Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

World Press Photo And The Numbness of Repetition: Stephen Mayes Speaks

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Photography on May 27, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Stephen Mayes, World Press Photo Secretary for six years, gave a widely noted keynote address at this year’s event in Amsterdam. In what can only be described as a strange coincidence, he echoed sentiments I had written about back in the summer of 2008 that photojournalism today has become repetitive and conventional.  To quote from my earlier post:

There is another underlying reason why photojournalism is dying, and that we are still not prepared to confront.  The reason is that most photographers and photojournalists are purveyors of cliches and repetitive, predictable stories.  Mental asylums, prostitutes in third world countries, drug addicts in third world countries, the homeless, street kids, dying HIV/AIDS patients in Africa, polluted cities, Latin American migration pathways, KKK, burqa/taliban/fanatics in Islamic countries, China pollution, China growth, China mingyons, China modern, China rich, India AIDS etc. etc.  One could create a Chinese menu of a couple of pages to represent a belief amongst photojournalists that photojournalism is about pathos and emotions, and that there are some ‘subjects’ that are what it does. We have lost our love of the story.  We are no longer telling interesting stories.  In fact it could be argued that photojournalism today is basically middle class voyuerism.  It carries with it the stifling and infantile morality of a middle brow suburban family and attempts to deliver ‘shock’ stories to titillate them into watching. Or it just reduces to historical and charter-tour cliches stories that could be rich, complex and eye-opening.

In a strikingly similar vein you can hear the far more experienced and articulate Stephen Mayes speaking at the World Press Photo awards this year.  You can hear an audio recording of his talk.

I was particularly struck by his comments that reflected much of my thinking on this issue.  As he says in his talk (as scribed by Jens Haas from the Notes From Nowhere blog) :

The overwhelming impression from the vast volume of images is that photojournalism (as a format for interpreting the world) is trying to be relevant by copying itself rather than by observing the world. Nowhere is this more obvious than at World Press Photo where every year the winners stimulate a slew of copyists (in style and content). It’s easy to understand why when we consider that the last twenty years has seen an explosion in the numbers of professional photojournalists and a collapse of the traditional markets. As more photographers compete for less page space, a lot of work ends up in competitions as the only outlet – and as the largest, World Press Photo gets more than its fair share.

Every year, the jury is astonished by the repetition of subjects and the lack of variety in the coverage. From the infinity of human experience the list of subjects covered by the entrants would fill a single page, and (excluding sports as a specialist area) could be reduced even to three lines:

- The disposed and the powerless
– The exotic
– Anywhere but home (the American election would be one of the exceptions to this rule.)…

This is the general view, the blurred impression of 470,214 images and of course there are many exceptions. But meanwhile hospitals and the sick (and especially mental hospitals), the afflicted, the poor, the injured are photographed way in excess of their actual numbers. And I have a feeling that there are as many photographers as drug users in the Kabul’s Russian House. As one juror said this year, “90% of the pictures are about 10% of the world.”…

- Over represented: commercial sex, suffering black folk, Muslim women in veils, same sex couples kissing, holding hands
– Under represented: middle class, affluent drug users, real sex, personal sex, black culture and expanded vision of black life outside Africa.

I encourage you to listen to his entire talk.

I recently raised this issue in a workshop I held in Dubai for young photographers just starting out on their careers or thinking about pursuing photojournalism as a career. Too many too quickly confine their ideas about ‘subjects’ and ‘focus’ to the conventional arenas of photojournalism as they know and understand it. Few were able to jump to the realization that photojournalism is also about story telling, and that there are so many stories that are just not being told! And all too often they chose subject based around pathos and emotions. Few could think of ideas that were built around a new set of objectives for example to provoke thought and make an argument. None thought about stories from within their own lives, or their own social spaces in the UAE.

There is a whole new world of photography. Its greatest change is not in the technologies that we are being told will save us – not in multimedia, not audio sound recordings or any such, but in the fact that we can now do our own stories, new stories, and take them out to the world without first having to get the approval of an editor, a curator or a jury. And with this liberty comes the possibility of re-inventing what photojournalism is, and how we go about telling stories, and of course, the stories we tell.

