A portrait of a visual storyteller
An artist, a photographer, a filmmaker, a husband, a father, a Kurd—a man who, with his child-like attitude, rounds even the squarest of us—shares some of his intimate moments in a tough life after. Ali Arkady (37) is an acclaimed and accomplished photojournalist who started his career in Iraq (his home country) as a visual artist and later moved on to photography. After a decade of covering conflict and disintegration of the region, his moral compass gets challenged in 2016. A course of events subsequently turns his and his family’s life upside down.
This is an intimate view of a man and his tolerant family showing quiet and not-so-quiet moments in their life in exile. This portrait project is shot in various places in Europe* since 2018 and is ongoing.
* Since Ali and his family are political assailants various places in Europe are intended to disguise the location of their whereabouts, for their safety.
Held by Shadow / I got to know what he and his family have been going through before and in exile. In the light behind bars of shadow, I sense there are some demons to be fought before released to the white light. In our studio on the morning of my departure abroad for work, Europe, mid December 2018.
Glowing Laugh / Nothing stops a good laugh glowing out of this man. Free and spontaneous with people he calls friends, this radiation may be at times a little obnoxious, but always kind and most of all, infectious. There is no-one left indifferent, not even me. In the neighbour’s flat we rented, Europe, late May 2019.
Midnight Madness / The force of Ali—no matter when or where—is relentless. In an impassioned conversation with his wife, I honestly can’t remember what was so passionately funny. Perhaps it was the fact that they watched from their window over a couple on the street bellow arguing drunk over we-don’t-know-what in the small hours of the new decade… In their flat, Europe, 1. January 2020.
IED or Not to IED / A premonition from the past overshadowed the present and pushed Ali into a downwards spiral of survival. Immediately we knew something went wrong, but only later learned that what he had just done could have had grave consequences back in Iraq. Walking over a pile of concrete rubble can be a deadly move. We are told that for Daesh (ISIS) it is common to place IEDs (improvised explosive devices) under the concrete rubble. And this pile of rubble opened the gates of flooding emotion even if it was located at a side of a forest road deep in the rural European nature. Europe, mid December 2018.
Meditation / The persistent stress and worry for the safety of oneself and family leaves, if nothing more, physical consequences on the body. Intense back pain often comes later in the night, once the hype of the day passes. With Una’s relaxing, step-by-step instruction, Ali takes a lying-down meditation exercise to ease on the body’s tension. In our studio, Europe, mid December 2018.
All My Life Is Scheduled with Work, but Without a Plan / “All my life is scheduled with work, but without a plan,” says Ali. Everybody deals with the load of work in their own capacity, but when you have two young kids, usable time and short spurs of energy are pulled from the deepest darkest corners of the day, I am told. They juggle this balance day in and day out to achieve what seems to me a mission impossible. In their home, Europe, late December 2019.
In the Picturesque Memories from the Field / “Can we edit an old work I did with Yazidi…,” Ali asks? “Sure,” we answer. And so, after 5 intense hours and out of hundreds of pictures edited down to 76, we manage to tell one kind of story which suited the project, and most importantly, Ali. The Yazidi project remains endlessly faceted, being open to so many understandings and interpretations, and yet, under time pressure, we are happy with the result. In their home, Europe, late May 2019.
Thank You! / After a victorious completion of a Yazidi story edit during the 5 intense hours, the sequence of 76 photographs are lying spread by spread on the floor while we say goodnight … and thank you. Next stage, a book layout which Una and I are doing once we get back to the studio. In their home, Europe, late May 2019.
Nothing But Milk / In small hours of the day when there is nothing else but toddler’s milk to drink, it’s time to call it a day. But ‘nothing to drink’ could, by many, be described either as crisis, or a first world problem. For Ali, milk is an opportunity to take the ‘silly’ a notch further. In their home, Europe, early January 2020.
A Big Child, a Small Child / I don’t know who’s really posing here?! But one is for sure, parents are never as cool as their kids even if they can climb higher, and are sillier at times. In a park near home, Europe, late May 2019.
The Messiah / In the ritualistic craze, or as I like to call it, a morning worship of the messiah, things can look a little strange to the onlooker, but rest assured it is, at least in this family, a normality. They are safe in a European city, they can have some silly play. In their home, Europe, early January 2020.
Dreaming of… / Reflecting in the moment of peace and calm before all starts over again. In a park near home, Europe, late May 2019.