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Many of the photos were originally made for National Geographic, the New York Times Magazine, and Time magazine. Many were published in those and other magazines; some of them were unpublished until now—indeed I rescued a few from reject boxes long forgotten.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

Named one of Oprah's best gift books and selected among American Photo's year-end best

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Featuring presentations and interviews by veteran National Geographic photographers Alexandra Avakian and Sam Abell

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