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The Roads Less Travelled Have Most Impact
Photographers from indigenous nations share their stories and techniques through winning images.
by Alysha Sideman

by Rena Effendi

by Farzana Wahidy

by Alejandro Chaskielberg

by Khaled Hasan

As the pressures of climate change, poverty, and diminishing natural resources become more omnipresent, images from around the globe -- often taken on the frontlines of cultures in transition -- become revealing and informative.

For the fifth year, National Geographic's All Roads Photography Program recognizes and supports talented indigenous and minority-culture photographic storytellers from around the world.

These image makers document their changing culture and community through photography. The program provides winners a forum to showcase their perspectives to a global audience through exhibitions and panel discussions. It also features seed grants for under-represented filmmakers and photographers, and offers awardees workshops and networking possibilities.

The 2008 top award winners include photographers from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Argentina and Azerbaijan.

Rena Effendi takes us on a mystical journey with a local wizard exploring Azerbaijan's ancient civilization, while Alejandro Chaskielberg navigates the lower delta of Argentina's Paraná-Plata basin. Then, Khaled Hasan reveals a photographic window into the traditions, hardships and joys of a remote community along Bangladesh's Piyain River and Farzana Wahidy shares compelling stories of Afghan women through the international language of photography.

To be selected, recipients had to be a native or minority culture within their countries of origin and their work must document their changing cultures and community. Potential recipients must be living in the countries that they are documenting. Awards are based on artistic merit in combination with the photojournalistic focus of the project. Candidates are nominated by an advisory board of leaders from the photography industry and representatives from National Geographic Society.

Chaskielberg of Argentina won for The High Tide: Native Islanders and the Community of the Paraná River Delta.

Chaskielberg has been involved with photography since the age 10. After receiving a degree in photography from the National Film Institute, he began working as a director, making documentaries for television. By establishing a deep relationship with the subjects, he uses techniques involving large- and medium-format cameras, combined with flash, to document his subjects intimately. Through his use of ambient light and flash, Chaskielberg tries to break the limits of traditional documentary photography.

In his words:

"The Paraná River runs through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina over a course of 1,600 miles. Before it ends in the Rio de la Plata, a delta is formed where the river splits into several arms, creating a network of islands and wetlands near Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. The lower delta was the site of the first modern settlements in the Paraná-Plata basin. This photographic work focuses on the communities within these islands. Because of unemployment and immigration, this community has had continuous change from a wave of immigrants that work in forestation during winter. I photographed this community under the moonlight, with long-time exposures and using a large-format camera. Thus, I set up scenes with local inhabitants and Paraguayan immigrants to show a new culture that has formed in these islands--a culture with its own laws and codes, a by-product of unemployment and the immigration, in this estuary that is unique in the world, with a dense forest full of water and silence."

Azerbaijan's Effendi won for Khinaliq Village: A Staircase to the Sky 2003–2006.

Effendi's work focuses on themes of urbanization, post-conflict societies, and the oil industry's effects on people's lives. She has won several photography awards, including the FiftyCrows International Fund for Documentary Photography, Getty Images editorial photography grant, and the Giacomelli Memorial Fund award. In 2007, she was selected as a finalist for the Magnum Photos Inge Morath award and chosen by Photo District News as one of 30 emerging photographers.

In her words:

"Sultan-Aga, a shepherd and the town's wizard whom I met on my first trip to Khinaliq, Azerbaijan, took me to the village cemetery. He said, pointing down the hill: 'If you dig a hole right through, you will see seven layers of burial ground. Here, this land breathes with history.' This village of nearly a thousand shepherd families was built into the side of a mountain, each house made of river stone, one upon the other, forming a staircase to the sky. Because of its remoteness, Khinaliq has still managed to preserve its ancient way of life. In the summer of 2006, Azerbaijani authorities began to connect the village to a planned luxurious ski resort 30 kilometers away. Although the newly asphalted road will alleviate hardships associated with isolation, I realized that it may also threaten the unique culture of Khinaliq. Having witnessed how historical monuments were destroyed in my hometown of Baku, I fear that Khinaliq will fall victim to the same negligent attitude. I intend to preserve the 'seven layers' of Khinaliq's distinct culture through my photographs. With this project, I plan to dig deeper into this ancient civilization before it is changed, or buried, by history."

