Cultural Crossroads

During his lifetime Idries Shah promoted contacts and connections between different traditions around the world, believing this to be an important element in the advancement of human culture.

In this spirit, The Idries Shah Foundation has created ‘Cultural Crossroads’, a website forum where people from many walks of life are invited to talk about their own experiences crossing cultural boundaries, and the lessons that they have learned as a result.

You can find the full series here:

photographer, photojournalist and educator, based in Munich, Germany. About Erol Gurian

Erol Gurian is an award-winning photographer, photojournalist and educator, based in Munich, Germany.


Q. For thirty years you have focussed on showing us a world behind the headlines, and away from the glamour. What would you say is the central theme running through your photography, and why is it important to you?

A. To me personally, a lot of my photography reassures me of a deep  gratitude towards life. I guess alternatively, you may call it grace. The grace  I experience in being just the onlooker in places like post war-torn Kosovo or Bosnia-Hercegovina. Or witnessing the deprived life of Syrian migrants in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Even photographing mothers with their children in a special mother-child ward in a German prison. Witnessing all this makes  me think: ‘I’m so grateful for this privileged, peaceful and wonderful life  I’m allowed to live’.

Q. When you are holding a camera to your eye do you see the world around you differently? In what way?

A. My camera helps me focus on things that I deem important to share with others. It helps me see things that I wouldn’t witness otherwise. To ‘dig into’ a theme, get close to a story. In many ways my camera is my ticket into other worlds.

Q. Would you say that the massive development in photography in the last decade or two has led to better photography, or just a lot more of it?

A. I’m afraid to say I believe that it has primarily led to more photographers and more photography. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, the quality of images in the realm of photojournalism is not dramatically better than it was in analogue times – surprisingly?! I guess this goes to show that a photograph, after all, is taken by a photographer, not a camera.

Q. As a German who comes from an Armenian family, can you give an insight into time you have spent working in Armenia? Do you feel extra connected because of your Armenian roots?

It’s a rather curious connection: you know, I don’t speak Armenian. When I was a kid, growing up in Munich, Germany, in the 60’s and 70’s, my parents’ thought it was more important to learn English and French as foreign languages. Also, since my mother is Hungarian, German was our common language at home. Still, we often had Armenian speaking guests and family visiting, so Armenian sounds very familiar to me. Like family, in a way.

When I travel to Armenia, it’s that familiarity that I feel when I hear the language. It reminds me of my childhood home. That’s the connection I feel there. Plus, there’s a very funny aspect also: when Armenians find out that my dad was Armenian, they tell me that consequently I’m Armenian. I’m one of them. Most of the time I’m not sure if I should believe them.