendum: The writer I was with was the late, great war reporter Marie Colvin who died under fire in Homs, Syria yesterday. This was our first big adventure together. Rest in peace, old friend. And deepest thanks for the times we spent together.


Middle East

Posted on September 26, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

I'm on assignment in Jerusalem.

Breast Cancer in Saudi Arabia: A Woman Doctor Breaking Taboos

Posted on September 14, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Aramco World Magazine sent me to Saudi Arabia to shoot astory about brave Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi, a breast cancer activist and survivor,  “breaking the silence”, as she says, in the Arab world regarding the disease.

 

I first met Dr. Samia at a small working lunch for top global breast cancer activists at the Susan G. Komen  office in Washington, D.C. in 2009. I was intrigued by Dr. Samia, and after the second time I survived breast cancer, decided to pitch the story about her to Aramco World. They made it the September/October issue’s cover story.

 

Working with Dr. Samia in Jeddah, S.A. was a moving experience I will never forget. Because I shared a similar struggle with the Saudi survivors I met, they were extremely open with me, letting me in to their sensitive world.

Click here to see the story:

http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201105/

9/11

Posted on September 11, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

 

Thinking of strong, fabulous peace activist Talat today.

 

Her son Salman Hamdani died at the World Trade Center trying to help victims. 

 

He was a police cadet and emergency worker.

 

I accompanied Talat and her family to Ground Zero 9/11/2001.

 

Thinking of friend Bill Biggart today.

He was a photojournalist who died on 9/11 in the WTC as he climbed high with firefighters trying to save those trapped by fire.

20th Anniversary of Soviet Coup

Posted on August 20, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

August 19, 1991, 20 years ago today: the Soviet coup in Moscow. Much of the action happened at the Beeleh Dom (Russian White House) across the street from my apartment on the Moscow River.  I woke up on a Sunday morning to find tanks rolling down Kutuzovsky Blvd.

In this picture Boris Yeltsin is addressing protesters from the balcony of the Beeleh Dom. His bodyguards recognized me and let me work.

Russian friends were soon on the barricades: I found one of them, a rock producer, with an Orthodox priest convincing soldiers in tanks to turn around at 3 am in an underpass. Truly thrilling to be there.  

There were frightening aspects too: one sleepless night on the barricades rumors circulated that Spetznaz (Russian Special Forces) would come up through the sewers to attack protesters.

From September 1990 to September 1992 I lived in Moscow.

Working for TIME, I covered Perstroika, Glasnost and the end of the USSR  from 1988-1992 from the Baltics to the Central Asian republics, including the civil wars and uprisings.

A quarter of my family disappeared from their Tiblisi homes during Stalin's Great Terror, so covering the end of the USSR had deep personal and professional meaning....

National Geographic Traveler: Egypt’s New Day

Posted on August 3, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

On the NatGeo website : some pix I shot for Egypt's New Day, in the September 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

It was truly amazing to be in the great Pharaonic sites with so few tourists. While that is fantastic for the traveler, times are tough for Egypt, whose economy depends on tourism.

As with all countries undergoing dramatic change, its important for tourists to pay attention to the local news and avoid flash points.

http://tinyurl.com/3twucfs

More on news End of the Road documentary by Steven Soderbergh

Posted on July 27, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

More from Steven Soderbergh on his new documentary about my father Aram Avakian’s 1970 movie End of the Road, a rediscovered cinematic treasure, a cutting edge indie classic to be released by Warner Brothers on BluRay in October:

http://thefilmstage.com/2011/07/26/steven-soderbergh-talks-new-documentary-cleo-and-retirement/

End of the Road trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KpphQnIFNc


 


End of the Road movie!

Posted on July 26, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian



Very excited that my father Aram Avakian's ground-breaking 1970 indie movie, End of the

Road, has been resurrected by the great director Steven Soderbergh and Warner Bros.

My mother Dorothy Tristan is the female lead, Rennie. My Uncle George Avakian supervised

the music.

Scheduled for release in autumn 2012 by Warner Brothers on BluRay as part of a series of great

rediscovered movies, the BluRay will include a documentary about the making of End of the

Road directed by Mr. Soderbergh. 

Click here for the story!

 

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/archives/2011/07/25/steven_soderbergh_talks_

endoftheroad_doc_cleo_retirement_plans/

 

 

Mexico

Posted on July 19, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Back from Mexico. To San Francisco soon.

Egypt

Posted on May 15, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Back from Egypt. Fabulous.

Middle East

Posted on April 11, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

I'll be in the Middle East on assignment from 4/13 to 4/27. For business inquiries contact Jeffrey Smith at 1-212-695-7750 or Jeffreysmith@contactpressimages.com Thank you.

International Center of Photography

Posted on March 3, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Excited about teaching my intensive workshop, The Woman Photojournalist, through March 13 at The International Center of Photography in NYC!

Full-time students only.

Avakian slide show at WHNPA / Nat Geo

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

I'll be doing my slide show for The White House News Photographers Association at The National Geographic Society's Grosvenor Auditorium on Friday, February 25 at 7 pm.

http://www.whnpa.org/contestinfo/judges2011still.htm

Women in War Zones

Posted on February 21, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

As a woman photojournalist who has been beaten and shot at, fended off attempted rape, and -- back in the USA -- suffered the discriminatory insults of an editor after having crossed a sniper's alley 6 times on a foreign story for him, I highly recommend this NYT piece by Kim Barker called Why We Need Women in War Zones. 

Breaking the silence is key, and so is having workplace codes for staffers and freelancers, which will prevent us from losing work after reporting to our superiors what abuse we may have suffered.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/opinion/20barker.html?_r=2&ref=opinion

 

Pictura Gallery & IU

Posted on February 2, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Before the reception at Pictura on a cold Bloomington day:

(c) Alexandra Avakian/2011

Pictura Gallery, Indiana University's School of Journalism and Voices and Visions: Islam and Muslims From a Global Perspective brought me for speaking engagements and an exhibit of photographs from my National Geographic book Windows of the Soul.

Windows of the Soul at IU and Pictura Gallery!

Posted on January 12, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

Join me this month at IU School of Journalism and Pictura Gallery for the Windows of the Soul slide show and gallery exhibit!

Click here for details:

http://journalism.indiana.edu/notices/avakian-to-discuss-journeys-in-the-muslim-world/

from Muscat, Oman

Posted on December 20, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Hello from gorgeous Oman!

I am looking forward to giving the Windows of the Soul slide show/book talk tomorrow night at the Oman Photo Club of The Omani Society for Fine Arts at 7 pm. 

 

Green Turtle at dawn, Ras al Jinz, Oman. (c) Alexandra Avakian

Invitation: NYU Gallery opening reception September 16th

Posted on September 15, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Invitation and Reminder:

 

New York University’s Department of Photography & Imaging

in the Kanbar 
Institute of Film and Television

at the Tisch School of the Arts will 
feature an exhibition

of 33 color photographs by National Geographic
 photographer

and author Alexandra Avakian.  

Entitled Windows of the Soul: My
 Journeys in the Muslim World,

the exhibition includes images and insights,
 as curated by Mark Bussell,

based on Avakian’s photographic memoir of the
 same title,

published by Focal Point/National Geographic. 



In the exhibit photojournalist Alexandra Avakian shares her photographs of


conflict, daily life, culture, happiness and heartbreak in a region always


newsworthy and relevant, but often misunderstood in the West.

She spent
 nearly twenty years on this project.



Avakian has covered many of the most important issues and historic events

of 
her time. Her photographs have been published in National Geographic,

Time, 
LIFE, The New York Times Magazine, and many others in the U.S.

and 
throughout Europe. 

Please join us for the opening reception, which will

held on Thursday,
 September 16th from 6 - 8 PM at be at the Gulf+Western Gallery

in the rear 
lobby of 721 Broadway.



Windows of the Soul will be on view from September 7 through October 9,
2010.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 5 p.m.
 Saturdays.  

The exhibition is open to the public and admission is free. 


Photo identification is required for access to the building.

For further 
information, call 212.998.1930 or visit the following link : 

http://photo.tisch.nyu.edu/object/Windows09072010160528.html



Best,

 Derrick Biney-Amissah



New York University
 Tisch School of the Arts, 


Photography & Imaging Dept.
721 Broadway, 8th Floor
 New York, NY 10003




Windows of the Soul exhibit comes to New York City!

Posted on September 1, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Dear Family, Friends, Esteemed Colleagues, et al!

Welcome to my New York photo exhibit,

Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World,

based on my National Geographic memoir. 

The show is curated by Mark Bussell and presented by

NYU's Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School

of the Arts.

Here is the link below.

cheers,

Alexandra

NYU's Department of Photography & Imaging Presents Windows of the ...

Photojournalist Alexandra Avakian has covered many of the most important

issues and historic events of her time Her photographs have been published in ...

www.nyu.edu/.../nyus-department-of-photography-imaging-p...

 
 

UNDP Award

Posted on August 17, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Very pleased to be judging this award this week for UNDP: http://picturethis.undp.org/judges

Aramco World Magazine July/August

Posted on July 14, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Aramco World focuses on culture in the Arab world. This story I did for them is about the ancient Levantine craft of fine soap making: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201004/soaping.up.htm

National Geographic Student Summit

Posted on June 2, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

I'll be giving a slide show/workshop at National Geographic Student Summit this Sunday evening, June 6, at 7:30, select students only:http://www.ngstudentsummit.com/teachers/index.html

UNDP Photo contest

Posted on May 19, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Here is the link to the UNDP-Olympus-AFP Foundation Photo Contest I'm judging with 4 distinguished others. Deadline: July 16:

http://picturethis.undp.org/

Nat Geo Video

Posted on May 12, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Very pleased National Geographic's DVD about my work and Sam Abell's work is being shown around Toronto, including at The Stephen Bulger Gallery: http://bulgergallery.blogspot.com/2010/05/free-saturday-screening-at-camera_13.html:

FREE SATURDAY SCREENING at CAMERA

 
National Geographic Series 
May 15th, 2010 @ 3:00 PM
THE PHOTOGRAPHERS: SAM ABELL AND ALEXANDRA AVAKIAN
National Geographic Society (USA: 2009), 73 mins.

Beirut Tonight

Posted on May 9, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Beirut tonight: celebratory gunfire and votes not even all counted yet. 

Finished a feature for a magazine in Syria and Lebanon, and winding up my workshop for World Press Photo/MENA at Zico House tomorrow. Great students from Middle East: committed, inspired, talented.

Beirut friends : Yalla, come to my slide show/National Geographic book talk Windows of the Soul, at Zico House tomorrow night Monday, May 10 at 7:30 pm, 174 Spears Street Sanayeh, Beirut Lebanon Tel: +961 1 746 769 Ahlan wa sahlan!

Lebanon & Syria

Posted on May 1, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

So great to be here again! Shooting a story in Lebanon and Syria, then teaching a photo workshop for 6 exceptional students from the Arab world for MENA/World Press Photo at Zico House in Beirut, ending with the Windows of the Soul slide show ---open to the public.

Beirut show

Posted on April 22, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Hi Everyone,

Those of you in Beirut in May:

Come to my Windows of the Soul slide show/book signing at Zico House, May 10, 19:30 pm.

174 Spears St, Sanayeh, Beirut. Tel: 961-1-746 769

Off to NYC again this weekend for work....

Cheers....

NYC, Syria & Beirut

Posted on April 12, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Prepping for trips to NYC, Syria and Beirut!

The Latest

Posted on March 19, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

Hi Everybody, I am happy to announce my new website, www.alexandraavakian.com, designed by the extremely talented linesandwaves! I am still in the process of scanning 30 years of my best slides, prints and tearsheets, so it is a work in progress.

I am also happy to announce the March 26th presentation I will be giving called From Inside: Windows of the Soul & Photographing the Middle East for Magazines for The University of Arizona Tucson's Center for Middle Eastern Studies conference called Journalistic Representations of Islam: Print and Visual

Afterwards I will visit Paul Waldman at the Living American Master Photographers Project in Phoenix, where Paul is going to make my portrait for the project. Then I'll travel around Arizona and photograph that great state again. 

I loved teaching a workshop last month at the International Center of Photography called The Woman Photojournalist. It was deeply satisfying to share my experience in this life of photography, from 1982 when I was a student at ICP till now, with those amazing students. I also had some great guests in to share their exciting work and perspectives as well: the photographers Donna Ferrato and Yunghi Kim, the  editor/photographer/videographer/producer Mark Bussell and the photo editor Robert Stevens of Time Magazine, where he worked for over two decades, and where he supported the work of many of the best women photojournalists. I was very honored to have them speak in my class.

I have recently been working on deepening two projects, and starting a new one in which I explore new territory for me.

Till next time....

Filed Under: AmericaBooksWindows of the SoulNewsPhotographyTravelNews and EventsSlide ShowsSpeaking

ICP Workshop

Posted on January 28, 2010 by Alexandra Avakian

This month and next I'll be teaching my workshop entitled The Woman Photojournalist at the International Center of Photography on Jan. 30-31 and February 6-7. Full time photojournalism students only.

Upcoming Events

Posted on November 17, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

 

 

Here are some exciting programs I'm doing over the next couple of months:

November

As part of Foto Week DC and the Newseum's exhibition on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the pictures I shot for LIFE Magazine are showing on the forty-foot Atrium screen. This slide show runs continuously on a loop for the duration of the Berlin exhibit: http://www.newseum.org/news/news.aspx?item=nh_BERL091103&style=f

Saturday, November 7 at 2-5p.m. 

Foto Week DC and Lucien Perkins have organized a wonderful event called the Fotoweek Lecture Series at the Katzen Arts Center of American University featuring 3 photographers. At 4 p.m. I'll be giving a slide show of my National Geographic book Windows of the Soul, as well as a selection from the fall of the Berlin Wall: http://fotoweekdc.org/events/listing.aspx?id=233

Tuesday, November 10 

I'll be in New York City as a guest at the Women for Women Awards Gala where a selection of my recent Bosnia story for ELLE magazine will be projected.

Friday, November 13 at 2 pm

In Miami I'll be doing a slide show/lecture and book signing at Florida International University/School of International and Public Affairs, Middle East Studies Program!  Here are the details: http://news.fiu.edu/2009/10/renowned-photojournalist-alexandra-avakian-to-speak-at-fiu/

Saturday, November 14 at 11:30 am 

I'll be presenting a slide show and signing books at The Miami Book Fair!  More info: http://www.miamibookfair.com/events/alexandra_avakian_on_em_my_journeys_in_t.aspx

December

Wednesday, December 2

At the International Center of Photography in New York City I'll be doing a slide show/book signing of Windows of the Soul: http://www.icp.org/site/c.dnJGKJNsFqG/b.886227/k.9EDD/Lectures_amp_Public_Programs.htm

Thursday Dec 3, 6:30 - 8:30pm

See me at Columbia University's Davis Auditorium in New York City.  More info: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssr/davis_directions.html

Thanks a lot and see you soon!

Filed Under: PhotographyTravelNews and EventsBook SigningSlide ShowsSpeaking

Fall of the Berlin Wall

Posted on November 5, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Silhouette of a man chiseling away pieces of the Berlin Wall

1989 was already a great year: I had covered the Palestinian Intifada, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Glasnost and Perestroika in Moscow, the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, among other stories for Time Magazine and the New York Times.