So lets begin.

The Dust From Blood Filled Eyes: On Bangladesh and Acknowledgment of Crimes

In Essays Related To Pakistan, Photography, Poetry, The Daily Discussion on May 25, 2009 at 10:20 am

Chapter 9 of Totten, Parsons & Charny’s book Century of Genocide is dedicated to Bangladesh.

But my earliest realization of the horrors that had been inflicted on the people of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 came through two poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Stay Away from Me (Bangladesh I)

How can I embellish this carnival of slaughter,

how decorate this massacre?

Whose attention could my lamenting blood attract?

There’s almost no blood in my rawboned body

and what’s left

isn’t enough to burn as oil in the lamp,

not enough to fill a wineglass.

It can feed no fire,

extinguish no thirst.

There’s a poverty of blood in my ravaged body—

a terrible poison now runs in it.

If you pierce my veins, each drop will foam

as venom at the cobra’s fangs.

Each drop is the anguished longing of ages’

the burning seal of a rage hushed up for years.

Beware of me. My body is a river of poison.

Stay away from me. My body is a parched log in the desert.

If you burn it, you won’t see the cypress or the jasmine,

but my bones blossoming like thorns in the cactus.

If you throw it in the forests,

instead of morning perfumes, you’ll scatter

the dust of my seared soul.

So stay away from me. Because I’m thirsting for blood.

Bangladesh II

This is how my sorrow became visible:

its dust, piling up for years in my heart,

finally reached my eyes,

the bitterness now so clear that

I had to listen when my friends

told me to wash my eyes with blood.

Everything at once was tangled in blood—

each face, each idol, red everywhere.

Blood swept over the sun, washing away its gold.

The moon erupted with blood, its silver extinguished.

The sky promised a morning of blood,

and the night wept only blood.

The trees hardened into crimson pillars.

All flowers filled their eyes with blood.

And every glance was an arrow,

each pierced image blood. This blood

–a river crying out for martyrs—

flows on its longing. And in sorrow, in rage, in love.

Let it flow. Should it be dammed up,

there will only be hatred cloaked in colors of death.

Don’t let this happen, my friends,

bring all my tears back instead,

a flood to fill my dust-filled eyes,

to wash this blood forever from my eyes.

(Translations by Agha Shahid Ali, from his book The Rebel’s Silhouette)

These poems, when I first came across them in the early 1980s, cut past all the obfuscations and euphemisms that until then had been used by Pakistanis to speak about the 1971 conflict. More than any official history book, these words revealed how a nation inflicted such deep and inexcusable suffering on to its own body politic. And much of it on the basic of vanity and bigotry.

It is estimated that nearly 3 million East Pakistanis were killed in a 9 month period. Over 10 million were displaced because of the mayhem created by members of Pakistan’s military and political establishment. The East Pakistani’s crime was a determined, non-violent political movement to claim their rightful place at the head of the Pakistani government.

The 1970s elections had been fairly and overwhelmingly won by the then province of East Pakistan. But handing the levers of power to a people spoken about it the lowest and most rascists terms by the members of West Paksitan’s elite was unthinkable.

A genocidal campaign to break them was more palatable.

And it was a campaign carried out with the encouragement and support of that ‘liberal, democratic’ leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In his excellent memoir Journey to Disillusionment, Sherbaz Khan Mazari reveals the inside story of this ambitious and ultimately flawed individual who not only precipitated 2 major wars, but began and sustained his career by getting in to bed with Pakistan’s military henchmen.

His later legacies would include the mutilation of Pakistan’s constitution in 1973 with the infusion of questionable, obscurantist and basically unjust ‘Islamic’ clauses and amendments that would lay the ground work for regional calls for ‘Sharia Law’, and are in fact the foundations for the recent crisis in Swat. But I will write more about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his legacy in a separate post.

