October 4, 2023
WOMEN WARRIORS OF AZERBAIJAN
Photography by Fidan Nazimqizi
Interview by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
Fidan Nazimqizi is a photographer that was born and raised in the city of Baku, the capital and largest city in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is part of the South Caucasus region, which spans the southern portion of the Caucasus Mountains and their lowlands straddling the border between the Asian and European continents. The country borders Russia, Armenia, and Iran, while the Caspian Sea sweeps its eastern shores. Fidan embraces her culture and makes valuable connections to her community through her visual storytelling through photography. She makes an emotional investment with each click of the shutter allowing her senses to dictate her focus.
“The main thing that I want to achieve with the help of photography, is to collect indelible memories. I believe the most important thing in our lives is to capture what we see and experience in our pleasant moments. These are the feelings that I want to pass on to my audience. Every photographer has within themselves a definite idea. I translate these sincere feelings of the past in their photos. Sometimes it seems to me that I do not belong to this time in history. I am studying even more old methods of alternative photography, giving me more ways of visualizing my stories, using old methods to inspire new more meaningful translations.”
Fidan is aware of distinct challenges the women in her community are confronted with on a daily basis. Their struggles have become a focus for her photography that she shares with us today.
“Women in these districts marry at a young age. Their spouses struggle locally to find work and go to other countries to earn money for long periods of time, leaving women to live alone and care for the family for years without their help. Years later, the spouses start another life, and they forget their wives. There are so many mothers that they raise their children with great difficulty. They are very hardworking; they care for both the house and family while going to work long hours during the day. Women work in the fields from early morning to late evening. This work is very laborious, often under the hot sun, while sometimes enduring strong winds, these hard working women work all day. Women living in Azerbaijan are very hardworking, no matter how difficult their life is. The hard work of our women like Shaira and Anakhanim, that I share in my visual stories, are very great, because they take care of their children and work long unforgiving hours, leaving most of them terribly lonely. Despite this hard life, they are very kind and good mothers.”
According to UN Women, a UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, in Azerbaijan, 11% of women aged 20–24 years old who were married or in a union before age 18. The adolescent birth rate is 48.1 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 as of 2019, up from 43.5 per 1,000 in 2018. Fidan relates that most of these women are united with their spouses after their university studies, but with the responsibilities left to them, and the gender inequality in the workplace, give these women little or no hope of utilizing their education in a rewarding way.
“The field is where they work, on one side there is the sea and on the other side there are mountainous zones. These women are friends with each other, they all live in nearby villages. During their breaks, they can go home to rest. Their social life is related to the village and its surroundings.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH FIDAN NAZIMQIZI
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Tell us about the people in your images, who they are, and how you got to know them? Did they inspire this project, or did you approach them with your idea for the storytelling?
FIDAN NAZIMQIZI: These women work in the fields. When I go to the district during the summer, there are many women working in the surrounding fields. I know these women, and have made connections, because I had been going there for years.
TPL: One grows up and takes on much responsibility at an early age, what helps them accept these challenges? How do they overcome them, if they can? What do they prepare their children to help guide them through challenges they will face in the future?
FN: Yes, as a person gets older, the responsibilities and problems increase. They do everything they can for their children to get an education and a better life. Even after their children grow up, they can help their families financially.
TPL: You see a smile on these women’s faces, where did it come from, what brings them hope, where do they find their kind souls?
FN: I believe it is in the simplicity of being accepted and they find pride from their work. Having a clean and kind heart can come from their helpfulness. They can always offer themselves to share tea and it is possible to sit and chat with them. No matter how tiring their work is, they make this offer and treat people well, with kindness and generosity.
TPL: Do you like to work on projects, have a set idea that you explore in detail with diligence and focus? Or do you prefer to allow the story to develop from the images photographed in that moment? Where do your stories begin?
FN: I just walk a lot on the streets in faraway places. I was tired of photography stories only covering the wealthy communities. Talking to simple and hardworking people and learning their stories is not always easy, after all, our life is not very beautiful and bright. I think it is more correct to reflect it realistically.
TPL: Do you have more stories, or projects you are currently working on that we can look forward to? If so, what are they about, what do we have to look forward to?
FN: Yes, I am also learning the stories of people who dedicated many years of their lives to different professions. I am also interested in investigating how people's lives changed after the war.
To understand a person, you must first hear what they are going through. At that time, a person can be a person.
TPL: What are some of the challenges you find being a woman photographer in Azerbaijan? What are some of the advantages?
FN: I can say that there are quite a lot of women in Azerbaijan who are talented and do very good research. However, when it comes to work, whether it is photography in the field of journalism or photos related to events, the number of women is small. They are more focused on portraits, family, studio, and food. When I go to photograph some event, many people look at me strangely. How will a woman take these photographs? Because they are used to only let men work in this direction.
TPL: Being intimately connected with your work can be an emotional rollercoaster. How do you set boundaries and create a balanced, aware, and safe work ethic for yourself?
FN: I think that to maintain this balance, you need to talk to people first. They can act nervous when we suddenly take their photos, that's why I think the solution lies in negotiations. And after such stories, I wonder what will happen in years to come and what will change. Maybe the future worries me.
TPL: If you could photograph alongside another photographer for a day, who would that be? Why? What would you want to share with them?
FN: I would like to take a photo with Vivian Maier, because each of her photographs are stories told without being told. This once again shows the power of photography.
TPL: What do you want the viewer to see in your work, what is their take away?
FN: I just want them to feel it, I want them to somehow affect them when they look at them. Because feelings are really hard sometimes. To understand a person, you must first hear what they are going through. At that time, a person can be a person.
TPL: As artists and photographers, we grow and evolve our process and practice, how have you evolved yours?
FN: Think I've always avoided being a robot. I have expressed my personal direction taking into account what others want. But when the photos are completely mine, I just want to photograph by feeling the moment. I don't want to feel like I'm looking at a blank wall when I look at my photos. I always learn and will learn something new by taking photos, reading, and experimenting. I think I will always be a student learning photography.
TPL: Everyone has their own idea of over the rainbow, where that is, what they would be doing. Take us over the rainbow with you, share where that is and what you are doing there.
FN: Treating myself visually and living in memories. For me, it is more pleasant to find the mist in the rainbow.
Fidan Nazimqizi has embraced her community falling in love with the genuine and authenticity of her subjects focusing on how they live their lives. She conveys their resiliency and finds strength in what most would consider their weaknesses. Fidan has committed herself to see with open eyes and an open heart, making her photography a meaningful endeavor creating new ways to grow as an artist and make valuable contributions to her community.
The Pictorial List thanks Fidan for sharing her intimate portraits of women from her community, and allowing us to have a genuine look into their daily lives. We look forward to Fidan’s continued investigation and revealing portrayals of life in Azerbaijan.
Follow Fidan and support her work, be inspired by her visual storytelling.