On the evening of November 5, I was sitting on a friend's couch in Paris glued to my shortwave radio. Hour by hour the story became more exciting: the Berlin Wall might be coming down. That morning at five a.m. I jumped on a plane headed to Berlin. By the time I landed I had an assignment for LIFE Magazine. I found a two-star hotel whose best features were close proximity to the Wall and a gossipy owner who passed on the latest whispers he'd heard about the Wall.

The next morning I awoke before dawn and walked along the Wall, looking for pictures. I found a group of young West German men slamming the Wall with a hammer. It looked as if they had been at it all night. Suddenly water cannon started blasting through the crack the young men had made in the Wall. East German border guards were trying to push us away with the hard freezing blast of water. I made lots of pictures but one frame would become famous.

At a certain point I got up on the top of the Wall with some protesters to photograph. The East German soldiers came up too and forced us back down. It was not at all clear that the Berlin Wall would actually open or that it would go peacefully.

That night I was walking along the Wall and what seemed like tens of thousands of people were standing near Brandenburg Gate at the Wall. I knew I could never fight my way through that crowd to the base of the Wall, so I let the crowd carry me along in the general direction I thought I needed to go. I ended up in front of the Wall where I stood all night long in a denim jacket and flimsy Keds, so freezing I thought I would break in two. It ended up being the best spot. Sometime before dawn border guards and workers came and started systematically dismantling the Wall right in front of us. I was handed one of the very first chunks of Wall to be officially broken--it still sits on my desk.

By dawn people were streaming through the break in the wall. The next three days Berlin was joyful and it seemed nobody slept--the fall of the Berlin Wall was a rare peaceful resolution to a potentially dangerous event. Within days I was off to Prague to photograph the Velvet Revolution. » Fall of the Berlin Wall Photo Gallery

Avakian's Berlin Wall slide show is being projected continuously on the Newseum's 40 ft Atrium screen as part of Foto Week DC and the Newseum's exhibit Berlin Wall. » www.newseum.org/news/news.aspx?item=nh_BERL091103&style=f » www.fotoweekdc.org/events/listing.aspx?id=374

Filed Under: GermanyPhotography

Breast Cancer Awareness

Posted on October 2, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Self-portrait of the author

Hi everybody,
Check out my story on today's New York Times Lens. It was shot by me, my husband and son, and nurses. It is posted in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, because I know that many millions of women and their families cope with that common disease every day: » lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/01/behind-18/

Filed Under: PersonalPhotography

Fall for Windows of the Soul

Posted on September 16, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Windows of the Soul Book Cover

Catch my slide shows, and stories from Windows of the Soul this fall:

At the 2009 Fall for the Book Festival, Tuesday September 22 at 7:30pm. Join me at the Johnson Center Cinema on George Mason University's Fairfax, Virginia Campus. » Map

Filed Under: PhotographyNews and EventsBook SigningSlide ShowsSpeaking

Photographic Home

Posted on September 4, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Photo of children's dolls

Hello again from Visa pour L'image international photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France. Visa pour L'image is one of my photographic homes, and I am deeply pleased to be exhibiting here again. Terrific shows abound with the photojournalists such as Eugene Richards, the late Francois Demulder, Abbas, David Burnett, Massimo Berutti, Dominic Nahr, Walter Astrada, and more. Wednesday I was honored to be a judge on the Pierre and Alexandra Boulat Association grant. They were dear friends of mine.

Then we had a lovely, long luncheon given by Canon for the exhibiting photojournalists. I gave a gallery talk to about two hundred people from many countries and walks of life, that afternoon. The turnout for the festival has been just huge.

Thursday there was another wonderful luncheon given by ICP. Jean-Francois Leroy received the Chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Literature Last night. Then, the National Geographic cocktail party was hosted by Susan Smith and Maura Mulvihill, in a slight breeze near the flying buttresses of an ancient church. Afterwards, as always, everyone went to the nightly projections.

Busy with lots of media interviews back to back. Yesterday I did a book signing of Windows of the Soul, and gallery talk in front of my exhibit as well. Sold the books out. ELLE gave a gorgeous little party at the Couvant des Minimes. Today there is a party on the beach given by Paris Match.

Professional Week at Visa pour L'image is ending this weekend and we'll all jet off in different directions. But first there will be a lovely dinner by the sea Sunday night. Next week the shows open to the general public.

Filed Under: BooksWindows of the SoulPersonalPhotographyTravel

Jean-Francois Leroy and Visa Pour L’Image

Posted on August 28, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Portrait of Jean Francois Leroy

Jean-Francois Leroy, Director and Founder of Visa Pour L'Image on the staircase of Hotel Pams, Perpignan, France

Hello from lovely Perpignan in the south of France, where I am honored to have an exhibition at the renowned international photojournalism festival Visa Pour L'image. This is my third exhibit at Visa Pour L'Image; the first was 21 years ago in 1988, the first year of the festival.

Walking along sun-blasted cobblestone streets, taking shelter in cool shadows along the way, I smell dust, fresh bread and the tang of stewing tomatoes and hot spices; behind tall windows shuttered against the sun, lunch is cooking. A silver-green olive tree stands alone in the center of a tiny square. Fresh laundry moves slightly on lines strung across ancient alleys; a boy dashes through a sharp streak of light.

On Rue Emile Zola I come to Hotel Pams, the base of the festival, where I visited with Visa Pour L'Image founder and Director Jean-Francois Leroy in his office.

Jean-Francois has long given much of his time and heart to photojournalism; he is one of the most important curators and editors in the world, and an enduring, passionate defender of photojournalists. He's in constant motion so soon before the opening of the festival this Saturday, Aug. 29.

Every year there is a theme for the festival, and 2009 has a dramatic one. So, please click here to read an interview with Jean-Francois Leroy, by Caroline Laurent and Lucas Menget on this year's theme at Visa and the future of photojournalism:

» Interview with JF Leroy (PDF Format)

Filed Under: PhotographyTravel

Visa pour l’Image - Perpignan

Posted on August 26, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

A woman stands outside the ruins of a burned mosque with her two children

I'll be at Visa pour l'Image - the premier International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, France. Stay tuned for updates from the festival and news about my exhibit.

Filed Under: PhotographyTravelNews and EventsExhibitions

Windows of the Soul on NPR’s Picture Show

Posted on July 24, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Children in the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza

Check out NPR's Picture Show today, featuring Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World by photojournalist Alexandra Avakian, published by Focal Point/National Geographic.

Filed Under: BooksWindows of the SoulPhotographyNews and EventsNews

Windows of the Soul on Time.com

Posted on July 17, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

TIME.com now features the book Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World, by Alexandra Avakian, published by National Geographic.

A young Kurdish bride on Zarivar Lake

An actress on a movie set in Kish Island, Iran

Filed Under: BooksWindows of the SoulPhotographyNews and EventsNews

Iran Today

Posted on June 23, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Portrait of Alexandra Avakian on assignment in Iran

This is a caption for my image

Twenty years ago this month, in June 1989, I was in Iran photographing the mourning for Ayatollah Khomeini. Ten years ago I covered the reform movement when it was in power under President Mohammed Khatami. Iran has shifted from right to left and back again, but always within the context of an Islamic state. As I write this Iran is passing through dramatic social upheaval again with a moderate opposition movement taking to the streets to contest recent elections favoring the conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the conservatives crack down. The stakes for the future of the Islamic Republic are high and the outcome is uncertain at this time. Read more about my experiences in Iran from my fall 2008 post: http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/photography/windowsofthesoul/iran. And view my photos from Iran: Iran Today Photo Gallery »

Filed Under: IranNewsPhotographyTravelNews and EventsBook Signing

Windows of the Soul on NY Times Lens

Posted on June 4, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

People outside of a Palestinian farm, burned to the ground by Israeli settlers

Dear Friends and Colleagues, Check out today's New York Times feature about Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World. Click here: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/

MULTIMEDIA | June 04, 2009
Lens: Showcase: Taking Risks
By James Estrin

Alexandra Avakian takes chances. She faced down militias in Somalia and covered riots and conflict in Gaza, Lebanon and the Caucasus to make the photographs in her book, "Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World" (Focal Point/National Geographic, 2008).

