Kurbanjan Samat: The Photographer

Kurbanjan wanted to make I’m from Xinjiang into a documentary film but he couldn’t gather enough funding.

“Framing those people creates a mirror for my own face,” he continues. “They do share things in common. They are all open-minded. I’m narrow-minded, easily upset. I must learn from them. Also, they all do what they should, and toss away all their baggage.” He used to feel heavily burdened as a Uygur. “I’m iconic,” he admits. “I’m Kurbanjan when I do something beautifully, but I’m a bad young Uygur when I screw up. Then I feel guilty for my people. That’s why my life has been uneasy.”

For a while, he was overly cautious about his behavior. He would spend a half hour collecting garbage off the street. “I feel much better now,” he said. “I don’t care too much about things that aren’t about me. I try my best and strive not to let my parents down. That’s good enough!”

Kurbanjan opposes attaching anything political, such as “ethnic policy” or extremism, to Xinjiang people.

In a recent interview with a foreign journalist, he was asked if he had ever experienced discrimination. “What do you think of the ethnic policy?” he was asked. “I’m not a politician,” he began reluctantly. “Why do you ask me such questions? Don’t treat us this way if you care at all about our people. As a journalist, you are challenging us all the time. Are you worthy of your job? If you do care, show concern for our ordinary people and hear their actual voices.”

As planned, Kurbanjan is satisfied with 37 portraits of a planned 120. He will publish a photo album upon completion. His next step is to shoot each subject again in action shots depending on their character. “I’ll put them into a documentary as soon as I find the money,” he said. “A few bad apples can damage the image of an entire group, but correct understanding of the majority and a positive outlook can foster progress.”

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