Pakistan has never formally acknowledged its crimes in Bangladesh, nor prosecuted any of those involved which includes some of the top member’s of the military brass and the political establishment On May 16th when the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister officially asked the Pakistani Government, through its Bangladesh High Commissioner, for an acknowledgment, prosecution and an apology, the Pakistani envoy responded by saying ‘Let bygones, be bygones’

Saiful Haq Omi is a young Bangladesh photographer. One of a new generation of amazingly talented photographers emerging from that country. In fact, I can’t stop talking about photographers like Shehzad Noorani and Munem Wasif and others that this often forgotten country has managed to unleash onto the world stage. They are in my opinion amongst the very best working anywhere in the world today.

In a short email exchange, as I congratulated Saiful Haq on being a finalist for the prestigious Alexia Foundation Grant, (NOTE: he was also a finalist for the 2009 Aftermath Grant) I mentioned to him how much I would love to visit Bangladesh some day, and do some work there, as a small gesture of friendship and atonement for what I know has been a bloody, brutal and perhaps most painful to a new generation of Bangladeshis, an unacknowledged crime.

His response, as all Bangladeshis seem to respond when I raise this issue – with a combination of gentle humility and anxious openness was – and I quote:

I was born 10 years after the war ended, 1980. But I have carried war in my heart. Almost half of my family died , they were all killed. And if you come to my home , on the 26th of March- Our liberation day or on the 16th december , our victory day you would hear that someone still cries. And that is my mother who is crying.

I carry the war in my heart , I carry the war which I never saw, but I will carry till my last day. The War is Me!

Perhaps the Pakistani envoy would do well to  remember that it is the victim that chooses to forgive, to decide whether a bygone is a bygone. The sheer arrogance, callousness and inhumane indifference exhibited by the ‘official’ voices of Pakistan is stagering if not outright criminal!

We lack processes for forgiveness. For a region that has seen so many genocidal massacres, I find it strange that we, the people of South Asia, have few if any processes for forgiveness. Sara Terry is an American photographer who has done extensive work on the aftermath of war. Her project on post-war Bosnia – Aftermath: Bosnia’s Long Road to Peace, remains for me one of the finest examples of photojournalism that i know of. More recently she has been involved in a brilliant and creative project documenting indigenous practices of reconciliation and forgiveness in the continent of Africa.

We would do well to learn from the Africans. I can’t wait to see the results of Sara’s work.

In the mean time, as the official voices of Pakistan remain silent if not outright dismissive, members of the Action For A Progressive Pakistan have come forward and spoken from which I quote:

The outrageous dismissal of Bangladesh’s demand by the Pakistani foreign office – “let bygones be bygones” – is a shameful reflection of Pakistan’s constructed amnesia over the horrific actions of its Army and its political leadership. Not only has there never been a move on the part of the Pakistani state to apologize to Bangladesh, there has not been any sustained effort by citizens’ groups to pressure the government to publicly acknowledge the truth.

As Pakistanis, we find this unconscionable. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani army raped, killed and pillaged our brothers and sisters in East Pakistan in 1971. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani state has steadfastly refused to acknowledge these atrocities for the past 38 years, leave alone hold those responsible for them accountable as suggested by its own Chief Justice in the State commissioned inquiry. We reject the Pakistani state and army’s claim that these atrocities were committed in our name.

Its not much. But it is a start. I hope that the Bangladeshis will be patient as we work ourselves towards the truth. It is a lot to ask, perhaps unreasonably so of a people terribly wronged. But it may be the only thing that can offer the tears that eventually remove the dust from our blood filled eyes.

A Kinda/Sorta Conversation With Magnum’s Peter Marlow

In Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Photography on May 22, 2009 at 11:29 am

No I have actually never had a conversation with the great Peter Marlow. I have never even met him. But he wrote a blog post back in 2007 to which I responded with some comments.

I am posting these comments here now because I realize that these comments, made back in July 2007, contain within them the seeds for what eventually has become my ‘The Idea of India’ project I am currently working on. It surprises me to see the continuity of thought that I was able to sustain – something I can’t claim I have ever achieved before – and that eventually, nearly 12 months later was expressed as this new project.