Source: lens.blogs.nytimes.com

Filed Under: AmericaBooksWindows of the SoulNewsPhotography

New DVD, Exhibit News, and More

Posted on May 11, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Dear Readers/Viewers,

Windows of the Soul
news includes:

The launch of a new NG Live! DVD in The Photographers series of my slide lecture (and Sam Abell's) at the National Geographic Society, and it includes up close and personal interviews. Learn more and buy the DVD here.

The Windows of the Soul photo exhibit will premier at the 21st edition of the International Festival of Photojournalism Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan, France. The dates are August 29th to September 13th. Find out more here.

Windows of the Soul is excerpted in the spring issue of Sarah Lawrence Magazine - read more here.

The Armenian Reporter did an in-depth interview, reprinted here.

On April 9th my photos from mass graves in Syria were shown as a slide show in New York at Columbia University during a forum on the Armenian Genocide moderated by New York Times reporter Andrea Kannapell, featuring Professor Taner Akcam and lawyer Mark Geragos.

Arizona was lovely, moody and beautiful; saw lots coyotes, deer, and other fauna and flora such as Saguaro cactus and plentiful desert spring flowers. Took a trip with my family all the way down to Nogales where we stayed at a gorgeous 300 year old cattle ranch, now an inn. Here is the ranch on a National Geographic map.

Then at the Tucson Festival of Books, I did two slide show/book talks and two signings for The Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the BookStore, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Amanda Shauger of KXCI public radio talked at length with me about the book - hear the interview here.

I did a live segment on KOLD TV and was also interviewed by Tony Paniagua on KUAZ public radio station.

Teenage Native American dancers text messaging between dances during a pow-wow

While I was in Arizona, a pow wow took place at the Tohono O'odham reservation. I felt lucky, as I have long been interested in photographing there. Above is a photo of some Native American dancers text messaging behind the San Xavier Church. Thanks and until next time!

Filed Under: AmericaBooksNewsPhotography

Slideshows in the Desert

Posted on March 6, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

A man selling fish on the street in Gaza, while a young member of the army jumps out of a truck behind him, gun in hand.

Gaza City

This weekend I'm off to the Arizona desert for photography, work, and fun. Later next week I will be at the Tucson Festival of Books in Arizona.

On Thursday, March 12 at 6:30, The University of Arizona's Center for Middle East Studies and the U.A. School of Journalism are co-sponsoring my book slideshow/talk. Learn more at www.cmes.arizona.edu/calendar.

And I'll do it again in slightly different form for the Festival at the University of Arizona Bookstore on Saturday, March 14 at 2:30 pm, where I will also be signing books. Learn more at www.uofabookstores.com/uaz/TFOB/default.asp.

Well, Chicago was wonderful. On February 19, I gave my brand new Windows of the Soul slide show/talk for a sensitive and deep audience of art and book lovers and others at FLATFILEgalleries. I showed 70 slides and told some of the edgiest and most compelling stories from my book in a personal tour of Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World.

Susan Aurinko, the gallery owner/director, photographer and poet also read two beautiful poems by Nadia Anjoman, the late Afghan poet. Please read them here on the UniVerse website: www.universeofpoetry.org/Afghanistan.shtml.

Richard Fammeree and Francesco Levato of UniVerse read poems that night. Francesco's was harrowing: an unrelenting, personal view of war that doesn't let you off the hook and as it shouldn't. (War Rug: www.francescolevato.com). Fammeree's poetry had a gentler view with visions of ancient world and the differences and similarities between us.

Also on February 19, I sat for an in-depth interview about my book and life on Chicago Public Radio's Worldview with the excellent host Jerome McDonnell. You can listen to the interview here.

Will write to you again after Arizona!

Filed Under: AmericaBooksNewsPhotographyTravel

Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World Latest!

Posted on February 23, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

On Saturday, February 21 at 8 a.m. (EST) and Sunday, February 22 at 12 a.m. and 1 p.m. (EST), CSPAN2's Book TV featured Alexandra's NG Live! October 2008 slide show and book talk at the National Geographic Society.

On Thursday, February 19, Alexandra and Windows of the Soul were featured in an in-depth interview on "Worldview" with Jerome McDonnell on Chicago Public Radio, and at a slide show and book signing at FLATEFILEgalleries in Chicago.

Voice of America TV, Radio and website covered Avakian and Windows of the Soul last month, and again on February 21 & February. 22 on the V.O.A. program Conference USA.

For Avakian's blog, gallery, bio, book and more visit blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/photography/windowsofthesoul.

CONTACT:

Jeffrey D. Smith
jeffreysmith@contactpressimages.com
Contact Press Images, Inc.
341 West 38th Street -7th fl
New York, NY 10018
Phone: 212-695-7874 or 7875
Fax: 212-695-7768

Filed Under: AmericaBooksWindows of the SoulNewsPhotography

Book News

Posted on February 12, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

WINDOWS OF THE SOUL: My Journeys in the Muslim World

News About Alexandra Avakian's Memoir

Windows of the Soul Book Cover

Hi Everybody,

Time for some updates on press coverage of Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World.

This month I'm featured in a full page article in Washingtonian magazine called "Art Among the Ruins" (Feb. 2009 issue, and on-line). The article notes that "She's been shot at and beaten. Through it all, this photojournalist captured amazing images of war—and peace."

CSPAN2's Book TV will feature Alexandra's NG Live! slide show and book talk on Feb. 21 at 8 a.m. and Feb. 22 at 12 a.m. and 2 p.m.—for more information, click here.

This month V.O.A. TV, Radio, and website features Windows of the Soul in several languages. For more information, click here. In its January-February 2009 issue, American Photo magazine recognized Windows of the Soul as one of the top photo books of 2008. American Photo Editor in Chief David Schonauer has praised Avakian's photos as "visually adventurous" and her National Geographic blog as "important" and "intriguing". To read more, visit stateoftheart.popphoto.com/blog/2008/10/an-important-bo.html.

Next time I write to you will be after a new slide show/book signing I am doing next Thursday on February 19 at FLATFILEgalleries in Chicago, 6-9pm. Later on in the evening there will be great poetry readings as well, by poets of UniVerse. Welcome all. It promises to be a very exciting event…

Location

February 19, 6-9 pm
FLATFILEgalleries
217 N Carpenter
Chicago IL 60607 »See Map
312.491.1190
email: info@flatfilegalleries.com

Filed Under: AmericaBooksWindows of the SoulNewsPhotography

Iran

Posted on January 29, 2009 by Alexandra Avakian

Traveling in the Islamic Republic of Iran was one of my most personal journeys and is in the second chapter of my book. You probably want to know: why would an American woman with all the freedom in the world want to subject herself to so much time in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country that has shared mutual official enmity with the United States for thirty years? Why would she go to a place where it is illegal to go outside without wearing Islamic dress and where a U.S. journalist must work with a government approved minder and have permission for every story point she wants to cover?

Deep reasons.

My grandfather Mesrop Avakian was born in Iran. He came to the United States in 1923. But my family roots there stretch back to the distant past when northwestern Iran was part of the vast land of ancient Urartu. I strongly believe in crossing cultural boundaries to visually describe the lives of others, even when politics divide our countries. Indeed I have lived my life that way.

