Where Cultures Mix
Ed Grazda talks to ISF
About Ed Grazda
Ed Grazda was born in New York in 1947. He has photographed extensively around the world, from Mexico to Afghanistan, and across much of Latin America and Asia. His work forms parts of collections in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is a leading member of the Errata Foundation, an organisation aimed at increasing public awareness of photography.
1. You’ve photographed all over the world, often returning to the same places over long periods of time. Could you comment on how this has shaped your work? Was it a conscious decision from the start, or simply how things developed?
My long-term commitments were not a plan, it just developed as I went: going to Peshawar in 1980 was an eye opener. The people – Afghan refugees – the landscape and the tribal culture all made for interesting photos, and the access was great. The Afghan Mujahideen knew the power of photography and welcomed photographers. I went back in 1982 and continued until 2004. I made many good friends and had many great experiences.
My work in the US Southwest came from early trips in my college years – I loved the landscape and the place that this area had in the history of photography: O’Sullivan, Jackson, Hillers etc. Also, being on the Navajo Reservation – a sovereign nation – is special: you are not in 21st century America. It took many years for me to focus on the Trading Posts and their history.
2. You’ve worked in both colour, and black-and-white. How do they compare?
I am a black-and-white photographer. In the 70s, 80s and 90s I would shoot some Kodachrome on trips with the thought that the colour would be more marketable to magazines etc. I generally did not consider them my main work, and being slides they were hard to print. With the coming of digital scanning I was able to access these photos. For the Trading Post book, after photographing in 2010 I went back to slides from the l970s and realised that I had photographed the same places in colour and black-and-white. I don’t do digital photography.
3. At times you’ve focussed on places where different cultures rub together (e.g. New York mosques and Navajo Trading Posts in the Far West). How did the ideas for those projects develop?
I am interested in where cultures mix. The Mosque book is the only idea that I didn’t originate. Jerrilynn Dodds – a writer on Islamic architecture – asked me to do the photos for her project on The Mosques of New York; my work in Afghanistan and Pakistan and my contacts within the Afghan community in New York were what sold her. It was an interesting experience and helped me get to know my home city a little more.
The Navajo project came about as a natural process after many years’ visiting the area. The mix of cultures and history there – Native American, Spanish, Anglo – I find interesting. Not an easy place to photograph, but very rewarding.
4. You spent many years working in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from 1980 to the early 2000s. What were the most important lessons from that time for you?
Lessons learned: trust your instincts, travel light. And as they say in tribal areas (Pakistan): ‘You see five fingers? Five fingers are not the same. Everything is not what it seems.’