An interview with Metrography: The first (and the only) photoagency in Iraq

Metrography website
(All the images copyright: Metrography)

KIRKUK, IRAQ: An Arab man from the Hai Askari neighborhood of Kirkuk awaits interrogation on the eve of the Iraqi Parliamentary Elections. The man is suspected of planting a roadside bomb on March 4th that wounded 6 people.

Metrography is the first and only Iraqi photography agency covering all 18 of Iraq’s governorates from Al-Basra to Zakho. They use local photographers who give them unrivaled knowledge and access in every region of the country.

BAGHDAD, IRAQ: Workers for the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) count votes in Baghdad.

Can you tell us something about the situation right now in Iraq?
1. This is very difficult question to answer! But I’ll try. The situation in Iraq right now is very different from what it was a few years ago. Reconstruction is happening all around the country from a huge Olympic Park being planned in Basra, to amusement parks in Baghdad, to mega malls in Kurdistan. However, kidnappings, murders, suicide bombs, etc. continue. Excluding the Kurdish region, it’s still a very dangerous place to be.

How hard is to be a photographer in Iraq?
2. Baghdad remains a difficult place to photograph because of bureaucratic restrictions. The rest of the country, especially the north, is quite easy. And there are so many important stories to photograph. Again, because of the security situation many people are afraid of being photographed and we have to be aware of the risks our photos might pose to our subjects.

Witch kind of problems do you have do deal with when you are around the country ?
3. The two main problem in Iraq are dealing with the security forces and dealing with the insurgent groups. Neither like to be photographed and both pose a serious threat to photographers. Many photographers have been harassed and arrested by the security forces and others, sadly, have been kidnapped and killed by the insurgents.

BAGHDAD, IRAQ: An Iraqi Army solder films the aftermoath of a bomb explosion in the Alawi neighborhood–a Shia area in Baghdad–on his cell phone…Bombs destroyed seven buildings in three areas of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing at least 28 people and wounding 75.

How did you decide to think about a photoagency there?
4. Kamaran came up with the idea of the photo-agency while working as the picture editor at a Kurdish magazine called Metro (that’s where the name Metrography came from). He realized that there was no central agency where he could go to get photographs from Iraq, instead he had to call each photographer individually. So he decided to start an agency himself.

Can you tell us something about your photo agency organization, as you are the first and the unique photo agency in Iraq?
5. It’s not complicated to find enough photographers. It is complicated, however, to find good photographers. Part of what we’re doing at the agency is providing training to bring the skills of our photographers up to international standards. We are in the middle of organizing a workshop with two photographers: Stephanie Sinclair from VII and Kael Alford of Panos Pictures as well as Patrick Witty, the International Picture Editor at TIME. They’re coming to Iraq later in the year to give a 6 day workshop to 25 of our photographers in how to shoot photo-stories.

SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ: A protester holds a sign that reads “Do Not Shoot Protesters Kurdistan”. .A second day of protests rocked the Kurdish Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah. Security forces used, batons, water canons, and live rounds. At least 14 people were wounded…Photo by Hawre Majid

It was complicate to find enough photographer around the country?
6. Metrography is modelled off of other agencies like Redux, Polaris, Laif, etc. We have a small staff (Director, Editor, and Manager) who run the agency through the website. All our photographer work on a “contribution” basis. This means that either we get assignments from clients and then allocate the work to the photographers or our photographers send us images which we sell on commission. We currently have about 65 photographers that we represent.

If you have to choose one photo to describe Iraq now, witch one will you select?
7. This is such a difficult question to answer. Iraq is a wonderfully varied place: From the Kurdish mountains in the north, to the palm groves in Baghdad, to the marshes in the south. How can one picture tell the story of Iraq? Firstly, the youth are becoming more and more important to the future of Iraq. It’s obvious the older generations aren’t doing a very good job! Also, all across Iraq, people have a deep love of birds. This image seems to be the most “Iraqi” we have.

(this is the photo selected)

Witch with media are you working with?
8. We work a lot with the Iraqi press as well as a few European papers including BILD in Germany and The Times of London. We’re also distributed by MaxPPP in France, ParalleloZero in Italy, and Universal News and Sport in the UK.

Is it complicate to communicate with the photographer, and witch kind of problems do you have to deliver the photos?
9. It’s not hard to communicate with the photographers for the most part. Kamaran and Taha (our manager) both speak Kurdish and Arabic. The one problem we face is getting the images quickly enough. Internet works, but it can be very slow sometimes. This can be very problematic if we need to get photographs out quickly.

SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ: A protester who was shot in the face is wheeled down the street…Tension continues to grow in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan as protesters clash with police on a 5th day of unrest…Photo by Akam Shekh Hadi

How is it working internet there?
10. As mentioned above, internet is all over Iraq, but at times it can be extremely slow. Part of our workshop training is going to include a section on how to resize photographs so they are small enough to send quickly, but big enough to print.

There is a future for Iraq and how do you’ll see it in 10 years?
11. There is a definite future for Iraq. It will take a while for the country to find its feet, but already we can see people starting to put the country back together. This is an amazing time for journalists and photojournalists to be working and documenting. The stories in Iraq are just as vital and important as ever. The world needs to see how people are moving on and creating a new life after so many years of war.

SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ: A street battle between protesters and police…A third day of violence rocks the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah. Tensions between protesters and security forces flare after the security forces continue to use life ammunition during the demonstrations…Photo by Ali Arcady

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