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Knight-Wallace Fellow Kate Brooks to discuss decade-long work in Middle East

Schilt

By John Bohn, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 14, 2012

After the events of 9/11, photojournalist Kate Brooks — 23 years old at the time — was given a four-day assignment in Pakistan to document U.S. negotiations with the Taliban, which held a group of Americans hostage at the time.

The Author’s Forum Presents: A Conversation with Kate Brooks and Juan R. I. Cole


Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
Hatcher Graduate Library
Free

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She ended up staying to cover the region for the next decade.

“It was very clear to me once the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan that it was the beginning of a very long story,” said Brooks, who is a current Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University.

Brooks has been all over the Middle East, from Afghanistan to Lebanon to Iraq, photographing and documenting the wars, revolutions and political movements that have shaped the course of events in the region over the last decade.

With the amount of conflict in the area, her work is anything but ordinary. "Current and past wars have affected everyone in the region,” she said. In addition to the chaos of conflict, the job of documenting such a diverse region has its own requirements.

“I can’t really say what a typical day in the region is like because it varies so much,” Brooks said. “It really depends on where you are and what you are doing, but life is far more diverse than most people imagine. Many of my softer pictures challenge stereotypes.”

Brooks's work has covered events ranging from a Pakistani fashion week, to the Shiite holiday of Ashura, during which Shia men pay homage to Hussein ibn Ali through mourning, poetic recitations and self-flagellation. Some of her photography shows the ruinous cityscapes; others depict a lone individual viewing a series of bombings from afar.

“Personally, I am more interested in what happens to civilian populations than I am in combat,” Brooks said.

“I spend a lot of time photographing daily life in conflict zones, specifically how people live in the midst of armed conflict,” she added.

At a time when the United States is engaged in affairs with a region that most Americans know little about, Brooks believes it’s imperative to increase efforts of spreading general knowledge about the region, its people and its culture.

Brooks’s decade-long excursion into the region has been compiled in her newest book, “In the Light of Darkness.”

“‘In the Light of Darkness’ seemed the most fitting (title) because of my use of light, the content of my work and the fact that compassion is an important element in my photography,” Brooks said.

The book is a mix of photographs from various projects, some personal and some commissioned by various publications, such as The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

“The collection of photographs captures people’s life experiences, poverty and the violence of war,” Brooks said.

Along with the photos, Brooks also wrote a series of essays. They function as a diary, giving attention to the personal journeys behind the regional narratives told by her photographs.

The Author’s Forum will be hosting a conversation Wednesday between Brooks and Prof. Juan Cole, who is the Director of the Center of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. The event takes its name from Brooks’s book and will use the events of the book as its subject. Cole will be attempt to put the personal experiences of Brooks into context.

Having published numerous works on the culture and politics of the Middle East, Cole is an expert on the region. In his book, “Engaging the Muslim World,” Cole deals with the West’s “Islamic Anxiety” and the myths and misinformation that have given rise to it.

Brooks still travels, attending events outside her fellowship in Ann Arbor. This past weekend she was in Houston attending the War Photography Exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. While the residency is only halfway through, she already has post-residency plans in the works.

“I care deeply about what's happening in the Middle East and I intend to go back after my time in Ann Arbor,” Brooks said.