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Coming into focus

Palo Alto Photo Forum launches photojournalism speaker series

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The desire to use photography to educate, and perhaps influence, the world has given birth to a new speaker series, the Palo Alto Photo Forum, which will bring leading photojournalists to town to present their work and engage in "conversations on visual storytelling." First up is photographer, filmmaker and educator Ed Kashi, who will speak at the Mitchell Park Community Center on Friday, March 25.

"Nowadays we are overloaded with info, but it's hard to get to the core of stories. With photojournalism you can get a real sense of people's lives around the world," Palo Alto-based documentary photographer and forum founder Federica Armstrong said.

"The idea was just to connect great photographers with the audience here in Palo Alto. People here are very educated, very interested in what is happening around the world, and also very influential, I thought it would be a good way to put the two together," Armstrong said.

Armstrong met Kashi at a workshop in Paris a few years back, kept in touch, and invited him to be the forum's inaugural speaker. Although currently based in New Jersey, Kashi has been coming to Palo Alto for the past five years to spend a day with Paly students as part of the high school's "It's What Matters" photojournalism forum.

"He's one of the best photographers. He epitomizes the kind of photojournalism that we would like to present at the forum: He's engaged, he covers current events, he's really embraced new technologies that have revolutionized photojournalism," Armstrong said.

At the forum, Kashi will show work from various projects, including a short film on the California drought ("Paradise Burning," produced with the New Yorker magazine in 2014); excerpts from his book on oil in the Niger Delta ("Curse of the Black Gold"); an ongoing photo essay and video project on the epidemic of kidney disease among sugar-cane workers in Central America; and an excerpt from his film on Syrian refugees.

Kashi has a long history in social and political documentary work and was recognized as the 2015 Multimedia Photographer of the Year by Pictures of the Year International. He's eagerly embraced new technology throughout his career and counts among his clients National Geographic and MSNBC.

"It has had a dramatic impact on not only how I create and produce my work but also how it gets disseminated," he said of using new technology in photojournalism.

"While I am reaching more people around the world, using stills, video, multimedia, books, exhibitions, Instagram and more, the main problem of the moment is a lack of funding and compensation for these uses," he said.

Ever-busy, Kashi is currently conducting workshops and lecturing, in addition to working on a number of projects around the globe, such as "The Newest Americans," a multimedia storytelling project about immigrants.

At the Palo Alto event, Kashi will be joined by award-winning photographer Geri Migielicz, current journalism professor at Stanford University and former director of photography at the San Jose Mercury News.

"She's really an amazing individual, both in terms of being an educator and an editor," Armstrong said.

Migielicz will lead a post-presentation conversation with Kashi, followed by a Q&A with the audience. A book signing and light refreshments will be available, too.

"I expect they will be touched by a variety of elements," Kashi said of forum attendees, "including the power of visual storytelling, the importance of making a difference in your work, the new ways we can create and share stories, the informative nature of my work on these various topics and what advocacy journalism is and can do."

So far, the project is financially backed by Armstrong and her husband and funded through ticket sales, with some marketing sponsors (including the Palo Alto Weekly). Armstrong said she's optimistic that the forum will become a regular series.

"If we see there is enough interest we could create a nonprofit organization or apply for grants to sustain the initiative in the long term," she said. "Right now, two to three really outstanding events per year would be a good balance."

The next event in the series, to be held in the autumn, is tentatively set to feature National Geographic's Randy Olson, founder of The Photo Society.

"His work is more environmental, somewhat of a different style" from Kashi's, Armstrong said.

Armstrong, a native of Italy, said her own photography projects include work with Canopy, POST (Peninsula Open Space Trust) and Ravenswood Family Health Center, among many other nonprofit clients. The Palo Alto Photography Forum is natural extension of her interest in the intersection between art and advocacy, the global and the local.

"The hope is that this is a venue to promote better understanding of issues and promote conversations," she said. "It's a leap of faith. I think it's something worth pursuing."

What: Palo Alto Photography Forum, featuring Ed Kashi and Geri Migielicz

When: Friday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mitchell Park Community Center, El Palo Alto Room, 3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Cost: $10 students; $30 general admission

Info: Go to PA Photo Forum.

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