Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Conversation with Brooklyn-based Bahraini photographer Ghada Khunji: Part II

Did you feel any slight nervousness showing in Bahrain for the first time, and what was the reaction to your work? I had butterflies in my stomach thinking about showing my work at home in Bahrain. I have been living abroad for 25 years. Bringing home my experiences, and anticipating the reactions people might have, was daunting, but the experience was extraordinary and positive. It was a homecoming of sorts. I finally got to bring my work home with me and my family and friends, who taught me to respect and accept people of all cultures and religions; giving them the opportunity to see what I've been working on and the images that I've captured while I've been traveling so far away from them. For anyone wanting to pursue their dreams, do you think there is a certain amount of risk that needs to be taken to achieve their goals? I believe that any dream can be accomplished if one is willing to take risks and persist, no matter how long it takes, and how bumpy the road often is. I spent many years printing at Photo Labs, and yes, the onset of digital photography eventually put me out of a job. At the same time, I worked for some of the top labs in New York, and got to handle the negatives of some of the most important names in Fashion. Through that experience I learned to really develop my printing skills. That work really helped now that I’ve switched to using Photoshop- I know exactly what to do with the photo- it’s what I would have done in the darkroom. Losing my job also had a positive affect, it helped me to center myself and I decided to put my work out there for people to see. I have felt very rewarded by this. As long as negatives exist I will work with them gladly. I love to shoot with my old, reliable friends: my 17 year old camera and flash. It’s very different from looking at a digital file that can vanish in a second. You’ve captured the lives of people in places as diverse as the Dominican Republic, India, the American south and Cuba. Is there a certain thread that links all these places together? How do you choose your next destination? People are the thread. The next destination chooses me; whether it is an encounter with a person, a random conversation, a premeditated urge, I just go with it. Once I figure out where I will go, I make very minimal plans. I love not knowing where I will end up on that trip. One thing leads to another, and that's the beauty, the element of surprise. Have you considered exploring Bahrain and the Middle East as a subject for future projects? Or is it easier to be culturally detached from the subjects that you are photographed? Yes, I would love to capture my region. When I had first left Bahrain, it was hard to come back and ‘see’ it photographically. Perhaps it is because I was so at home there that I couldn’t see the mystery, the allure. But now, having been abroad for almost 25 years, Bahrain is somehow undiscovered by my eyes and I am ready to document. I will never be culturally detached from Bahrain and the region. That's where I was born, where my family lives. It is where all of my first experiences and influences were. When I moved abroad, I gained other layers of experience- the two together make me who I am today. You have the rare honor of being the first (and only) Bahraini to be crowned Home Coming Queen at Indiana’s University of Evansville. What are some of your memories of living in Indiana? I think everyone was shocked that I won! My first time in America was quite fascinating- it was such a different world. I knew little about fraternities and sororities, and didn’t feel comfortable in that scene, so I joined the International Students Club- and ended up the first International Homecoming Queen! I am very grateful for those years in Evansville, Indiana, they gave me a glimpse of middle America. What kind of influence did going to International Center of Photography’s documentary program have on your work? It was a one year program and an absolute privilege to have done it- only 15 students are chosen to attend each year. Many of my teachers were esteemed photographers, some were my idols. They inspired me and shaped my photography. It was like flipping through your favorite photographers’ books but there they were in class sharing their stories. © THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

No comments: