Leïla Ghandi - crossing cultures with a camera
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French-Moroccan photographer Leïla Ghandi has been travelling around the world alone for 15 years - half her lifetime. Her dream is to use images to bring the Mediterranean peoples together, she tells us as Paris’s Month of the Photograph draws to a close.
“Travelling is something of a family heritage,” Leila Ghandi reclines in the quiet Paris café, and her dark eyes shine with pride. The 30-year-old has been on the road with her backpack stuffed with bare essentials and a camera since 1995. There is no sign of diminished enthusiasm today.
“My dad travelled the world when he was very young, too - Japan, South Africa and so on,” she says. “And that was in a period when it was very common. He transmitted this passion. But it’s also a desire to discover other cultures. I try to understand other people’s belief, try to respect them the best I can.”
In November Ghandi, who is Moroccan, was invited to Malta to participate in a regional conference for the UN-sponsored Alliance of Civilisations for the 40 countries around the Mediterranean basin. The alliance is hoping Ghandi can be a symbol of the Med’s two shores.
“They want me to share my experience. I want to try to contribute to more mutual understanding between the two banks of this sea. I tell them, however, it’s easier to go from the north to the south, than it is to go from south to north. So how can we meet?”
The question hangs in the air.
Ghandi has a knack for bringing issues down to their core matter. That may well have been the quality that tempted Gilles Kepel to ask his former student to work with him. The French scholar and analyst of the Arab world recently invited Ghandi on an odyssey through the Middle East to offset his scholarly analysis with her more instinctive, grassroots observations.
“When people call me for this kind of work, they are looking for my insight … and sensitivity. It’s very human-based. This is what people want today: ‘Let’s go back to the basics, and talk about people: their way of living, their beliefs, fears, dreams.’”
Ghandi’s rich educational background has given her some tools to better understand people whose path she crosses. Universities in Morocco, France and England, exchanges in Chile and Spain: all have contributed to broadening her cultural and linguistic palette.
“I try to understand other people’s vision,” she stresses. “It’s more about meeting and sharing, getting to know other worlds, than just travelling around.”
One of her most powerful experiences was nine months she spent in China. The result is a book of photos and texts, which has yet to be published in English, Chroniques en Chine.
Ghandi was only 26 when it came out.
Her book with Gilles Kepel is due to come out in 2011. Meanwhile, the intrepid photographer and her backpack are setting their sights on Mauritania and Yemen in an ongoing quest to open windows into people’s lives. People of all backgrounds and cultures.
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