After years of war, northern Iraq is experiencing a housing boom. The demand for cheap labor is largely being met by poor Iraqi men who have been displaced by violence in other parts of the country.
Earlier this year, photographer Ali Arkady documented the lives of the day laborers in Sulaymaniyah.
“We are a rich country; we have so much oil,” he says. “But these men are so poor. I want to show people – both inside and outside Iraq – what life is really like for Iraqis.”
Arkady took on the project under guidance from Anastasia Taylor-Lind of the VII Photo Agency during a weeklong photojournalism workshop in June. The intensive training session was organized by Kamaran Najm and Sebastian Meyer of Metrography, Iraq’s first photo agency.
“[Our] mission is to create a culture of photojournalistic storytelling in Iraq,” Meyer says. “We leave the breaking news, for the most part, to the wire agencies.”
Meyer and Arkady are quick to point out Iraq has no formal photography school. But Arkady says after his family was displaced by Sadaam Hussein, he started learning on his own with the help of a math teacher who owned a Russian film camera.
“Before the workshop I had no idea what a photo story was,” he says. “I learned how to talk and interact with subjects, how to get close to them … how to approach an assignment and create a narrative with my photographs.”
With a network of photographers from every region of Iraq, Meyer and Najm are hoping Metrography will excel at that kind of intimate storytelling.
“I was really surprised by how quickly the photographers developed,” Meyer says. “They are so thirsty and so desperate for that kind of knowledge that if you give them a little bit of it, they’ll excel way beyond what you would imagine.”
- Brett Roegiers, CNN