a few minutes with… tina hager, freelance photographer for the united states department of defense, task force for business and stability operations in afghanistan and iraq

March 28, 2011  |   column: WHAT'S NEW

tell us about your job:

the mission of the task force is to reduce violence and restore stability in areas that have been affected by unrest and insurgency. it accomplishes this goal by generating economic development in these areas particularly through private investment like the type kate spade new york (ksny) has made with its women for women international (wfwi) hand in hand program.

my job is to document the activities of the task force and the investors it recruits and also to help find opportunities and interesting projects across the region for the task force to bring to investors. i source local industries and raw materials that are potentially good investments for foreign companies. one of my ongoing projects is helping ksny locate the cashmere and production facilities it needs to build the hand in hand program in afghanistan.

where do you live?

i live in kabul now but my home base is in dubai. i’ve been working in afghanistan, iraq, yemen and beirut since 2005.

what led you to this job?

i’ve been a photojournalist my entire career. i’ve always loved to travel and work all over the world. taking pictures allows me to do this without the difficulty of language barriers. being a photographer gives me access i wouldn’t normally have to incredible places and people. before i joined the task force, i worked at the white house documenting george bush’s presidency during his first four years in office. after doing this, i wanted an experience that exposed me to an entirely different story—something that would balance out my perspective. it’s such a privilege to be able to crouch in the corner of history and document events from the ground level–as they’re happening.

what have you learned from working in the region about the status of women in afghanistan?

growing up in the united states, i took for granted that anyone who was tenacious and industrious would get ahead. coming to afghanistan and seeing how hard it is for women to gain any kind of advantage, at all, has been eye opening. it’s been amazing for me to be able to act as a mentor and role model for the women i meet and to be involved with wfwi and hand in hand.

i love hand in hand because it teaches women how to be self–

sufficient. my main focus, at this point, is to do what i can to help women in the region advance politically, socially and economically.

has taking pictures in war-torn countries changed your perspective of the world?

poverty is actually very photogenic but there are too many pictures of the negative and not enough of the positive. in countries that are trying to rebuild, it’s important for investors, and the rest of the world, to be able to envision the possibilities. in afghanistan this has meant documenting good hospitals, modern factories, shopping malls and emerging successful economies.

is there a secret to good photojournalism?

you can’t be afraid to get close to your subjects—you want them to feel comfortable and then to eventually forget you’re there.

what do you find most inspiring about your job?

it’s incredibly inspiring to visit afghanistan’s universities and medical schools and see how driven the students are and what promising careers they have ahead of them.

what do you hope a viewer experiences looking at your photographs?

i’d like people to see the different layers of the subjects i photograph. with this assignment, i hope my photos will inspire people to give afghanistan a try and will encourage more companies to come to the country to make their products.

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