Photographer Eman Mohammed knows what it feels—and looks—like to be deemed the other: she began her career as the youngest female photojournalist in Gaza, one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Through photography, and in hopeful, vibrant talks, Mohammed strives to bring battling sides together to “reveal the human face that [her subjects] tried so hard to avoid,” dissolving the perception of a clear-cut enemy. As she tells audiences, it dissolved hers as well.
“My work is not meant to hide the scars of war, but to show the full frame of unseen stories ... I became a witness with a choice: to run away or stand still.”— Eman Mohammed’s TED Talk
When Eman Mohammed, a young Muslim photojournalist and TED2019 Senior Fellow, arrived in a conservative American town to take pictures for a new project, the faces she encountered showed how unwelcome she was. This wasn’t unprecedented. Mohammed—now based in the US—received a similar reaction in Gaza, as she describes in her TED Talk (which has been viewed more than a million times). Standing in this new place, she understood that what initially appeared to be dislike was in fact fear, and fear was something she could work with. “It was,” she says of one of her American subjects, “His first time seeing the other side.” She documented those faces, before and after, the inner change evident in their expressions
Mohammed was only 19 when she began shooting photos for a local Palestinian news agency—and then the Gaza War broke out. She was interested in capturing the aftermath of war, the human side of it; how people rebuilt their lives once the fighting stopped. Understanding the historic conflict on a personal level, Mohammed was also aware that her view encompassed “one side of the border.” Her camera served as a tool to bridge the space between professed enemies, and where she stood within that conflict.
Her gripping talks reveal how Mohammed became one of the most powerful journalistic voices documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more recently, the way Americans divide themselves on political, racial, economic, and religious lines. Despite the obvious dangers and intolerance her work may depict, Mohammed offers an optimistic, realistic image of how the most biased of people find their views less entrenched when faced with an enemy only ever encountered in their imagination.
In 2019, Mohammed was announced as a TED Senior Fellow. This distinguished position is offered to select individuals who “embody the spirit of the TED Fellows program.” Mohammed has photographed a diverse range of communities recovering from war for publications like The Guardian, The Washington Post, CNN, and organizations like UNESCO. She has exhibited in New York, Montreal, Dublin, and The Hague, and has had a selection of her work acquired by the British Museum of London.
Seeing the Other Side What Do You Wish You Could Ask Your Enemy?
When Eman Mohammed first started documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with her camera, she quickly realized that she wasn’t interested in headline-grabbing items. Instead, she captured the nuanced dynamic of a community, and wondered whether she could work to change the “Us vs. Them” outlook she encountered. In this talk, Mohammed shares years of pictures that document her efforts to bring warring factions together, whether that meant an Israeli and a Palestinian, or a white American meeting “his first Muslim”—(Mohammed herself). With humor, empathy, and dynamic imagery, this speech leads audiences through a living journey of change—inviting us to think about the “other,” whoever that may be, as someone who can be engaged with. And as Mohammed persuasively argues, an other who it is in our best interest to engage with, if we want to see and be seen ourselves, without the specter of fear holding us back.