An engaged couple spends time together on Khajou Bridge

Long before I had the opportunity to go there myself, my father Aram Avakian, the film director and editor, went to scout locations in Iran for a movie he was slated to make with Sean Connery. That was in the Shah's time, the summer of 1978. He came back after a month and told me: "That was a great trip but I'll never be able to make this movie." But why? I asked him. "There's going to be a revolution and this man will come back and take power." He showed me underground fliers and a button with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini on it, which he was given by his driver. He'd seen demonstrations in the street. I still have the beautiful black and white photos he took on that journey.

The first chance I got to go to the Islamic Republic myself was when Ayatollah Khomeini died. I had been covering the Arab Summit in May 1989 for Time magazine when I read that Ayatollah Khomeini had died. I quickly went to Iran and covered the grieving for him, again for Time. Then the authorities allowed me to stay on and work for almost two precious weeks.

Much of the Iranian side of my family had left by 1979. But the ones who remained, I was forbidden to see by my family in New York—an American photojournalist dropping in at that time might have brought them unwanted attention from the government. Especially since after the revolution, their building in the Tehran Bazaar had been confiscated. It took them about 15 years to prove in the Islamic courts that they had no links to the Shah's regime—when they succeeded the building was returned.

Still it was a thrill to be there, to look on the same mountains my grandfather had seen, to absorb the unique beauty of Iran. It wasn't without challenging experiences—I was pressured by my minder when he took a liking to me and was screamed at by a crowd when the sleeve of my Islamic robe (chador) slipped back to reveal my wrist. To visit friends I had to take several taxis to throw informants off our scent, so I wouldn't put Iranian friends in danger simply by visiting for a party or a meal.

But after leaving I always dreamed of going back and working in more depth. This chance came in 1998 when President Mohammed Khatami was in power and my proposal for big feature was accepted by National Geographic magazine. I spent four months in the country, given spectacular access for an American photojournalist. Khatami had launched his "Dialogue of Civilizations" outreach and had invited Western academics and journalists to come see the country for themselves, and I jumped on it. He was liberalizing some rules and aspects of Iranian society. He was liberalizing some rules AND aspects of Iranian society. I traveled almost everywhere I wanted in the country. Still, some Iranians told me that I enjoyed more freedom in their own country then they do. I joined Khatami on a three-day trip to Kordestan Province. When it was finished, the story fulfilled my desire to go beyond the headlines and the obstacles between Americans and Iranians, and to bring images from deep inside Iran to Westerners and Asians through National Geographic's domestic and various foreign editions. (You can learn more in the July 1999 cover story of National Geographic magazine, and see National Geographic Explorer TV documentary on Avakian's work "Iran: Behind the Veil").

Every minute was precious to me, especially photographing the lives of ordinary people, political leaders, an Ayatollah, nomads, mystics, terrific women, and visiting my ancestral village in the northwest. I cover these stories in depth in my book Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World. There were frustrating experiences in Iran, like being detained and questioned by authorities twice or being smeared by a right wing Iranian newspaper, but nothing could spoil those memorable journeys for me. Today, Iran is again under extreme conservative rule. Yet I have been welcomed back. Until next time…

Filed Under: BooksIranPhotographyTravel

The Palestinians

Posted on December 19, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

35mm film image of a Palestinian girl holding a dove

Palestinian girl holding a dove on the roof of her home in the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza.

My book Windows of the Soul is divided into six chapters/locations. I decided it was better to go into depth in a few places than to skip superficially through twenty countries. So, lets start the chapters:

The Palestinians

I'll tell you a few things that aren't in my book for space reasons, from my time working on the story of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I first arrived in Israel in early 1988. My stepfather, the director John Hancock, and my mother the actress and screenwriter Dorothy Tristan, were making an HBO movie with Mariel Hemingway in the starring role. They invited me along long before the first Palestinian Intifada had broken out. But when I arrived it was under way, and as I arrived at a hotel in East Jerusalem, I knew I would not be seeing my family often. Such is my passion for my job while I am working.

Near sunset on my first day in Jerusalem, I dropped my bags in my room, hailed a cab driven by a middle-aged Palestinian man and said "Take me to the Intifada please." He drove me to Shuafat, a nearby refugee camp, and sure enough there was a riot under way. I worked for Time magazine that first trip—for over three months, each day documenting the extraordinary violence in the West Bank and Gaza between Israeli forces and settlers, and the "shabab", the young men of the streets, who were at that time using stones against the army. The first Arabic I learned—and quickly—was "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and "Weyn jesh? Weyn mustashfa?" (Where are the soldiers? Where is the hospital?)

My mother asked me if I would take her to see the Intifada. I said no. It was so dangerous—bullets being fired by the army and journalists threatened by demonstrators. I couldn't risk her being harmed and I couldn't work while watching her. My stepfather put me in his movie as an extra because he needed a focal point for a scene—he made me a Kurdish rebel woman who gets blown up by Iraqi government forces. I hardly saw my family.

I returned again and again to the West Bank and Gaza for seven years, even while based in Moscow covering Perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union, working for Time Magazine (September 1990 - September 1992), and after working for them in Africa for nearly six months (October 1992 - May 1993). Over those seven years I also often photographed Yasser Arafat. It started as an assignment for the New York Times magazine in the fall of 1988. They sent me to Tunis, where he was still in exile, to get exclusive access for a cover story about him written by Marie Colvin, who already knew him well. He was formidably cranky at times--hard-bitten guerillas and senior advisors were sometimes terrified to even approach him. Other times he was gentle, making me drink tea or eat watermelon with him. In his high voice he called me "troublemaker" and "dictator," but always gave me great access.

I traveled on his plane to Libya, Algiers, Washington DC for the signing of the Oslo Accords and Oslo when he received the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzahk Rabin and Shimon Peres. I got to know his wife Suha. After they came to Gaza from exile in Tunis, we would often have lunch or tea. She lived on the top floor of their relatively modest villa: that was her domain. Arafat lived simply and mostly downstairs, which was the place for security, secretaries and others. But when there was an earthquake one morning Arafat shot upstairs in his pajamas and grabbed their tiny baby, rushing into the sandy streets with her. I write some more about him in the book.

35mm film image of Palestinian police searching a Hamas home

Jabalyah Refugee Camp, Gaza, March 1996: Palestinian police search a Hamas home at night.

I lived in the Gaza Strip for two years (summer 1993 - winter 1995) in bare-bones Palestinian apartments near the Mediterranean Sea and a few blocks from Shati Refugee Camp, also known as Beach Camp. At first, Gaza was still under occupation by the Israeli Army and I lived under an 8 pm nightly curfew until the spring of 1994 when they withdrew, making way for the Palestinian guerillas who returned as Palestinian Police after the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington, D.C. and before Arafat's arrival from exile in July 1994. During this time the streets were ruled by the radical Islamic group Hamas, and I lived in Islamic dress when out in public, even while covering the conflict. After Arafat returned in July 1994, secular groups—particularly Fatah-ruled Gaza and I went without the scarf.

The Israelis let me pass the checkpoint that separates Gaza from Israel and they knew I lived there—they let me do this without a problem. The Palestinians made me feel at home. But tough things happened of course—being beaten by a group of Hamas rioters, being shot at by Israeli troops, and getting to know a young man who unbeknownst to me was a Hamas guerilla and cell leader, which I discovered along with the rest of the world when he was killed by Israeli troops when he kidnapped an Israeli soldier. After a Palestinian attack on an Israeli army patrol, I was also stuck in a house under 24-hour curfew with armed Palestinian guerillas as Israeli soldiers searched the street just outside the door. I write about all these things in the book, and more.

