Special Exhibition shown in Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah

The first World Press Photo exhibition in Iraq

For the first time in its 64-year exhibition history, the World Press Photo Exhibition is on display in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. The ‘Special Exhibition: Best of Three Years’ presents a selection from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 World Press Photo Contests in a three-city tour. We spoke to the exhibition’s organizer, Ahmed Najm, former World Press Photo Contest jury member and managing director of Metrography Agency, about the significance of bringing this exhibition to the country.

Having premiered in Baghdad in June, the special exhibition is currently showing in Erbil (until 20 July) before traveling to Sulaymaniyah (dates to be announced).

Where did the idea of bringing the exhibition to Iraq begin?
Whenever my brother Kamaran Najm, co-founder of Metrography Agency, traveled, he would bring photography books back to Sulaymaniyah. The agency’s photographers would read and share the books amongst themselves. Most of the time, these books were published by World Press Photo. Kamaran would always say that one day, he will bring this exhibition to Iraq so that they wouldn’t just have the books to look at.

Why was it important to you, and to Metrography Agency, for the World Press Photo exhibition to be seen in Iraq?
Bringing this exhibition to Iraq is important to me for two reasons. The first, is making Kamaran’s dream of showing the World Press Photo Exhibition in Iraq come true. During news coverage, Kamaran was injured at the beginning of the ISIS war in Iraq. He was captured by ISIS and has never been heard from since. The second, is the importance of this exhibition for Iraq. For many years, the most important photos of the World Press Photo Contest were captured in Iraq yet the country had never hosted this exhibition. It’s important for Iraqi photographers to get inspired by this exhibition, to get to know different aspects of photojournalism and to be aware of how important, worldwide subjects are being covered.

Why were Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah chosen as the locations?
Iraq and the Kurdistan Region are recognized by their different communities, with religious differences, and we try our best to maintain a balance in these different places. For that reason, we started the exhibition in the capital of Iraq, Baghdad, and then traveled to the capital of the Kurdistan Region, Erbil. Sulaymaniyah is the place where Metrography Agency was founded, and where Kamaran displayed World Press Photos’ books. It is also where most of the photographers started working.

What feedback have you had from visitors to the Best of Three Years special exhibition, so far?
Visitors to the exhibition have been surprised by the environmental stories, and immediately talk about how these stories aren’t yet covered by most Iraqi media. Many visitors come back again, and read the captions carefully. Visitors have mentioned that it’s important for the photographers to be independent, and for their work to be free of influence from their religious or community’s beliefs.

The photographers in Baghdad insisted that this exhibition should continue and think that Iraq deserves to host this exhibition yearly. Some of the photographers even believe that the local photographers shouldn’t settle for less, and that these kind of contests and exhibitions should represent their stories in Iraq too.

How did you make the exhibitions happen?
We print the photos in our main office of the agency in Sulaymaniyah, but taking these photos to Baghdad requires crossing 16 different check points of different security forces in Iraq. So, when we took the photos to Baghdad, we printed them twice and took them through two different ways to make sure we’d get the photos into Baghdad. Another issue for us is the temperature in Baghdad which gets to 48 degrees at its peak. Sometimes we joke that this is mission impossible.

The ‘Best of Three Years’ exhibition in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region has been organized in collaboration with the Dutch Embassy.

“By bringing World Press Photo to Iraq and exhibiting the photographs at spaces that are highly accessible to the public, World Press Photo contributes to the debate at the kitchen table of thousands of Iraqi citizens. I hope the multifaceted stories contained in these photographs contribute to the dialogue as Iraqis discuss the recent history of their country and the developments in their society”. - Matthijs Wolters, Ambassador to Iraq

The special exhibition is open every day and free for visitors. It is currently showing in Erbil (until 20 July) and details will be added soon on the exhibition in Sulaymaniyah.

Each year, the World Press Photo Exhibition travels to over 100 locations worldwide. Find a location near you, or get in touch to find out more about becoming an exhibition partner.

Image credits: Metrography Agency