"Opportunities exist everywhere", Kim Badawi assures us. Working as a professional photographer, his life revolves around not missing the opportunities he might have for creating interesting work. He grew up in Paris and had the chance to document some of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt. Read all about his thoughts on professional photography and how he got started in that business.
You have a very diverse and interesting heritage. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved with photography?
I was born in Paris France to Egipto-Slovenian parents who met, fell in love and got married in the United States in the late 60s. And so I guess I am a mix of the above, and their love. Fortunately for me, I was granted various citizenships.
Some people make a distinction between documentary photography and photojournalism, the first referring to longer term projects with a more complex story line while the second is more about breaking news stories. Do you think there is a difference between them? If so, do you consider yourself more one than the other and which? If not, why not?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I did pursue my studies in the fine arts and gradually took my interest in the arts towards photo documentary and journalism. Time and exposure are indeed critical to creating a more journalistic-fair portrayal of occurrences.
Do you think there is a difference between art photography and documentary photography/photojournalism? What is the difference?
I really think images should not be restricted to categories, but the subject I work with are real people and the moments are not staged. It’s just what comes natural on film or digital. There are no differences in boxes.
Your subject matters range from catacomb dwellers to civil unrest. How do you decide which projects to pursue?
Having been born and raised in Paris, I had never actually produced any work in my home city. But in late 2009, I found myself unexpectedly back home, for a period of several months for personal matters. I decided to revisit the Catacombs, somewhere I had not done since I was a teen. Likewise, I decided to move in to my grandfather’s apartment on the now infamous Tahrir Square in the first days of the Egyptian uprising. The rest is history.
Whether you are following Katrina victims from Mississippi to Texas or Muslim punk rock bands, your work tells a very cohesive story. How do you create a narrative with images? Do you have a specific process or do you simply shoot until you feel you have enough material?
Shooting true documentation of events, I notice that we are constrained to forming a “thread” in storytelling. I often think that the photographer must remain true to the actual chronology of events even though he might at times alter it slightly. When working on a project it is important to collect as much images and material as possible to be able to then build a successful sequenced narrative "thread’. The experience of storytelling should relate to viewers collectively.
You have worked with prestigious publications such as Le Monde, The New Yorker, and the Wall Street Journal as well as with news networks such as CNN. How did you start your professional career?
Opportunities exist everywhere, so it’s important to stay focused on what you do and to whom you want to showcase your work. As a full-time student at the International Center for Photography in New York City I came upon the opportunity to photograph for New York Magazine as part of their “Reasons to Love New York". I was assigned the subject “because we harbor illegal immigrants”. The project was shot only within two or three days and proved to be a tremendous challenge but also a success and a statement in light of the oncoming American elections.
After the publication of this first article, I was offered to work for many magazines, astonishingly both in travel and in the food industry. One of my most prominent clients included Condé Nasts’ Gourmet Magazine which unfortunately shut its doors in 2010. Basically this opportunity sprung from yet another. Go figure.
Can you tell us about the process for an editorial assignment? How does it work and how long does a project typically take?
Editorial assignments are limited to the deadline of editors and the specific magazine’s confinements. I would say in general most tutorial assignments last from one day to one week and in some cases perhaps a month. It is important to understand that magazines cannot finance a project over a large space of time.
What is your advice for someone starting out as a professional in your field?
My advice for working in this industry would be to understand how photography has become a multifaceted industry overlapping not only into the art world as well as print but most definitely into the online world which includes multimedia and therefore sound and music. The best ideas for photos are usually right under your nose.
Please share a trick of yours that will always result to a great photo.
There’s always a great photo at a 180 degree from anything interesting happening. That’s the oldest trick in the book.
Lastly, do you have any new projects coming up? Anything we should watch out for?
I recently completed a project for the French-American Foundation about Chinese migrant workers in Egypt. I am currently in Rio de Janeiro working on some fascinating stories that I am sure will soon be online.
You want to hear more from professional photographers? Check out the other interviews in our Meet the Pros series.