We Will Understand Only What We Are Shown

I’d like to investigate ways to promote showing people that our sames outweigh our differences and that the issues and conflicts we are likely to face over the next few decades will be a whole lot more pleasant and less death inducing if we act like it.


Fed up of stagnating in the Uk, but still not at a significant enough stage of financial ruin or attrition of principles to compromise all the way to a corporate role, I needed a plan. Ideally this plan would involve me doing something that positively contributes to human society/the earth, while at the same time earning enough money to live on and providing enough of a mental or creative challenge to be interesting. Oh and it needed to be something I’d enjoy the execution of (that’s not as far-fetched as it seems, I enjoy the strangest of things).

Eventually I came up with a plan. Well, I say I. Actually, someone invited me somewhere, someone else thought this was an excellent idea and pushed them to push me (thanks Florian and Ali). And then I started to actually think about it and realised that it might, in a strange way, fit all those things.

So. I’m off to Iraqi Kurdistan tomorrow.

I’m going because it seems an excellent place, with many experts on hand, to help me to speed learn being a Photojournalist. I fear my mother feels it is an excellent place, with many experts on hand, to help me to end up dead. I have pondered whether or not I am being extremely irresponsible. It looks however, on cursory probing, unlikely that I will end up dead as a result of this trip. Erbil, where I’ll mostly be, is effectively the Brighton of the area – people go there on holiday. The crime rate is probably lower than Brighton, certainly lower than London, Paris or New York. Apparently that is not the point though and it’s all about personal perception. So, should your perception feel personally affected by the thought of my irresponsibleness making me dead, please do some research on Erbil and Kurdistan generally. You’ll soon rest easy in the knowledge that the biggest danger beyond most other places, is likely to be falafel overdose (and get really jealous that I might get to see swimming cats with one blue and one green eye – I kid you not, they are a thing in Kurdistan).

Back to my plan. Photojournalism might earn me enough money to live on – I take an alright picture. And it requires a brain and creativity – so that’s those bits covered.

I’m really not entirely sure about actual war photography, I don’t know what it would do to my mind. But I do feel that it’s important to understand the human implications of war. Not the “my leg got blown off in an airstrike” kind, or the PTSD potential for soldiers – though those are undoubtedly important too. I’d like to shed more light on the every-day mundanities of being a civilian in a war-zone and a civilian in a recently-at-war-zone. Because I think it would be prudent for people to be able to relate. That way there is far more of a chance that enough people will say no in the event that war is mooted as a possibility by their government.

Which brings me to positively contributing. I’ve never known a time where I’ve been overly concerned for the future of the human race. Until now. And what I see now (when I poke my head out of my echo-chamber) is a whole lot of divisive viewpoints based on very little fact or empathy with either the planet or the other people who occupy it. This does not bode well for issues relating to mass displacement, which is only going to increase. Looking at these issues from a siloed island perspective, while merrily embracing what we see as the positives of globalisation with open credit cards and closed minds, just doesn’t cut the mustard any more – it’s an obsolete mindset. Instead of being all keen on the stuff we can get and the things we can do, while ignoring every other aspect of our globalised lifestyle, we need to realise the “globe” in “globalisation” and adapt accordingly. And that’s not going to work without unity. Or as Baba Dioum put it far more succinctly than I: “For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught” – I am choosing to view the word “taught” as synonymous with “shown” in this context. I’d like to investigate ways to promote showing people that our sames outweigh our differences and that the issues and conflicts we are likely to face over the next few decades will be a whole lot more pleasant and less death inducing if we act like it.

I will take pictures of whatever I find. If they make it easier for just a few more people to see beyond divisive rhetoric, it will have been worthwhile.

And the last part of my plan – enjoyment. Based on a few hours digging around on the internet and talking with friends, Iraqi Kurdistan seems to have been pigeon-holed in what I suspect is a space meant for a rather smaller, more dowdy pigeon than the reality. Either that or they’re deliberately holding out on us. Or possibly my ability to comprehend effectively has been an utter failure, and all that’s there really is just unfamiliar, dangerous people I have nothing in common with and will never understand, in a big, hot, dusty desert. I intend to find out.

I am very excited already to read that the wildlife of Iraqi Kurdistan includes Lions and Tigers and Bears. And Leopards and Porcupines and Spotted Newts. And Crocodile and Mouflon and Caracal (what even are those last two?). Also the skiing. Apparently it’s superb. But what I’m most looking forward to is meeting people – Kurdish hospitality is ledgendary. And I quite like Florian, who I’ll be staying with.

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