Aria Shahrokhshahi is a photographer who explores people and cultures through his work. While on a trip to The Gambia he met an extraordinary young man called Kalidou who was struggling with a degenerative eye condition. Determined to help, he produced a photography series of Kalidou and set up a Go Fund Me campaign to get him the medical treatment he needs. LeftLion caught up with Aria for a chat about the project…
Who is Kalidou and how did you meet him?
Kalidou is a 23-year-old boy from The Gambia. Kalidou is my friend. I met him while travelling in The Gambia two years ago and we became friends immediately. Kalidou is suffering from a condition called Keratoconus which is a thickening and mis-shaping of the cornea that causes acute vision loss and a lot of pain.
Why did you choose The Gambia for a photography trip?
Well originally I didn’t, I got a cheap flight deal in a newsletter so I just went. I had never even heard of The Gambia before I just thought it would be interesting.
I got a cheap flight deal in a newsletter so I just went.
What inspired you to set up the GoFundMe project?
Kalidou had to stop school at 17 as his vision had deteriorated so much. His goal was to go on to university and then hopefully into politics where he could make positive change for the people of The Gambia. I want to help Kalidou achieve his full potential and he needs his sight to be able to do that.
Do you have a favourite photograph in the Kalidou series?
For me either the imagine of Fatima, Kalidou’s sibling holding a match box or the image of Billalhi dressed up in what they call “kankorang.”
What was Kalidou's reaction to the photos?
The photographs he has seen I think he likes, he understands their purpose. It’s a collaboration at times.
What other kinds of photography projects have you done?
My work ranges from stuff around the refugee crisis to documenting the DIY skate scene in Nottingham.
Do you think photography has the power to bring about social change?
I absolutely think photography has the power to bring social change. If we look at most major political movements over the past 80 years, photography has some part to play. The atrocities of the Vietnam war, the treating if prisoners in Guantanamo. But even on a smaller scale, if we manage to raise this money for Kalidou that will change his life, and not just his life, the knock on effect of that could impact many people’s lives.
Where would you like to travel next as a photographer?
I would love to be able to travel more of the west coast of Africa when I can afford it. It’s a fascinating place, countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Equatorial Guinea.
How did you first become interested in photography and is it your full-time job?
I first got into photography about four years ago. I started making little films so I had a camera, then I just took more and more pictures instead of videos!
I don’t earn enough to be able to pay rent and support a family but I have been incredibly fortunate that videographic and photographic work had given me some fantastic opportunities.
What would you tell people to encourage them to support Kalidou's cause?
Kalidou is 23, he speaks 6 languages, he’s kind, considerate, loving, I really do believe he deserves an opportunity to fulfil his potential and help others.