Peter’s original post explored how the Balkan conflict was ‘officially’ represented in Serbia, and that even today it is best referred to as ‘NATO aggression’. As an American visiting Serbia for a series of exhibitions Peter found himself in a slightly uncomfortable position and had to carefully negotiate what is still clearly a very sensitive issue in the country. While giving a talk at a workshop that he held for Serbia photojournalists, Peter explains that he..

…showed a press card created by our New York office, bizarrely for the ID photograph they used a shot of me wearing anti-flash goggles on the deck of the aircraft carrier. As many of the people in the room had shot the story from the ‘receiving end’ I could feel a strong reaction as soon as I mentioned the ‘Kosovo Crisis’ and my own coverage of it. I asked the audience if this was the right terminology, and was told rather sharply by one photographer that the correct expression was “The NATO Aggression”.

I was reminded of a recent experience I had had in Japan while on assignment there for National Geographic (France) magazine and decided to write a response to Peter’s post which read something like this:


your experience with the serbian photojournalists reminded me of a recent experience i had with some japanese manga artists. while on assignment in japan i had the opportunity to speak to a couple manga artists famous for their works depicting the horrors of the aftermath of the hiroshima bombings. i was moved by the power of their work and by the immediacy of their memories of the terribly day of the bombing. their work powerfully depicted the sufferings, and later the humiliating abandonment of the victims by their own fellow japanese.

however, i was also very perplexed when i realized that throughout our conversations we avoided any discussions about the broader, historical context of the event. no one mentioned that japan at that time was a nation at war, that millions had died in countries in asia resisting her expansionism, that her occupations iin south-east asia and south asia were brutal and resulted in unmentionable atrocities and so on and so forth. we only talked about hiroshima decontextualized from wider events.

the issue of history, japan’s role in WWII, her occupations and war crimes of course remain controversial issues even today and her history books continue to face criticism for their avoidance of specific facts.

see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_history_textbook_controversies

these are painful issues and not easily resolved. and i am not suggesting that the war justified the hiroshima bombings. i am merely suggesting that ignoring facts is an act of will, a choice that one makes perhaps because one is determined to hold on to one’s prejudices or beliefs. or simply that playing the role of a victim takes less effort!

calling the war in kosovo merely ‘NATO aggression’ is neither historically correct nor a defensible position. it is an act of transforming oneself into ‘a victim’, hence excused from broader moral issues. it encourages us to simply not make an effort beyond our current beliefs. it is a prejudice that suggests a determination to not examine or give a hearing to the wider issues at play in the conflict, including human manufacturing of history, the use of propaganda, the cold lies and manipulations of politicians, the atrocities and injustices carried out ‘in the name of the nation’ and other abstract, little examined assumptions.

your suggestion for a series of workshops in serbia is a fabulous idea. i do believe however that photography can avoid falling into the trap of pandering to any one side ‘of the same story’, but to use photography’ to develop an awareness of the broader story, to help a nation question her prejudices, to encourage citizens to confront uncomfortable truths and view points and use photography as a way to raise awareness, change ideas, and develop new dialogues where previously only rhetoric may have existed.

kosovo and serbia have continued to hold on to their rigid myths with little or no effort to develop a new dialogue that may spare them further wars and further suffering of their people. prejudice, hate, and self confirming and aggrandizing beliefs still fill the air in both regions. photography may never convince people to change their ideas, but it can certainly begin the process by encouraging them to step into uncomfortable situations and confronting those we may have previously dismissed or disliked.

i am sorry that this is so poorly written. i am still waking up here in sweden.

today we are told that photography has no role to play in bringing forth the truth, and that it is merely to be reduced to illustration or art. but i disagree. photography is not just the pictures, but also the research and act of stepping out to take the pictures. these intellectual and physical elements also differentiate one photographer from another. some are better at it than others in clearly measurable ways!

