Every year, hundreds of professional photographers gather in the French city of Perpignan to discuss, exhibit, promote and celebrate each other's work. Polish photo-journalist Karolina Samborska presented her work from past trips to Ismaili Muslim villages in Pamir, Tajikistan at the Festival Off Perpignan. In this TTM blog post, Samborska discusses working conditions in rural Tajikistan and for freelancers in general.
TTM: What is the exhibition about?
Karolina Samborska: The exhibition is about the Ismailia branch of Islam that we can find being practiced in Roshov, a tiny hidden village in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. I named the project "Free. Happy. Women. Muslim." because it is a contribution to the debate on our Western view of Islam. This work aims to go beyond the news, to show religion under a different light. Too often, it is depicted as a source of terror and cause for slavery of women. These photographs seek to highlight the progressive side of this little known branch that is Ismailism.
TTM: Tell us about the realization of this project?
KS: I went to Pamir three times and I totally felt in love with the people and the landscape. Pamir is a remote region. If you decide to travel there, you will need to prepare. First you need to get a visa and ask for the permission to enter Pamir. In Tajikistan, you can’t predict everything, you need to be flexible and be ready to change your plans. Have a plan B in case the political situation changes. When I came back the second time, Pamir was closed for "political reasons" - there were some riots and the security forces did not want to have any witnesses -, so I had to wait for a month to get in.
TTM: How did you end up getting exhibited at Perpignan festival?
KS: I sent my work to Festival Off de Perpignan, which takes place at the same time as Visa pour l’image. I provided them 15 pictures and a text back in April. Then, I was selected to be shown at the event.
TTM: What are the returns you can expect from this international festival?
KS: Let's see. Obviously, it is a great pleasure to be at such a well known festival. The most interesting aspect of the adventure were the comments from non-professional visitors. I guess the exhibition is all about showing people how the rest of the world looks like.
TTM How did you manage to finance your travel in Tajikistan?
KS: I financed this trip myself and hoped to make enough money from selling the pictures afterwards. The flights were the most expensive part, ranging from EUR 700 to EUR 1,000. I might have spent around EUR 2,000 if I include all the gifts I bought for people back at home. I mostly stayed at people’s houses. Once you are in Pamir, people are very hospitable and helpful. If you stay for a night, you usually don’t pay but you might offer them something as a present. I always stayed longer though and paid them for accommodation and for the food.
TTM: What camera did you use?
KS: I still have an old Nikon D700 that I need to upgrade! And I use three lenses, 24mm, 35mm and a 50mm.
TTM: How is the internet in Tajikistan?
KS: It is alright in big cities, but in the village there is no mobile phone connection, the electricity is not constant, and there is no internet.
TTM: As a freelance journalist, what are your challenges on a daily basis?
KS: Actually I'm only starting… I am more interested in storytelling than breaking news. I work on the topics that interest me the most. Another part of my work is landscape photography where I have my clients and a very clear understanding of where I want to go. I guess the challenge is to present reality as much as I can. What I like the most is to create this bridge between different cultures, especially now, when the Muslim world is only seen as a place of poverty and terrorism.
TTM: As a female photojournalist, what are the precautions that you have to take to keep yourself as safe as possible?
KS: There is no danger in Tajikistan. I had to be more careful in Afghanistan as a Westerner, not just as a woman. I didn’t meet any other photographers or journalists that could give me advice during my journeys. I travelled in Tajikistan three times, so I was able to gain some experience here and there, little by little. I figured out that I needed to be careful and if the locals advised me not to go somewhere, I just would not push it and would not go. I guess that's the hardest decision to make. Stay or go somewhere else.
TTM: Is there any project you are working on right now? If yes, tell us more about it.
KS: I want to come back to Pamir in Winter. I also want to develop landscape aerial photography, which is a new passion project. I am a landscape architect too so an important part of my photowork is dedicated to landscape photography. There are already works in progress, hopefully I will be able to share it with Transterra Media in a month or two!
TTM: And what about your dream project? If you were free to choose any place and any topic, what would that be?
KS: I would love to go to Pakistan to work on Ismaili people there but need to wait for the situation to calm down a bit.
Karolina Samborska was born in 1979 in Poland. She graduated from landscape schools in both France and Poland: l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage de Versailles and Warsaw University of Life Science. She is based in Paris where she works as a freelance photographer and lanscape artist. Fascinated by other cultures - vanishing, traditional and contemporary alike - and landscape in its pure form, she travels extensively, mainly to mountain regions in Northern and Central Asia. Among her interests are the photography of individuals and open landscape. Recently, her interest also turned to photo reportage and urban landscape.
Head over to Karolina Samborska's profile page on Transterra Media to see more of her photography from Tajikistan and Afghanistan.