Fazal Sheikh

(1965) American


Fazal Sheikh was born and grew up in New York City and graduated from Princeton University in 1987. In 1992, he traveled to Africa on a Fulbright scholarship in order to document Sudanese refugee camps in northern Kenya. The son of a Kenyan father and an American mother, Sheikh had spent many summers in Nairobi with his father's extended family and became interested in the experiences of refugees in that area. Once he began photographing in the Kenyan camps, he decided to study camps in the surrounding countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, and Rwanda. When his photographs from this project were first exhibited in 1994, they attracted immediate attention and launched his career. Over the next few years, he received many honors for his photography, including the 1994 ICP Infinity Award for Young Photographer, the 1995 Leica Medal of Excellence, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1994, and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005. ICP produced an exhibition of his work in 1994 entitled A Sense of Common Ground, which was accompanied by a book of the same title. Sheikh's most recent work, a series of photographs depicting Afghan refugees in Pakistan, was published as The Victor Weeps: Afghanistan (1999).
Fazal Sheikh treats his portraits as collaborative efforts with his subjects, and thus his work emphasizes each subject's individual character. He titles photographs with the names of the subjects, thus resisting the conflation of their identities through generic references such as "Refugees from X," as appear in many journalistic studies of African people. His inclusion of the edges of the negative in his sepia-toned finished prints imparts warmth and intimacy to his work.
Lisa Hostetler
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, pp. 227-228.
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