Mohammad Sharif Shaiq is a photojournalist born in a remote village in northeastern Afghanistan. He has a degree in Persian language literature, and for more than 13 years has worked for new agencies, newspapers and radio stations. As a result of the war, six months after the Taliban took control, he and his family moved to Germany as refugees, with the intention to start a new life.
Sharif started his career in photojournalism in 2011 after meeting an Iranian photographer who encouraged him to get into this industry. Since then he has focused on showing the culture and society he was born and raised in. One of his intentions is to motivate people to change their lives by showing in each scene the truth of a reality. So far, he has been on the lines recording the moments of people and soldiers in war zones, witnessing scenes of women and children fleeing for their lives.
Originally from Afghanistan, Sharif and his family are new to Germany, and are striving to learn the language and immerse themselves in German culture for future projects. For this month’s Local Heroes series , IMAGO spoke with him about his intentions to capture the moments in and outside the war in Afghanistan.
“Photojournalism is entering the heart of events. When we want to enter the world of photojournalism, we must be prepared to accept all its risks .”
Thanks Sharif for agreeing to speak with us. Please give us an introduction about yourself.
First, a warm greeting to you and the readers of your magazine, my name is Mohammad Sharif Shaiq. I was born in a remote village in the northeast of Afghanistan, and lost my father when I was a child. I have a bachelor’s degree in Persian language literature from Kabul University, which is my native language and my field of study. And I can speak English and Pashto languages.
For more than thirteen years, I worked for local news agencies, newspapers and radios. Along with covering news events mainly in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, many of my photographs have been published in international media. After all, I took refuge in Germany six months after the Taliban took control of all of Afghanistan., and now I am living with my wife and my three children in Saxony-Anhalt, state of Germany.
How did you enter the world of photography and at what point did you decide to become a photojournalist?
I met an Iranian photographer named Majid Saeedi in August 2011, who encouraged and guided me to start photography. Once I started, I found in photography a very attractive and interesting profession, for this reason I read some books and articles about photography and how to use a professional DSLR camera. At the same time that I started, I discovered a good market for news photographers, various international media such as AFP, EPA, AP and even Reuters bought my photographs. Especially in the places where I used to work, photography had its opponents, women liked being in front of the camera, and sometimes, men were strongly against it.
” Where I worked, photography had its opponents, women liked being in front of the camera, and sometimes, men were strongly against it .”
Your photos depict strong emotions that accompany their protagonists. What is your main intention behind your photographs?
I was pursuing two main goals by recording the moments of people’s lives. First, I wanted to encourage others to change their lives through my photos, and second, to reflect the suffering caused by poverty, life in backward societies. Particularly I was attached to the culture and society in which I was born and raised, being always interested in taking pictures of objects, mountains, sea, people and animals.
“I want … to reflect the suffering caused by poverty, life in backward societies.“
What role do you think you play as a photojournalist in society?
In Afghanistan, it is common to say that the media is a bridge between the government and the people. When I worked in Afghanistan the government was corrupted and the officials did not pay attention to the voices of the population and their difficulties. As a result I tried to cover various events to show that the politicians were not paying attention to the problems of society. For example, many times I published pictures of girls who were interested in education but were studying under the hot sun or in the shade of trees, but none attention was paid.
The photographs you take show the lives of people in Afghanistan, living in and outside of war, why did you decide to focus on their story?
Yes, exactly, I have been to the war lines many times to record the moments of people in the war zones and the soldiers who were on the front lines and fought against the Taliban. As a matter of fact, I had the experience of sleeping hungry at night among the soldiers, working in such conditions has a strange feeling. Basically I met people who didn’t have the power to change their living situation, poor, without bread to eat and additionally conflicts close to them every day. Also I have seen many times children and women escape from their houses to save their lives, running and crying.
What is the biggest risk you have faced as a photojournalist so far?
I photographed many events, mainly wars. Once in a mountainous area, one of the Taliban’s missiles hit near an army base, an ex-Afghan army soldier asked me to leave the area in order to be safe. Another time, we flew with an army helicopter to a high area, where a group of students were carried away by an avalanche and were injured. When two helicopters arrived, the first helicopter fell to the ground while landing. The pilot of the second helicopter saw this situation terrified with the idea that his helicopter might also fall. Afghanistan, has spectacular and interesting subjects for photography, from natural landscapes to the culture and traditions of the people, but unfortunately, my peers and I have not witnessed peace and security in this country.
“Afghanistan, the country where I grew up, has spectacular and interesting subjects for photography, from natural landscapes to the culture and traditions of the people, but unfortunately, my peers and I have not witnessed peace and security in this country.”
Do you have a special project that has had a resounding impact on you? Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
Well, I used to cover a lot of events specially battles. I remember covering an intense one between the government and Taliban in Badakhshan province. Moreover i t was like raining bullets, I was watching the soldiers closely, they had no fear at all, while their friends were down they stepped on the dead bodies and moved forward. Particularly it was the time I realized what “ Moving forward means, when the way becomes rough and nearly impossible ”. Specially this situation inspired me to face my own fears and move forward in my own personal life. Anytime I feel stuck, or I am about to quit, I remember that event and tell myself “Move forward”.
How do people receive your presence when you want to capture photographs in their environment?
It depends on the situation, especially when I was taking photos of places where they were suffering from poverty. Sometimes I received a warm welcome because they thought I could help them get noticed by higher authorities and bring help. But in other situations in normal life, some people were welcoming and some didn’t like being photographed. For example, if a man notices that I was taking a picture of a woman, he could create problems.
Please give a recommendation to people who like photography and would like to start a career in photojournalism.
In journalism, it is common to say, “the best news is the worst news”. On the contrary, I like to say , “the worst incident is the best news”. When we talk about photojournalism, we always deal with incidents and events that events that include some danger for the photographer. For this reason e very year, many photographers around the world are injured and even die while covering events such as war, natural disasters, landslides, etc. In effect photojournalism is about getting into the heart of events, and if we want to enter the world of photojournalism, we must be prepared to accept all its risks.