Frame in Focus: Ted Richardson on Afghanistan’s Hazara
Ted, you worked on a story in 2011 about Afghanistan’s servant class, the Hazara. You can see the full story here and this is the synopsis of your story:
The Hazara, Afghanistan’s servant class, must not only survive the war, but constant persecution from a society that keeps them on the bottom rung. Extreme poverty, lack of basic services, and a deeply-ingrained prejudice against them have made the Hazara one of the most maltreated and migratory groups in the world.
What led you to this story?
I collaborated on this assignment with a former N&O reporter who received a grant to write about the Hazara’s migration from Afghanistan to Greece. The first phase of the project was to see how the Hazara were living in Afghanistan, and what prompted them to leave the country. I had just left the N&O two months earlier, and hadn’t covered any international stories for several years, so I jumped at this chance to go.
Talk about your approach with this story.
The reporter was primarily writing for radio. I listened closely to her interviews and learned as much as I could about issues facing the Hazara so I could better illustrate the main themes of the narrative. We spent a couple of days in Kabul, then flew to Bamiyan, where thousands of Hazara live along a lush valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountains. It was a beautiful place, and relatively safe … but the people there lived in extreme poverty, many of them in caves. The signs of war stood tall above us in the mountainside; gigantic Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban several years earlier.
Once we started meeting Hazara families in Bamiyan, I carved out time in the day (usually very early in the morning) when I could use our shared driver and interpreter to assist with my photo and video coverage.
How long did you work on it?
I was only in Afghanistan for two weeks, and was piggy-backing on resources, so covering the people and issues with any depth and nuance was a real challenge, but it was my goal.
I also photographed the Hazara living in Athens, Greece, but that was only for a couple of days. With the ongoing financial crisis and growing intolerance for foreign workers in Athens right now, that story is worth re-visiting.
What were some of the challenges you encountered working on this story?
Besides the travel costs, of which I only recovered 25% through the sale of a video scene to CBS Sunday Morning, safety was the biggest challenge. We were not embedded with a military unit over there. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing an American soldier on this trip (just civilian contractors). Even though Bamiyan was relatively safe, the road to Bamiyan from Kabul passed through an intersection known for violence (perhaps a Taliban checkpoint), and so we decided to take a 45-minute flight in a small plane from Kabul.
While in Kabul, we stayed at a hostel with several other journalists (the place was recommended to me by Chuck Liddy and Sara Davis, who stayed there on previous assignments to Afghanistan). For security, the hostel only had one German Shepherd and one Hazara guard. I’m not even sure if the guard had a weapon. But it turns out that the low-key, small-footprint lodging worked best. Just a few weeks later, one of the larger, fortified hotels (which had been recommended to us) was attacked by the Taliban, resulting in several casualties.
I love the photo of the Hazara woman entering the Shia mosque with her daughter. Tell us about that image.
I made that photo during one of the few days we spent in Kabul. There is a beautiful Shia mosque and cemetery on the outskirts of town. I was not allowed inside the mosque while the women prayed, but I made several photos of them coming and going. This one worked best, I think, because of the tiny detail of the woman’s foot and the shape the wind creates across her burqa.
And what did you learn working on this story?
I had never been to Afghanistan, but had seen hundreds of photos from there in the news and while working the picture desk. Witnessing the rugged beauty and resilience of Afghanistan with my own eyes was something I’ll never forget. The experience reminded me that, while people live under vastly different circumstances, they often have similar values. As photojournalists, we can help celebrate those values. I approached this assignment just like any other assignment, relying on ways I have always connected with people. I wanted to understand the people I was photographing and respond to small moments in their daily lives. This is our discipline, and it’s our gift. It’s how we are able to connect and to have an impact. We should trust in that approach whether the assignment is in our own back yard or half way around the world.
About Ted Richardson:
Ted Richardson has been working as a full-time photojournalist for the
past 12 years, covering a variety of photo and multimedia assignments,
including stories in Afghanistan, Mexico and Cuba, hurricanes that
battered the east coast, the shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech,
college and professional sports championships, including the Carolina
Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup victory, and the inauguration of President
Barack Obama. However, Ted’s career is best defined by smaller
moments from daily life, by stories that reveal the joys and struggles
of ordinary people in the community.
Ted has taught courses in photojournalism and multimedia journalism at
UNC-Chapel Hill, and his work has garnered dozens of awards, including
two Photographer of the Year honors in North Carolina (NC Press
Association-2007, and NC Press Photographers’ Clip Contest-2006). He
graduated from Davidson College with a B.A. in English, and from
UNC-Chapel Hill with a Master’s in Journalism.
See his work at www.tedpix.photoshelter.com/index