Photo Fund Winner Update: Ahikam Seri -Part 2
“I always think it is good to look at our own back yards.”
2003 Photo Fund winner, Ahikam Seri spoke with FiftyCrows about his dedication to photographing in Israel, where issues of identity cause constant unrest especially in the less recognized societies. His advice to other photographers is to work as hard as they can; this is an obvious reflection of his own work ethic, which is apparent in his musings of his current and past projects.
FiftyCrows: What project are you currently working on?
Ahikam Seri: These are times in Israel when there’s a lot going on. Within the last two years there were two full-scale wars, not to mention other ‘regular’ unrest, as well as the many social and religious issues that such a place generates. As much as I find it harder and harder to concentrate on one theme as time goes by, I did invest a good proportion of time, although might not be enough, during the last couple of years, to follow on the issue of Africans who are smuggled over by local Bedouin across the armed southern border with Egypt, to seek asylum in Israel.
I realize this issue is a global one, not necessary unique to Israel, but then, as an Israeli native, who always thought this was a bit unstable place, it struck me why and how Africans choose to arrive here in search of better life. With that, I understand that the atrocities they flee from in Africa might be way more harsh than the Israeli experience, so in a sense, working on this story also provides me with a wider proportion when looking at reality here.
This ongoing project is one out of three I’m trying to put together, at times when there are less reportage assignments and more hard news, along with the global downturn that implicates on photographers’ ability to focus on long-term projects.
FC: How did you become involved/interested in your current work?
AS: I became interested in the African asylum-seekers’ matter in 2007, when the stream of such flowing into the country has risen dramatically. Back in 2006, there were some few hundreds of asylum seekers here, especially from Darfur. In recent years, it is estimated that more than 10,000 have already arrived here through the Egyptian border.
During these recent years, we witness here a build-up of small African communities, especially in the neglected southern part of Tel Aviv, Israel’s main metropolis. We see them more and more in the streets, and it was important for me to follow up on this, since there were many examples already of immigration waves into the country, which due to wrong handling by the authorities, were caught in turbulence and hardship. I wanted to follow up on the absorption of the Africans and see how they are accepted in the country. Since they are illegal immigrants, some of them Muslim from enemy countries such as Sudan, it intensifies the relationship with Israel.
FC: Can you talk about the project that you focused on for the Internation Fund for Documentary Photography grant?
AS: For the IFDP grant, I focused on the circumstances in which Bedouins live across some 45 villages in Israel’s southern Negev desert. Those villages are unrecognized by state authorities, and lack basic infrastructure. This, along with a growing land dispute between the Bedouin and the state, and on background of what was then a storming Palestinian uprising against Israel, was a fruitful ground for a new hatred expressed by Arab citizens towards their state.
For years, I followed Bedouins during their daily life, struggling to live in what they consider their ancestral land under harsh conditions. I tried to illustrate their daily hardship and how their culture, tradition and tribal framework was affected by western values. I wanted to raise awareness to a growing conflict, which at times was on the verge of a violent eruption.
FC: What was the significance of winning the IFDP in your career?
AS: Winning the IFDP grant was probably the most significant step of my career. The generous support I received back then was proof to me that reporting in-depth on a story that the mainstream media tends to ignore, is the right and crucial thing to do as a journalist. Along the years since winning IFDP, I received additional valuable support from the foundation, as well as a personal and uncompromising will to assist me through my career. As a freelance photographer, working with many changing clients, I always treasured the feeling that my work has a home in FiftyCrows. I will always be grateful for this.
FC: Can you give a piece of advice to others doing important work with social change photography?
AS: The only advise I can give to others doing important work with social change photography, is to keep working very hard, sometimes under Sisyphean terms, in order to bring their stories to light; go out to the field to do the job first, and only after that, think what is the best way to distribute the story.
FC: Can you comment on your connection to your subject matter and the importance of working in your own country/reigon?
AS: I always think it is good to look at our own back yards. As photojournalists, we often aim or dream to go to remote places to cover different issues, but we should also remember that we might have a greater impact if we recruit our ability to tell a story, to work in a place we already have a good, if not excellent, knowledge and acquaintance of. Sometimes, especially in conflicted places such as Israel, it can also be an obstacle, when usually you are identified with one side to start with, but then, it is another challenge to overcome, and can benefit a photojournalist even on the personal level as a resident of his country.