35mm film image of a Palestinian farm set ablaze by Israeli settlers

Near Khan Yunus, Gaza, November 1993: Israeli settlers burned this Palestinian farm at dawn.

There were many dangerously close calls in Gaza that I didn't have room for in the book—like fending off a crazed young man who tried to force his way into my apartment and being picked out and warned by an Israeli sniper to move or be shot during a demo ( two days later an AP photographer was shot by a sniper at just that place.) I photographed Israelis undercover as Palestinians make arrests in Palestine Square and haul youths off in an army truck. Naively I once gave someone a ride and found he had hidden a pistol in my car. I photographed a suicide bomber's torched corpse still in his car--the bomb had detonated prematurely. And in the West Bank after leaving the Ariel settlement at night, the Israeli truck behind me was hit with a Molotov Cocktail. It gave me chills to know they had passed on hitting my car, especially when the Israeli soldiers at the next checkpoint explained how it was done. Under a street light, but hidden carefully, one person watched the vehicle and flicked his lighter when he had decided an Israeli was inside, and the next person, hidden by darkness, threw the petrol bomb. I had a Press sign on my car and I guess they had a doubt.

There were countless instances like these. Many of the best stories are in the book.

Some weekends I would spend in Jerusalem or Ramallah. While in Jerusalem I knew what it felt to be like an Israeli, shopping on Jaffa Street, or stuck in a traffic jam next to a bus--scary. Suicide bombings were common those days in Israel and I had to deal with that worry and fear like so m any Israelis did. In addition, I was often on the Palestinian side—I learned what it felt to be in a Palestinian mother's shoes one day while shopping for vegetables with friends and their children in the outdoor market in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers started shooting at demonstrators there and suddenly I wasn't a photographer, I was a protector of those children and I used all the skills I had learned covering the conflict to get them to safety instead of covering what was happening.

There were so many things I saw while covering the Israeli-Palestinian story that taught me about life there. I visited Hamas summer camps where videos of martyrs were shown to small children, spent time with gypsies who, for religious reasons, were forbidden to perform music or dance in public and did it solely for each other behind locked doors and shut windows; Israeli settlers living in American style suburban-type developments surrounded by barbed wire and protected by soldiers; spent time with the Palestinian elite in their villas, and I slept on the floor in a refugee camp home often. There was a crazed teen on the beach at Shati refugee camp, a boy of the Intifada generation, with wild and matted hair who used to shoot into the sea with an imaginary gun, then turn and imagine he was firing at me. One day I saw him while working for a German magazine, firing away at the sea: "Tokh! Tokh!" Bang! Bang! Little boys all dressed up and coming from a wedding on that stormy day asked him in Arabic "Where's the enemy buddy?" then they practiced throwing stones, into the sea. There were a lot of kids damaged by the conflict on both sides.

35mm film image of a man selling fish on the street in Gaza, while an Israeli solider jumps out of a truck behind him

Gaza City, Gaza, July 1993: A man sells fish while an Israeli soldier jumps out of his truck to chase Palestinians who had been throwing stones.

I would occasionally go home to my loft in SoHo, New York City. While at home in Manhattan, I was sometimes haunted by a different reality as I had already spent years living abroad, covering many conflicts. A car backfiring would put me on edge; a helicopter flying above made me tense and watchful. To wait on line at the bank or in a supermarket was intolerably boring. My adrenaline was primed for an edgier life out in the conflict and news gathering world, and being home made me antsy and impatient. It took years after I stopped covering news in 1996 before that feeling went away.

I still love my work and calling as a photographer, but since recently surviving breast cancer, I also appreciate every sharp wind, every sunrise, and the love in my son's eyes even more than ever. And another thing, after surviving all that I have in my life and seeing the things I have seen, I am more fearless than ever. I stopped covering news because I no longer wanted to spend so much time at funerals. It had gotten to be too much. And I felt lucky to be alive and in one piece. I wanted to celebrate joy and culture in my subjects. And I still do so.

For so many years I had felt driven to be a messenger of the news, to capture moments on film to share with the public at large. There was a sense of public service about it. I'm not sure that the public understands well enough that for most photojournalists it isn't about the money--it is a sense of mission that is both intensely personal, and about something beyond oneself.

Filed Under: BooksPalestiniansPhotographyTravel

Being a Woman Photographer: An Important Part of the Journey

Posted on November 22, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

Women at the shrine of Hazrat Fatemah Ma'soomeh

The Holy Shrine of Hazrat Fatemah Ma'soomeh

It is Foto Week here in Washington, D.C., and I've been busy going to exhibitions, events. I also helped hang a photo exhibit I'm part of which was the kick-off event of the week, by Contact Press Images, the photo agency I belong to. (Get more information about Foto Week at www.fotoweekdc.org)

I've also got some photos on exhibit now at the National Geographic Society: www.nationalgeographic.com/museum/exhibitions/focal-point.html.

Continuing to expand upon aspects of my book, Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World, published by Focal Point, National Geographic Books' new imprint, and wrapping up the intro chapter, people often ask me what it is like to be a woman in my field, so here we go:

Contact sheet showing photos from Mogadishu, Somalia

Mogadishu, Somalia

Being a woman working in the Muslim world has mostly been a great experience—one of the most satisfying of my life. Sure, I have been beaten, shot at, and more, as I write about in my book, but these things happen anywhere to anybody in the world during a conflict, most recently in Congo or Georgia. The Muslim world is just like the rest of the planet: It goes through cycles of political change, and sometimes that change can be dramatic.

Men at a Hezbollah rally in Lebanon

Hezbollah rally, Baalbek, Lebanon

I have mostly been made to feel at home in the Muslim world. I have made a point to dress modestly and know the local etiquette and culture wherever I have worked. Throughout my career, I have had unusual access to Islamist groups and individuals, including Hamas and Hezbollah, so being a woman has not at all been a disadvantage. Indeed, being a woman has actually been an advantage in that once trust is earned, I have been able to interact with both male and female sides of the conservative Muslim world. Male photographers are usually forbidden entry to the world of conservative Muslim women.

Masked women on the street in Iran

Masked women, Minab, Iran

In the field and on assignment, being a woman helps as much as it hinders. Sometimes people will help you because you are a woman, or think you couldn't possibly be analytical or important enough to be a challenge. Other times they will stop you because they think it's easier to do so. Being a woman in the photography world is as tough as in any other male-dominated field, although I have mostly been supported spectacularly in my career by the best editors, and am grateful for it. There have also been unfortunate incidents of gender bias and sexual harassment that I have in common with working women in many professions.

A Sudanese solider stands with a machine gun, while a small child looks on in the background

Yuai , Southern Sudan

As you will see from my book, there is no difference between me and the toughest, most successful male photographers. My experience as a photojournalist has been exciting and rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade back any of it. Being a woman has been an important part of that journey.

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Filed Under: AmericaBooksPhotography

Washington, D.C.

Posted on November 11, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

Two men waving a flag in celebration outside of Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant on U Street NW, in Washington DC

Before wrapping up the personal intro section of my book by jumping into the subject of being a woman photojournalist in the world at large and in the Muslim world, I'd like to post some of my pix from U ST. NW in Washington D.C. the night President-elect Barack Obama won the election.

DC residents celebrating in the streets

U Street, NW is famous in African American history and culture. That was the place to be Tuesday night and I stayed till past 3 am.

A man raises his arms in victory on U Street

Worldwide I 've been present at joyful highpoints of struggles for independence in places like Eastern Europe, the entire former USSR, and the Middle East, but I had never seen this kind of ecstasy in American streets until Nov. 4 2008.