and they are perhaps the most important elements in helping us learn, grow and change – we have to read, and we have to step out into new world, confront people there, and actually engage and deal with them. this is where photography outdoes literature, poetry, paintings etc. because it is the only creative endeavor that forces us to create and maintain a dialogue with our subjects. other endeavors allow this dialogue, but do not necessarily demand it (i will say nothing about works by people like jeff wall etc.)

imagine, a group of serbian photographers having to do personal stories about life in kosovo, or on the edges of divided cities like mitrojvica! i can see the workshop going far beyond the banality of aesthetics, exposure control, RAW processing or frame filling! it steps into a whole new world where perhaps we can once again begin to discover the reasons why man picked up the camera in the first place and started to bring pictures back home – to amaze us with the incredible things we saw in the world, and to surprise us with what we had never expected!

Asim (July 24th, 2007)

Creating Tempests In Tea Cups Or What Else Can A Photo Editor Do!

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on May 21, 2009 at 9:08 pm

The following recently appeared on the pages of the New York Times:

“A picture on May 5 with the continuation of a front-page article about the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and the strategic advantages it offers to Taliban insurgents fighting American troops, showed a silhouetted Taliban logistics tactician, who was interviewed for the article, holding a rifle, creating the impression that the weapon belonged to him. The Times subsequently learned from the photographer that the rifle belonged to the owner of a home in Pakistan where the interview took place, and that the Taliban tactician had held the weapon only for the purpose of the photograph.

“Had The Times known this information at the time of publication, it would not have used the photograph to illustrate the article.”

The image in question is here:


Photography By Zachary Canepari

There have been a round of blog and online discussions on this matter so I will not repeat most of what has been said. In fact, most of it is trivial, misleading and completely misses the point.

When I read this public ‘apology’ by a paper that I have repeated accused of indulging in shoddy, manipulative and in fact irresponsible journalism (see my two blog posts titled The Worlds Most Dangerous Nation and Only Interesting If Its Madness) when it comes to regions Pakistan/Afghan I could not help but laugh.

I found their language and their justifications condescending and manipulative.

It is condescending because it attempts to convince us of the ‘integrity’ of this newspaper which will not let stand even the most ‘minor’ infractions. It attempts to create in our minds the idea that this publication adheres to only the highest and most rigorous standards of journalistic ethics. So high that even this young photographer’s minor infraction deserves a public flogging and a kowtowing to the readers.

We are supposed to forget that this is a newspaper that has repeatedly sent its photographer’s into the US military embedded photographer program, and that continues to in fact provide most all its reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan from these embedded (read: censored, controlled, scripted, manufactured, crafted, sculpted, curtailed, manipulated, overseen and monitored) positions and perspectives. We are supposed to believe that journalist ethics are less about the way we gather the news and more about the way we present it.

We are supposed to forget that this is also one of a number of American newspapers whose journalists failed to ask even the most basic of questions and failed to examine even the most public of facts during the build up to the invasion of Iraq. Their ethical reporters were on the front lines of journalistic jingoism, helping sell the war to the American public.

And far from being an anomaly in the past, it even now continues in its refusal to ask hard questions about what in fact is actually taking place inside Southern Afghanistan, and continues to publish reports and pieces by a number of its journalists whose entire reporting relies on official government sources from the American, Afghani and Pakistani sides.

The same news publication’s journalists and photographers continue to win international and domestic awards despite the fact that they have mostly been at the mercy of a masterfully planned and executed military propaganda machinery.

And yet the newspaper has never taken it upon itself to let us know that it understands that the perspectives it reports in its pages when it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are completely and near-absolutely colored by military and political interests that rather not tell us the truth but only that which will help us continue the misguided and unjust conflicts in the regions.

Into this foray arrives a young photographer, who produces for effect a picture that he knew he would need to produce to have it published in this newspaper. He should have been sanctioned for his manipulation, but a public flogging seems completely over the top. It has unnecessarily, and for a trivial manipulation, damaged the career of an otherwise talented and hardworking individual.

