For more than two decades, photojournalist Ed Kashi has been producing stories that explore the human condition and focus on people who are largely ignored by the mainstream media. He has worked in over 45 countries and has captured such diverse subjects as the heroin problem in Poland, culture and nightlife in the reunified Berlin, and overpopulation in Cairo’s City of the Dead.
His in-depth look at the Protestant community in Northern Ireland spanned three years (1988–1991) and was awarded a WESTAF NEA grant. The work culminated in a self-published book, The Protestants: No Surrender. More recently, Kashi spent several years documenting the lives of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. This work was published worldwide, and a photograph from this essay received an award in the World Press Photo 1995 competition.
Since 1991, Kashi has completed eight stories for the National Geographic, including such topics as the Kurds, water problems in the Middle East, Syria, Beirut, the Crimea, an expedition of the first descent of the Shuiluo River in China, Pakistan, and a story from Africa which is due to be published within the year (1997).
Kashi’s work has received numerous awards and has been widely exhibited. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic, the New York Times Magazine, Time, Fortune, GEO, Smithsonian, the Sunday Times Magazine (London), Newsweek, Natural History, U.S. News & World Report, the Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, Granta, Aperture, and American Photo, among many other domestic and international publications.
Kashi is currently working on a long-term project, Aging in America, which has received grants from the Open Society Foundations’ Project on Death in America and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The first feature from this project focused on the “graying” of America’s prison population and received an award in Pictures of the Year 55 (1997).
The twentieth century has given us the gift of longevity. It has also exposed some disturbing wrinkles in our society. For decades, our country has ventured down the road of prosperity, kneeling at the altars of youth and independence. Along the way we have marginalized our elders and behaved as though they should be able to take care of themselves. With more people living longer than at any time in history, our families and social institutions are straining under the pressure of the needs of the elderly.
In 1995, after more than eight years of working predominantly outside the United States, I wanted to identify one of the great themes impacting America during my lifetime and explore a universe with cutting-edge social and political issues. This personal, intellectual, and ultimately journalistic process led me to Aging in America.
Four years ago, I began documenting a new breed of “community” that has evolved to address the needs of elderly people. My wife and collaborator, writer Julie Winokur, has joined me in this quest. Since we began this project, we have seen a tidal wave of media attention celebrating the “wonder years,” with peppy stories about seniors who sky dive or run marathons. While these stories are inspirational, they do not address the real concerns of growing old that most Americans will face. In fact, they contribute to the “anti-aging” sentiment that is bent on defying this natural process. While examining some of the unprecedented opportunities facing elders, our project also explores the deterioration of body and mind. It is a sobering account of individuals fighting against time and of institutions contending with an aging society.
My ultimate goal is to create a living document that will contribute to our understanding of aging, and provide a clear-eyed account of what has become an abstracted and over-hyped marketing tool. It will challenge American society’s marginalization of the elderly by boldly illustrating how seniors are vital contributors to our families and communities. This project will help visualize the emerging issues of an aging society in order to help us prepare and adapt more successfully.
—Ed Kashi, spring 2000