Hasan of Bangladesh was chosen for Living Stone: A Community Losing Its Living Environment.

Hasan has always been interested in documentary photography and went to university for it. His philosophy is that it is essential for the photographer to establish communication and trust with his subjects because photography has the visual power to educate by allowing one to enter the lives and experiences of others. It is his hope that his work can help society to empathize with people who suffer due to social, political, or environmental conditions.

In his words:

"The Piyain River is the main attraction of Jaflong, which flows from India to Bangladesh. During the monsoon, the rushing waters wash down rocks and pebbles from India into Jaflong. At dawn every day, more than 100 little boats with laborers enter the Piyain River, buckets and spades in hand. This is one trade that has a geologic limit--the stones that tumble down the riverbed from India are decreasing in volume, and the laborers are already taking the risk of invading the politically sensitive area along the Indo-Bangla border where more than 2,000 men, women and children stone laborers are located. Unregulated stone crushing in Jaflong poses a serious threat to public health and to the environment and agriculture in the area. Many children suffer from hearing problems due to the high-pitched sounds of the stone-crushing machines, and the community cannot produce crops because the dust of the crushed stones destroys all of their efforts. Furthermore, erosion caused by the industry is threatening to destroy the adjacent indigenous Khasia villages during the next five years. I understood their troubles, I saw their hard work, and I saw their happy moments."

Finally, Wahidy of Afghanistan won for Afghan Women.

Born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1984, she moved to Kabul at the age of six. She attended school during the years of the Afghan civil war, and at the age of 11, she began teaching mathematics to 60 students. After the Taliban took over in 1996, she secretly continued to attend an underground school with 300 other girls in a small apartment. When the Taliban were defeated, Farzana continued her education and began working in 2003 as a photojournalist for the Agence France-Presse and later for the AP.

In her words:

"After three decades of war in Afghanistan, religious restrictions and traditional customs still put enormous pressures on Afghan women as they go about their daily lives. Forced child marriages, physical and sexual abuse, risk of public execution, and the futility of self-immolation are some of the struggles Afghan women face every day. Thirty years ago, women enjoyed many more rights than they do today--they were involved in social, economic, cultural, and political life and were safer than they are today. In 1978, when the civil war started, women experienced increasing restrictions, and later on under the Taliban regime, women's rights were completely stripped away. Women were not allowed to pursue their education, all girls' schools were closed down, women were not allowed to work, and they were ordered to remain in their houses. During the Taliban regime, I witnessed many important stories but did not know how to share them until I discovered photojournalism. For me, photography is an international language. I chose photojournalism because through it I found freedom, and it opened the possibility of sharing the stories of my community with the world."

On Sept. 29, the "Global Storytellers" program will celebrate the work of the four widely diverse photographers at a San Francisco reception to be held at Adobe Photo Systems, 601 Townsend Street.

The 2008 All Roads Photography Program will unveil its new exhibit, cultural treasure, at the launch of the 5th anniversary celebration of the annual All Roads Film Festival in Hollywood, California. Come view these images in National Geographic form as seen from the perspective of four culturally diverse emerging photographers from around the globe. . Each year four photographers are awarded a financial prize, and their photo essays are exhibited at the All Roads Film Festival and other venues.

2008 All Roads Film Festival "Images & Story: A New Generation"

Los Angeles, California: September 25-28

The Egyptian Theater 6712 Hollywood Boulevard (at Highland) Phone: +1 323 466 FILM

Music at All Roads: LA

K'NAAN Thursday, September 25 at 9:00 p.m. $10 Egyptian Theater Courtyard Carmen Consoli

Live Music Performance, September 26 at 11:00 p.m. $10 The Hotel Café 1623 N. Cahuenga Blvd.

Washington D.C.: October 2-5 National Geographic 1600 M Street N.W. Phone: +1 202 857 7700

Music at All Roads: DC K'NAAN Friday, October 3 at 9:30 p.m. National Geographic Courtyard

For more information visit

Marketwire and LiveBooks contributed to this story