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Photojournalist/Artist Ed Ou Talks About His Work

Photojournalist/Artist Ed Ou Talks About His Work

A selection of Ed's photographs are currently on display as part of the 131 group show at the O'Born Gallery, Toronto

Despite the fact that his work is appearing in a show at one of Toronto's hot West End art galleries, Ed Ou still has trouble thinking of himself as an artist. "This art gallery scene is all new to me," he confesses. It's not a position he seems entirely comfortable with, either. "It elevates me as an artist above the people in the image," he complains.

"I'm a journalist first, and a photographer second. It's more important for me to tell the story."

You'll frequently find Ed's work in The New York Times, (he has also worked for Reuters among other news outlets,) whether it's covering corruption in Ethiopian politics or a candidate's forum in Harlem.

An ex-pat Canadian, these days Ed says that after several years away from North America, Kenya feels more like home. The location also has practical purposes. "I think as a journalist, you have to be where the stories are. I work mainly in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia." He describes getting a phone call at dinner and then not only having an assignment, but shooting on the ground halfway around the world within 12 hours. It's not an uncommon occurrence. "As a photojournalist, you have to be able to respond at a moment's notice."

His recent work includes the images you'll find in the O'Born Gallery show, taken from a series he's calling Children of Men, (2010) which depicts Somali child soldiers. Photos from that series accompanied a story on child soldiers in Somalia employed by the Transitional Federal Government - an ally of and largely financed by the U.S. Both haunting and heartbreaking, they show these children with all the unselfconscious awkwardness and ungainliness of their pre-teenage youth, and an ever present loaded gun in their hands.

"The main purpose is to serve as evidence." The series is an ongoing work. "It fits in with the larger story I want to do about Somalia. Ever since the Americans pulled out in 1993 after the Black Hawk Down incident, hardly anyone covers it." (The 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, or The Day of the Rangers if you're Somalian.)

He mentions documenting the longstanding route of escape from Somalia to Yemen by boat, and the relatively new phenomenon of Somalis from North America and Europe returning home to become involved in either the Muslim insurgency or helping to rebuild the country via the Transitional Federal Government. His drive to bear witness is palpable, even as he acknowledges that personal danger is a reality of the job.

"The thing that's difficult about Somalia is that it's one of the most dangerous places in the world."

The day after the story about child soldiers was published, two of his local contacts had to take flight to escape arrest and possibly worse. As he points out, 34 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992, (according to reliable sources you'll find at that link).

His journalist's passion for revealing the truth is a trait in evidence since time spent as a teenager covering the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. (He's now 23, according to his online bio.)

Artistry does play a role in getting across the message. "In order for people to care, you have to make it compelling," he says, and he notes that an art gallery showing and the resulting exposure could lead to a wider exposure to his journalistic work. But, he's clearly eager to get back to it. "It's weird, being back in North America."

131 continues at the O'Born gallery until October 23

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