In the scheme of journalistic manipulations, from reporting from within the embed program to mindlessly repeating the inanities of ‘power brokers’ just to maintain access to them, Zachary Canepari’s infraction is trivial. It should have elicited nothing more than a behind-the-door reprimand. Lets keep in mind that neither the photograph nor the manipulation were important to the story that was run, or affected what the story attempted to discuss.  In fact, it was a pointless illustration (its just a silhouette!) and the story could in fact have stood on its own even without it!

The apparent apology is also manipulative. It places the entire responsibility on the shoulders of the young photographer and hence (as has been done many times by many publications in the past) acquits  the editors at the publication.

Editors (and not just photo editors, but the main editors) have significant influence in determining what kinds of pictures are made because they have a significant influence on what kinds of pictures are published. And the dirty little secret of photojournalism is that all photographers, particularly young and ambitious ones, learn quickly what editors want.  All photographers want their pictures published and they, either through experience or by watching the work of others, quickly absorb and understand what kinds of pictures a certain editor is looking for and prefers to run.

No where is this ugly reality more true than at wire agencies. Having watched the mind numbing repetitiveness of images being produced by local Palestinian, Afghani, and Kashmiri wire news photographers, I could not help but understand that they are simply taking orders from the desk editors, who are in turn, simply taking orders from their client publications. Wire photographers only shoot what sells, and what sells is what the editors are buying. The machinery of mass produced conflict imagery is little examined or understood, while the fantasy of the ‘independent’ photojournalist ‘exploring’ and ‘discovering’ the world carefully managed and sold.

And even major news magazines do this, as I have learned from direct experience. Editors will in fact even call their photographers and tell them what kinds of images they want. The same has been confirmed to me by a few other photojournalists working for major American news magazines – that editors will tell them what they want in the image, in particular, the kind of ‘mood’ and ‘atmosphere’ they are looking for.

This has happened to me on at least 2 occasions while working for two different American weekly news magazines. The editors, disappointed that my images from one of Pakistan’s frontier cities, were not ‘appropriate’ insisted that I had to produce images with a greater atmosphere of ‘menace’ and ‘threat’! When I failed to do so, they simply went to their archives and used the work of another photographer because it fitted the ‘atmosphere’ they were trying to create more than my work did.

On another occasion and with a different weekly news magazine I had an editor explicitly ask me if I could confirm that the people in the region of Mohmand, (FATA) Pakistan that I had photographed were ‘Al-Qaeda and/or Taliban supporters’ because that would be the only way she could actually consider running the work. When I refused to ‘confirm’ this, the work was shelved.

Photographers learn quickly what will publish and what will not.

Zachary Canepari, an otherwise fine and talented young photographer, has recently been shooting a lot of assignments for the New York Times newspaper. I find it impossible to believe that he was not  aware of the kinds of images and the mood that the editors were looking for.

Organizational cultures influence our behavior within them. We become aware, without even explicitly being told, which behaviors are awarded and which sanctioned. Young photographers shooting for the New York Times, (or other mainstream American newspapers) quickly learn how certain regions of the world need to be depicted and the kinds of images that in fact get published.

It is why we continue to see a the same sorts of pictures being produced from places like Afghanistan and Pakistan that we have been seeing for years; burqa clad women, bearded and demonic looking protestors, maniacal mosque worshippers and fanatical mullahs. And it is why it comes as no surprise that these shallow, embedded and conventional depictions continue to win major awards.

The visual language that a photojournalist employs does not occur in a void but in fact reflects a publication and editorial environment where that language is understood, received and celebrated. Those that speak this language the best are awarded with publication, fame and ‘authority’. This remains a little discussed fact and most all editors in fact distract us from this broader reality by constantly nit picking on minor image manipulation issues. As was recently done when a jury dismissed the work of a Danish photographer for making the sky look a bit too blue!

The outcome of that last non-existent controversy was the photographer declaring that in the future he would only participate in competitions with pictures made in ‘black & white’!

Can there be a better description of the idiocy of these discussions than this one? A competition that will accept the absolutely artificial and manipulated representation of the real world that is b&w photography,is the same one whose jury was ‘angered’ that a photographer had made his sky a bit too blue!