Filed Under: AmericaPersonalPhotography

Tough Situations in Difficult Countries

Posted on November 4, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

Mount Ararat, as photographed from a burning Armenian wheat field

Continuing to chat about the personal introduction chapter, the other thing that drew me to cover tough situations in difficult countries undergoing change was that like many American immigrants the Armenian side of my family had experienced some rather challenging events before coming to the United States. My family had to move often between northern Iran, the Caucuses, and Russia, according to the dangers and pressures they faced.

In the photo above, Mount Ararat--where the bible says Noah's ark landed--is Armenia's holy mountain and stands in Turkey. I photographed it from Armenian wheat fields.

I began learning the details when I was about 20. My family didn't want to tell us about it when we were too young.

My family experienced the Russian Revolution and many of my grandmother's relatives were wiped out in Stalin's Great Terror. And in the early 1800s they barely survived a cholera epidemic in Armenia. The Iranian side of the family also lived through the Constitutional and 1979 Revolutions of Iran.

They fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as violence also spilled over the Persian border, plus several smaller massacres before and after that. Turkish Armenian relatives also survived the Genocide. During that time there was no UN in existence to stop the organized killings. There was no bunch of international photojournalists to document it in pictures. But there were some military officers from Germany and Russia who did photograph the killing fields. There were diplomats who witnessed it and reported. The genocide and the massacres were covered well by reporters in the New York Times, National Geographic magazine, and other publications of the day—and extensively in the Arabic press. In 1915 there was no such word as "genocide"—it was created later to describe the Jewish Holocaust and describes other cases of government-organized ethnic cleansing as well.

A shadow of a digger cast against remnants of a mass grave site

I photographed some of the mass graves in 2005 on the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in northern Syria, which was part of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. My Uncle Roy Gertmenian was from Adana in Turkey and was marched into the Syrian desert as a four-year-old and survived. These sites are near the old path of the Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates. In Syria riverbanks were favorite spots for the elimination of Armenians, mostly women and children. The men had been killed first back in Turkey. I photographed children's teeth and the skulls and bones of adults. Each of these sites is threatened: This one (not in the book) is in Ras ul Ain, hard against the Turkish border, and has a farm atop it. Bones are tossed aside and crushed every year as farmers till the land. Locals won't eat produce from here and it must be sold far afield.

Hands holding a pile of bone fragments, recovered from a mass grave at Margada

The mass grave at Margada had a waterworks project on it when I was there. Here Armenian and Muslim youths are digging for bones: One enormous mass grave is under the town of Deir el Zor, one under a reservoir. A small one is part of an oil field, near Shadadiye.

A man pays respects to a church elder on Genocide Day

These Syrian Muslim sheikhs whose families had saved Armenian orphans came to pay respects at the Armenian church at Deir el Zor on Genocide Day.

I had to be engaged in the world and to understand its troubles—to get as close as I could to knowing what my family had experienced. What was it like to be a refugee, a mother trying to protect her child, a person fighting in the street for freedom? It is not ideology that interests me so much, but how far people will go in order to survive, to be free, or even just to feed their families. I was drawn to those places my family had lived. I worked in post-revolution Iran, covered several civil wars in the Caucuses, lived in Moscow from 1990-1992 to document the fall of the Soviet Union and the aftermath for Time. (Here is a cover of mine. ) More on those as we get to their chapters.

A man swings a sledgehammer at a fractured portion of the Berlin Wall, while onlookers cheer

I also photographed in other countries and stories outside the Middle East, so here for a change of scene, is one of the pictures I did for Life of the Berlin Wall. The East Germans were firing water cannons through the hole these West Germans made at dawn that November morning in 1989.

In 1996 I stopped covering open conflict—long before I became a mother. I felt lucky to be in one piece and bone- and soul-tired of funerals. I wanted to embrace life and beauty in the subjects I chose. Now I still work in countries undergoing change where anything can happen, and I do sometimes work with people in tragic or hard circumstances.

By the way, the worst physical harm I ever came to on the job was breaking my knee seriously while on assignment for National Geographic in Romania, despite being beaten by Hamas, shot at by Israeli troops, threatened by a 12-year-old gunman in Somalia, and fired on by Azeri troops, among other things.

So, one doesn't need to go to obviously dangerous places to be at risk. Spinning out of control on an icy road in Moscow or being caught in a blizzard in the New Mexican desert during a vacation is just as frightening.

Next, I'll write about what it's like to be a woman in my profession, and to live and work in the regions covered in the book.

Filed Under: ArmeniaPhotographyTravel

Born Into Art

Posted on October 28, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

Self-portrait of the author's father, Aram Avakian

Now I'll move on to the personal intro of the book, but these photos are not in it.

This is a self-portrait of my dad in the New York City subway at Penn Station, taken in the 1950s before I was born. He was a photographer and TV editor then; later he went on to edit and direct movies. But around the time he took this photo he was shooting pictures of great jazz musicians, whom my Uncle George Avakian, the legendary jazz producer, was working with. Dad had already graduated from Yale, been an officer in the U.S. Navy, studied at the Sorbonne and lived in Paris. He was an existentialist.

Composite photo of the author's mother and father

My mother, Dorothy Tristan, was a Ford model back in the 1950s. This photo is of her, taken by my Dad for a Life magazine story about them and their movie End of the Road, in 1969. By that time she was an accomplished, classically trained actress in the theatre. She also did movies and TV. She is still an actress, as well as a screenplay writer, and she is working on a novel.

She was the stunning blond in Klute. My stepfather is the distinguished movie and theater director John D. Hancock. The film Bang the Drum Slowly might ring a bell. I had an exciting upbringing in California, New York, and London, among other places.

Though my family was on the cutting-edge creatively and I grew up around great artists of all kinds, my parents were also socially conscious. I remember my mother taking me to an anti-Vietnam demo in Central Park.

My father taught me very early about photography. By the time I was nine he had already dissected Life magazine essays by great photographers with me, showing me why one picture was run large, another small, and what an establishing shot and a good ender was. I sat on his lap while he was editing movies as he explained to me why he was cutting in a certain spot. He let me look through the movie camera when he directed a film so I could see how the director of photography had composed a shot. As a kid I used to help with all kinds of things on movie sets from special effects to being an extra. What an education.

By the time I was in college my father had built me a darkroom and edited my photo essays with me. Becoming a photographer was the most natural thing in the world for me. I was born for it. Dad never wanted me to photograph conflict, though. But this was something I just had to do, having been fascinated by what people will do to be free since I was in college. My first chance to do that was in Haiti as the people revolted and dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled. But that's another story.

Filed Under: AmericaBooksPhotographyTravel

America

Posted on October 17, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

A woman stands outside the ruins of a burned mosque in Savannah, Georgia with her two children

Also in the front-of-the-book essay is this photo of a Savannah, Georgia, mosque that was burned to the ground in an arson attack in the summer of 2003. The attack followed threatening letters and gunshots fired at the mosque in the night. Muslim Americans were under quite a lot of pressure after 9/11, even though most of them love America as much as any other immigrants.

Two Sikh-Americans sitting amongst the remains of their destroyed business

The other picture, not in the book, is of Sikh Americans who were mistaken for Arabs in November 2004. Their gas station/convenience store was torched in a hate crime in Chesterfield, Virginia, and anti-Arab slogans were spray-painted on trash bins out back.

Filed Under: AmericaBooksTravel

Egypt

Posted on October 17, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

Women waiting outside a bus stop in Cairo

I’ve been to Egypt several times, snorkeling in the Red Sea, sailing the Nile down to Luxor and Aswan, visiting the lake at Fayyoum, the Pyramids, and Cairo. The women in this picture from the photo essay at the front of the book were waiting for a bus in Cairo.

