BRATTLEBORO — When photojournalist Sebastian Meyer visited Iraqi Kurdistan in 2008 to document survivors of the 1988 genocide against Kurdish people, he learned that dozens of his Middle Eastern colleagues were not having their work picked up by Western news organizations. This gave him a new focus for his next trip to the region — for which he bought a one-way ticket.
A result of his second trip is “Under Every Yard of Sky,” a book he describes as “part documentary photography, part journalism and part memoir,” combining photographs he took between 2008 and 2017 and a long-form personal essay about his time in the region. On Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Meyer will bring what he saw and learned to Southern Vermont when the Vermont Center for Photography, 10 Green St., hosts him for a lecture and book signing.
Meyer, who now lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, and Kamaran Najm, a Kurdish photojournalist, started an agency to connect Western editors with photographers in Iraq, and for the next eight years, Meyer divided his time between running the agency, taking assignments and documenting daily life in the region.
Kurdistan — a region made up of southeastern Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq, and western Iran — is home to people of Kurdish origin who were denied their own country after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Meyer said he first learned about Kurdistan before his 2008 assignment.
“I decided to document daily life in Kurdistan because it is such a complex place that is so poorly understood,” Meyer said in a recent email interview.
The free event at the Vermont Center for Photography is in-person, with distanced seating. Masks are required.
“VCP is excited to host this special event. Sebastian Meyer’s powerful images offer a glimpse into a world most of us read about daily in the news, but have never seen with our own eyes,” said Chris Triebert, board member for the Center. “His experience among the Kurdish people tells a story of deep respect and connection, and lays bare the loss that war inevitably always brings.”
Photos shared with the Reformer from “Under Every Yard of Sky” show joyous, peaceful and grievous moments in the lives of Iraqi Kurds. One photo, containing no people, shows rows and rows of Fanta in a Carrefour supermarket, which is a French supermarket chain.
“One of the great misconceptions about Iraqi Kurdistan is that it’s horrendously poor and war-ravaged. That was true in the 1990s and early 2000s, but by the 2010s, millions (if not billions) of dollars were flooding into the region. Oil exploration was booming. European, Australian, American, and Russian oil companies were all drilling. Gated villages were sprouting up like mushrooms. And gigantic supermarkets were stuffed to the gills with Oreos, Kraft, and Fanta,” Meyer explained.
Meyer said his talk Thursday will start with a brief history of photojournalism, then transition into a presentation of his book, ending with a look at what photojournalism looks like today.
“My hope is that attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at photojournalism and will come away with a deeper appreciation of it,” he said. “In today’s world of competing media attention — traditional news media vs. social media — I hope I can impart a bit of media literacy to help people cut through a lot of the misinformation out there.”
Meyer is also teaching a full-day class on photojournalism at the Center on Oct. 23 and 30. More information about the lecture or photojournalism class is available on the Center’s website, vcphoto.org, or by calling 802-251-6051.