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Noah Rabinowitz in conversation with Michael Kirby Smith November 1, 2012
Michael Kirby Smith’s unprecedented and intimate look into Yemen
6 MARCH 2012 – A woman walks down a empty street where several civilians were killed by sniper fire during fighting in the Hassaba neighborhood of Sana’a, Yemen.
02 FEBRUARY 2012 – A portrait of Mohammed Abdul Al-Hadhrami, 68, who was shot three times, twice in the leg and once in the shoulder by a government sniper in Hassaba, Sana’a, Yemen. The neighborhood of Hassaba was devastated by war between government forces loyal to the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh and soldiers loyal to Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribe. Al-Hadhrami now suffers from PTSD.
7 APRIL 2012 – A community living on the fringes of Yemen society rush to sift through rubble being dumped near a slum in Sana’a, Yemen.
12 FEBRUARY 2012 – Ibrahim Ater, 10, carries his sister across a trench dug by soldiers loyal to Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribe. The trenches allow soldiers to move throughout the neighborhood, avoiding sniper fire from Government forces. Ibrahim’s father was killed in November 2011 and he now supports his family by working in the kitchen of Sheik al-Ahmar, sneaking out food to his sisters, and earning money from his work.
24 FEBRUARY 2012 – A qat farm outside Sana’a, Yemen. Farmers pick the leaves to be sold in the markets for chewing.
13 FEBRUARY 2012 – Bread and a sign displaying the fractured state of the country on a protest tent near Change Square in Sana’a, Yemen.
17 FEBRUARY 2012 – Ali Rajeh is carried by soldiers loyal to Ali Mohsin and pedestrians after Friday’s protest ended in violence when he was shot in the neck with a pistol after a dispute on 60th St. in Sana’a, Yemen. The perpetrator was captured by soldiers and taken away immediately after the incident.
31 JANUARY 2012 – Saleh Khaled Alaishi, 9, holds an image of his brothet who was killed by government forces during the war in Hassaba. The neighborhood of Hassaba was devastated by war between government forces loyal to the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh and soldiers loyal to Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribe.
25 APRIL 2012 – A city view of Sana’a Yemen.
15 FEBRUARY 2012 – The Ater family on their roof in the war ravaged neighborhood of Hassaba in Sana’a, Yemen.
5 APRIL 2012 – A women talks to a man trying to fix his car in a slum in Sana’a, Yemen.
02 FEBRUARY 2012 – The niece of Aith Atier, 27, holds the remnants of a bomb similar to the one that killed her uncle, while giving Harash Ali Aide, 21, a soldier loyal to Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribe, a dirty look in the Hassaba neighborhood in Sana’a, Yemen. The neighborhood of Hassaba was devastated by war between government forces loyal to the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh and soldiers loyal to Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribe.
02 FEBRUARY 2012 – Huddah Ater changes a lightbulb as electricity is briefly restored in the Hassaba neighborhood in Sana’a, Yemen. Her husband was killed by a government bomb, leaving her alone to care for her four children.
31 JANUARY 2012 – Mohammed Al-Airiv’s, 22, son pours tea at their home in Hassaba. Al-Airiv was injured by a bomb on May 25, 2011 in Hassaba that killed one person and injured 5.
15 MARCH 2012 – An all girl’s school in Sana’a Yemen.
27 FEBRUARY 2012 – A Houthis led march burns an American flag near the US Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen.
2 APRIL 2012 – A man tries to fix the electricity in a poor community outside of Aden, Yemen.
20 JANUARY 2012 – Protestors during Friday’s afternoon prayer on Zubaryi Street near Sana’a University on Friday, January 20, in Sana’a, Yemen.
16 FEBRUARY 2012 – Ibrahim Ater, 10, (right) talks about fighting in the neighborhood while chewing qat with his cousin Jamel, 12. Ibrahim’s father was killed in November 2011 and he now supports his family by working in the kitchen of Sheik al-Ahmar, sneaking out food to his sisters, and earning money from his work.
14 MARCH 2012 – Kids at play in Sana’a, Yemen.
10 FEBRUARY 2012 – Ali Ahmed Al-Rassas, 22, was killed by a bomb intended for Sheik Al-Amar’s son in Sana’a, Yemen.
3 FEBRUARY 2012 – Two fisherman unload a large shark at the Seera fish market in Aden, Yemen.
27 JANUARY 2012 – A tent in Tahrir Square filled with President Ali Abdullah Saleh signs in Sana’a, Yemen.
23 JANUARY 2012 – A girl carries water in the old city in Sana’a, Yemen.
31 JANUARY 2012 – Shadows on a bullet coverd wall in Sana’a Yemen.
26 JANUARY 2012 – A Somalian refugee lifts up his shirt to show injuries sustained from his perilous journey to Yemen, while a crowd of refugees line up outside a tent to tell their stories in Sana’a, Yemen.
27 JANUARY 2012 – A 15 year old soldier loyal to Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribe, walks down a staircase of a destroyed police station in the Hassaba neighborhood in Sana’a, Yemen. The young man fought against government forces during the war and the building was taken over by opposition fighters.
Michael Kirby Smith began photographing what would become A Fractured State, after arriving in Sana’a, Yemen in December 2011. An ongoing journalistic investigation into a nation gripped by conflict and social problems, the project documents a country recovering from a thirty-three year dictatorship and a population struggling with rampant poverty, malnutrition, internal conflicts, environmental issues, an increasing number of refugees from the Horn of Africa, and an expanding U.S.-led covert war against Al Qaeda. Smith gives us an intimate look into an underreported region with the eye of a humanist.
Guernica: What initially brought you to Yemen?
Michael Kirby Smith: When I first started researching Yemen and the rise of its extremist elements, I found there wasn’t enough journalistic coverage of the country and its people. It seemed to be an area without a human face. When the Arab Spring began, I really wanted to be there. There was direct U.S. involvement in the country, which was very important to me. Also, its geopolitical location was really interesting—its proximity to old African trade routes and its fascinating history as an access point to the Middle East.
Guernica: In an age when many journalists travel abroad less and less, and would rather focus on issues in their home region, why do you think producing this work was/is important?
Michael Kirby Smith: Although I obviously see the importance of covering stories in our own backyard—and I’m covering stories here in the States—I feel very passionate about traveling abroad to cover stories. I question the trend of people frowning on traveling abroad to produce work. I understand that argument, but if no one goes then what happens to those stories? I think it’s sometimes good to have perspective from the outside.
Once you arrive, you develop a strong bond to the place and the people. You hear this term “parachute journalism,” but I think it’s problematic for journalists to use that language. It’s important to have the coverage. I think it’s important to expand your knowledge of the world around us.
Going to Yemen was my first trip to the Middle East. Now my entire perspective on the region has changed. I’m far more critical of U.S. policy and involvement. I have informed opinions where I didn’t before.
Guernica: Can you describe one image that sticks with you?
Michael Kirby Smith: It’s definitely the picture where Huddah is crawling up to turn on the light (image #13). That was a special day for me, to be able to spend time with her family in their home. Yemen is a very conservative society, and it is generally frowned upon for a man to spend time in such an intimate setting, especially taking photographs. The city didn’t have consistent power for months, and all of a sudden it was briefly restored. Huddah grabbed a light bulb within seconds. There was something symbolic and significant about her excitement, about seizing this opportunity to turn on the light. It was a beautiful moment.
Michael Kirby Smith lives and works in New York. His editorial clients include the Guardian, the New York Times, The FADER, and Time Magazine. He will be returning to Yemen to work on several projects dealing with the “fractured state” of the country. His work has been exhibited widely in New York City and across the United States.