Scene in a soukh cafe

In the second, a picture left out of the book, a couple talks in a soukh café while teenage boys smoke tobacco in water pipes.

Contact strip showing several shots of the Great Pyramids as seen through the interior of a car

The third is a negative strip of the Pyramids.

Filed Under: BooksEgyptPhotographyTravel

Iraq

Posted on October 16, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

An Iraqi minder standing on the street, with a portrait of Saddam Hussein behind him

Though based in Moscow, I traveled widely in Iraq after the first Gulf War and returned in 1999 to cover Iraq’s problem with looted archaeology. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a difficult, miserable, fear-soaked universe crawling with informants. People could not even trust family members, much less neighbors. A child might even unwittingly betray its parents if politics were spoken of openly in the home. The parallels to Stalinism were no mistake. Saddam used Stalin’s tried and true methods to great effect.

I wrote a story for Time magazine in February 1992 about how a Baghdad family had to turn up music and shut windows before they would discuss politics with me, about the young girl who had to be hustled out of danger by an older relative simply because she talked to me. I have never forgotten her. She asked me for a book to read in English and I was not able to give her one. During that trip I visited a Basra nightclub with the writer, also a woman, and our government minder. We spent the evening talking with two prostitutes who told us of their woeful lives, one of them in tears. Then the lights were turned on and army troops marched in, led by an officer. They rounded up all the young men in the club and took them away. I had slipped my camera below the table, and my finger was on the shutter. I was tempted to shoot a picture quietly—just lay the camera on the table. With just one click I would have something. The minder begged me as if he had read my mind: “Don’t do it—please. I will be punished.” How could I?

Silhouette of an Iraqi boy crossing a river of sewage

When we were taken to Karbala to see how “normal” things were after the Shiia uprising we saw the holy mosque riddled with bullet holes and tense worship in the shrine of Imam Hussein surveyed by informants.

When I returned to cover the loss of archaeology to looters in 1999 for Natural History magazine I found it telling that my Sunni minder and driver were terrified to be on the roads in the Shiia southern part of the country after dark. In a country such as Saddam’s Iraq, as an American woman alone, I could not go anywhere without the minder. The police state was such that if I stepped away from him at any time to take pictures, Muhabarat, the secret police, would materialize out of nowhere to question me and stop me from working. There was a personal feeling of being trapped, of needing to get the job done and get out safely, and of paralyzing fear and paranoia in the hearts of people I attempted to photograph.

Even the minder was afraid of walking in the Shiia markets. He was afraid of the military governors we had to check in with along the way. In order to visit the as-yet-unexcavated southern archaeological site of Oma, which was in the process of being looted by a nearby tribe at night, we had to be escorted by a truckload of Iraqi police. I’m afraid there was no hope for that place.

Filed Under: BooksIranPhotographyTravel

Book Extras

Posted on October 14, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

A boy kisses a portrait of the late Ayatollah Khomeini

The photo essay at the front of the book is a way of telling the reader that you are going to visit many places in the pages of my book. I couldn’t resist including Iraq, Egypt, and Morocco, although they would not fit into the book as chapters in and of themselves. In the next few blog entries I'll share some photos that did not make it into the book. Stay tuned! I traveled often with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO. It started when the New York Times Magazine sent me to Tunis in the fall of 1988 to do a cover story on him, back when he was still a pariah. Over the years I flew with him on his little Iraqi-piloted plane lent to him by Saddam Hussein, to Libya to meet with Moammar Qaddafi, to Algeria for his declaration of independence, to Washington when he signed the Oslo Accords at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin and President Clinton, to Oslo when he accepted the Peace Prize, among other places. I got to know the advisors around him and his wife Suha, too.

35mm film image of a boy smoking in a Morocco cafe

There was a lot of waiting involved, and I would often find other things to photograph. Before and after the assignments I would take off on adventures with a couple of Arab friends. I especially enjoyed North Africa. This picture of a boy smoking in a Moroccan café in Ouzane is in the introduction to the book.

Moroccan ice cream stand

These other two pictures from Morocco are not. The first is in Ouzane, where I found a lot of people, including the very old, smoking hashish in the street. I was invited to a wedding in northern Morocco where I danced with the women, and another day to a hamaam (Turkish bath.) On another trip I got caught for three days in a Saharan sandstorm.

A street dentist sells his wares in Marrakesh

The second photo of a street dentist was taken in Djemma Square in Marrakesh. Morocco is beautiful and full of surprises but also very poor. After I finished a piece of chicken at an outdoor café one night in Marrakesh, a pregnant woman and her child came out of the shadows and grabbed my plate and ran off with the bones.

Filed Under: BooksWindows of the SoulPhotography

Scenes From a Set

Posted on October 10, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

An actress on a movie set on Kish Island, Iran

This picture was taken on a movie set on Kish Island, Iran, in the Persian Gulf. The Islamic Republic was using Kish as a social testing ground for mild liberalization at that time.

The director was the dissident Bahram Beyzaii. This is his wife, actress Mozhdeh Shamsai . I was fascinated with how actresses navigated Islamic rules. When I visited her during her preparation for a play in Tehran, she donned a wig instead of the customary headscarf to comply with the law against showing one’s real hair. For her costume people, attention to covering her wrists was important so as not to break the law by revealing too much, thereby risking the production being shut down. The makeup artist was a man who begged me not to photograph him touching this actress as he applied makeup, as it would have brought scandal upon them. My mother is an actress and my father and stepfather are film and theater directors, so I grew up backstage and on movie sets. I felt very at home in this milieu and was attuned to the restrictions artists have to face in Iran.

Filed Under: BooksIranPhotography

Windows of the Soul

Posted on September 29, 2008 by Alexandra Avakian

Windows of the Soul book cover

Windows of the Soul is about my journeys in the Muslim world during 17 years of my 25-year career. I’ve defined "the Muslim world" as anywhere I worked on Muslim-related stories, from Kyrgystan to California.

The book doesn't cover all the other parts of the world and types of stories I have done; it is not a retrospective of my career, but a record of one path within it. I am not an expert in Islam, and the book is not meant to be a catalogue of Muslim countries, just a memoir of these places and cultures I was attracted to and was honored to gain access to.

Many of the photos were originally made for National Geographic, the New York Times Magazine, and Time magazine. Many were published in those and other magazines; some of them were unpublished until now—indeed I rescued a few from reject boxes long forgotten.

It was time to bring it all together in a book reflecting this journey, which has been far-ranging and connected to my family roots and history. Part of my family hails from Iran. I am a third-generation American on one side and a fourth-generation American on the other side of my family. The fact that I was diagnosed, treated for, and survived breast cancer during the editing and writing of this book only galvanized me more to write it all down. (See my full bio.)

My journey also reflects some of the challenges that women face in all professions and walks of life.

The title of the book refers to eyes being windows of the soul: the truth or lies, happiness or sadness I find there as I connect to the people I photograph resulted in the pictures in this book. My eyes are windows too for them to see who I am, and the connection or disconnection that happens between photographer and subject on stories is profound, resulting in distilled moments that give the reader a feel of what it's like to be in my shoes looking out, and in the shoes of those people in the stories, feeling what they feel.

Those eyes on the book cover are from a truck driver's sign that I found in Iran—they are used in some countries to ward off bad luck. The mosque in the cover photo is near Cincinnati, and this picture was shot through a window at dawn during the holy month of Ramadan a couple of months after 9/11.

In this blog I will be adding information to what is covered in the book. There are many stories of life, danger, and adventure in the book, but so many were left out as well. So I will also try to cover some of those people, events, and countries that didn't make it in for various editorial reasons, and hope that they further broaden the journey as it is told in the book.

Ready? Let's go….

Filed Under: BooksWindows of the SoulPhotographyTravel

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