KT: How did you get into photography?
OJ: I think I was around 20 something and I went to Nepal for climbing, and I started to make pictures, and at one point I said to myself, “I want to become a photographer.”
KT: You have been mostly documenting regimes changes, conflict zones and political scenarios. How did you build this fascination?
OJ: I was always into the documentary photos but did not think I will end up shooting wars. It started in Nepal, I was there to photograph religious ceremonies, and the civil war was emerging, and I ended up photograph what was going on. In many ways, it felt like I was in the front row of history and it still does today…
KT: You have published five powerful books like ‘Refugee’, ‘Syria: The War Within’ and ‘Nepal:MAO’ and others. What do you like about photography in a book-format? How important is it to transform your photojournalistic work in a book?
OJ: For me, photo books have always been the best way to absorb photography. I have quite an extensive collection of photo books, and I love the intimacy a book gives, just turn the page and new world appears. Personally, it is a good way to have closure on a project together with exhibitions, lectures and so on.
KT: Your book ‘Syria: The War Within’ has body of work which was shot in 2012 when you entered the country illegally. Have you always taken such risks or was it because you had attained your compulsory military training and it made it easier for you to tackle the conflict zone situation?
OJ: I think most photographers and journalist working in Syria, especially in Aleppo did not expect anything like what we witnessed and experienced. During my time in Aleppo, it was so many close calls, which could have killed me, so I try to forget…When it comes to risk, I always try to minimize them, but yes, I do take risks in my work. Sure, I think some advances are being trained in an elite unit under very hard conditions. I have learned from the army, stuff like medical training, climbing, parachute jumping, survival and much more that could help one to cope in extreme environments. But having said all that, being a soldier defiantly doesn’t help you get great photos or let you involve in your body of work.
KT: Your book was one of the most popular book at our first edition of ‘The Kitab’ festival in March 2017. We want to ask you that how difficult is it to create a space for a photojournalistic book considering most of the gatekeepers of the photobook world come from the art background?
OJ: Tough question, I think like with so many things it depends on the content and timing. When I published ‘Syria: The War Within’, the subject was on the news, which led to a lot of TV and radio appearances. If the book had been published now, I don’t think I would have got, so much media space that I have. When it comes to dealing with people with an art background, in my experience if they are confident and talented in what they do, they will not try to label the work as art, journalism, etc. They will display something their gut feeling is telling them and is strong.