We are truly in the land of morons!

There are serious questions about journalistic integrity and ethics that need to be asked. From the kind of language that is used in reporting, to the means by which news is in fact actually gathered to how suceptible to power it has become. These are questions at the heart of the crisis that inflicts American journalism today. However, useless discussions about the extent of Photoshop manipulation or ‘set up’ images seem rather besides the point and nothing more than the grand standing of photo editors who realize that these trivialities are pretty much all that is left for them to pontificate on as the broader decisions about content and context have been taken away and handed to MBAs and advertising executives!

Blood Is Not Thicker Than Water: On The Death Of My Friend Raza Khan

In Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on May 13, 2009 at 12:47 pm

A Raza Khan photograph - Peshawar 2008 while on assignment for Stern Magazine. As he dropped me off on this corner and drove off to run a quick errand, he shouted back 'Asim, now don't wander where I can't find you. ok? I will be back and then we can do other things!'. I did not wander.

Raza was my rock.  He was my eyes and ears on the dangerous Pakistani frontier with Afghanistan. He was the only person in Pakistan I trusted with my life and I repeatedly placed it in his hands. He never ever let me down.

He was officially a fixer, but Raza Khan was far, far more than that.

There isn’t a photograph I have made in the tribal regions of Pakistan that did not have the help and/or advice of Raza Khan.  From the streets of Peshawar, to the alleys of Jalozai,  the mountains of Mohmand, and into the dangerous center of Mingora, Swat, Raza Khan was always by my side, always watching, always, protecting, always alert to anything and anyone who may pose a threat to me. I never ventured to Pakistan without calling him first. Often he would drive all the way from Peshawar to meet at the Islamabad airport.

Raza Khan died last week in a car crash. He fell asleep at the wheel of the car he was driving. Perhaps he had just pushed him once too often trying to help a couple of foreign journalists get their jobs done.

In 2008 while shooting in the crowded bazaar’s of Peshawar, Raza Khan asked me to hand him my wallet for safe keeping.  ‘They will target you because you look like a foreigner’, he said. I handed it to him. 15 minutes later his pocket got picked! We laughed at the irony, at the sheer stupidity of the situation. I had no cash, no bank cards and at least 2 weeks of assignment work to complete.

A few hours later Raza Khan turned up at my hotel room with $1000 in cash – ‘You return it to me whenever you can. I made a mistake. Your work has to continue’.

In 2004 Raza Khan asked me to take a photograph of him and me together.  We were in the wilds of the Mohmand tribal agency. We asked a passing truck driver to stop and take a picture of the two of us together with the mountains as a backdrop. As we stood together he put his hands around my shoulders and said ‘Show this to your wife so she can believe that you have family in Mohmand.’

He had always wanted to take his daughter for a dinner at Peshawar’s PC Hotel and he told me the last time I saw him, which was in 2008, that he would bring her with him the next time I came back to Pakistan and that we could all eat together. The honor that he had bestowed upon me with that statement made me blush. A deeply conservative Pushtun, Raza Khan had actually suggested that I, a non-family friend, could meet his daughter who would otherwise never be allowed into the company of strangers. It was then and there that I realized that I had long passed from being merely a friend, that I was no longer just another photographer working with him, but that our relationship had evolved to something far more, and deeper.

It was then that I realized that I had become family.

I will ask permission from his sons to take his family, and in particular his daughter, to dinner to the PC Hotel in Peshawar the next time I am in Pakistan. It is a promise that I must keep.

Raza Khan was my eyes and ears on the dangerous Pakistani frontier with Afghanistan. He was the only person in Pakistan I trusted with my life and I repeatedly placed it in his hands. He never ever let me down.

I can’t remember the last time I wept at the loss of someone.

I can’t remember at all.

I have wept for Raza.

I don’t want these tears to dry because I don’t want to forget him

Note: Time Magazine’s former Pakistan bureau chief Tim McGirk was a close friend of Raza Khan and has written a short obituary remembering him and celebrating his spirit, courage and generosity.