When we hear the word “freedom”, everyone will have a different reaction. It does not mean the same for everyone. Photography has the power to set us free to express ourselves, though in reality, not all photographers, (and not all people), have the same freedom.
Freedom is often described in big words, but we encounter it every day in the little things we do. – Newsha Tavakolian
Newsha Tavakolian is an Iranian photographer who documents daily life in Iran. She began working for the Iranian press at the age of 16, covering the war in Iraq and a range of social issues in her home country.
Her work oscillates between photojournalism and art. It is in this duality that images transcend and begin to express intangible deeper meanings. In her work she finds a way to make her experience as an Iranian citizen universally relevant to anyone.
For a photographer working in extreme circumstances, it is a test of great courage to pick up a camera and document what is happening around them. It’s an act we often take for granted, and in some places it is simply impossible.
Let's take a look at this National Geographic article on North Korea. The images taken by David Guttenfelder stand in stark contrast to those the regime circulates. The country is a mystery to most of us. We know little about its people and of course there is a direct link between this lack of knowledge and the lack of independent photographs in circulation.
Guttenfelder was the first international photographer allowed to take pictures in the country when the first AP bureau was open there in 2011. Many of his now famous images were taken on the go while traveling from one location to the next in between grandiose parades. His images, and those of other talented photographers throughout history have had the power to transcend language barriers and touch all those who view them.
Yet, sometimes pursuing the ideals we believe in can have extreme consequences. Throughout history photographers have shown how much they are willing to give up for the sake of the freedom of expression. For Josef Koudelka the consequence meant being exiled from his home for much of his life, something that had a profound effect on the work he produced.
For Koudelka everything changed in 1968 when he photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague, publishing his photographs with the initials P.P. (Prague photographer). After the images gained international recognition, Koudelka left Czechoslovakia seeking political asylum and joined Magnum Photos shortly thereafter. Throughout his career since, he has worked on the theme of exile and vagrancy, using the camera in unique and specific ways.
Typically shooting with a panoramic camera, his love of the wide-angle perspective is a distinctive signature of his photographic dialectic, which aims to expand our field of vision. The panoramic scenes he portrays give deep meaning to the concept of landscape, no longer as a place of nourishment for the soul but rather as a terrain of suffering and loss of identity, however familiar those places may be.
If there is one thing these images do, it is that they broaden our perspective. They push our point of view to the extremes of our visual capacity and sharpen our peripheral vision. Through his work we become aware of the life experience of the photographer himself, who experienced firsthand the need to look over his shoulder.
Photography as a medium of reportage and storytelling will never stop teaching important life lessons. When we let our guard down, important moments slip away, but through awareness we can capture and draw attention to vital issues. More now than ever, this concept seems relevant every day.
What does freedom mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Cover photo by Lomographer ofchanceandchoice