Ziyah Gafić: Photography is about empathy

by Noah van Dijk


“I call to witness the ink, the quill, and the script,
which flows from the quill;

I call to witness the faltering shadows of the sinking evening,
the night and all she enlivens;

I call to witness the moon when she waxes, and the sunrise when 
it dawns.

I call to witness the Resurrection Day and the soul,
that accuses itself;

I call to witness time, the beginning and end
of all things — to witness that every man always suffers loss.”

Meša Selimović, Death and the Dervish

“The world is falling apart” is written on the background of the 2020 popular meme depicting the Coen Brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs character. The guy is standing on the gallows, having turned to the camera so that we can see the rope on his neck.

The entire story of his character takes place within the hanging, and the entire irony of this episode covers this very moment. The shot has transferred from cinematography into the meme Internet culture very rapidly.

Nonetheless, all have seen the image while very few have watched the movie itself. “The world is falling apart” is reported by an unknown image author who continues with a further line: “Ex-Yugoslavs: First time?”.

Ziyah Gafić's lection at TEDx

Ziyah Gafić's photo from TEDx portfolio


This is how Ziyah Gafić starts his lecture for Kuma International students. He is smiling and telling that this image “made his day” at one of the moments when quarantine began.

We think as if we are living during extraordinary circumstances of the global catastrophe. However, if you look around, it becomes clear that the answer is ‘no’. World has always had a lot worse things than coronavirus.

That is the kind of thing Ziyah wants to tell stories about, the stories about people who got into disastrous situations and continue living their lives, and the way they manage to move on.  

Biography and Career

Ziyah Gafić (born 1980) is a photographer from the Balkans. He was born and still lives in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the city surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, forests, and stories.

Sarajevo is significantly different from the Bosnian urbanism. Bosnia is like a big national park with immense stretches of land, wild horses, mountain tunnels, forests, rivers, towns lost in nature terrains, and friendly people who talk too much about war and have gotten used to helping strangers.

This country is very cozy but not monumental compared with its neighbors, Serbia and Croatia. 

Sarajevo is the country’s biggest city founded in the 13th century. It enlists numerous stories as well as local and global disasters.

This city is the history itself. Here Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated by the member of the Serbian Black Hand secret society, which led directly to World War I.

Here the Siege of Sarajevo took place and lasted three years and eight months (1,425 days), having become the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.

Here streets are created to walk through eras and cultures: Austro-Hungarian architecture is combined with Ottoman period monuments, mosques are mixed with Сatholic and Orthodox churches.

Sarajevo is multicultural, and its existence as though approves the through-line of Ziyah Gafić’s creativity, that is to rebuild and to continue life after disasters. 

Ziyah Gafić was a teenager when the Balkans War between Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina commenced on April 6, 1992 and lasted till September 14, 1995.

He was 15 in the last months of that war conflict, and only 12 when it started. He could not take any part in the events that were occurring around him.

“I was too young to take part, to fight or to take photographs”, he says in the description of “Short Stories from Troubled Societies” series.

“However, I was old enough to be targeted and to be part of the Balkan news circus - as an object. Unlike many other Bosnians, my family was fairly lucky.

My disabled aunt was burned alive in her house and her remains were never recovered; my grandfather committed suicide after he recognized the same pattern of ethnic hatred he had fought fiercely as one of Tito's partisan in World War II; one of my cousins was gang raped.

Growing up in besieged Sarajevo as a witness, a victim, a member of the damned, powerless, unable to take part, unable to fight back, left me deeply frustrated.

I had the unique experience of being on both sides of news events, as its part and as a storyteller.”

Ziyah Gafić was a part of those events and an object of history as any other citizen there and then. It was a kind of disappointment that pushed the guy to start his path as a photojournalist.

He wanted to transform from an object into a subject of history, to live through that situation till the end, and to understand how it was lived by others. 

He started his career in 1995 with an internship in a local magazine. Photography was the hobby that has swiftly morphed into the lifetime work even though it was not his academic education.

Comparative literary studies were his major. He says that both things involve telling stories: consisting of words in one case, and made of pictures in the other. 

Ziyah has begun representing himself as a photographer since 1999 after the magazine where he was working sent him as a photojournalist to Kosovo.

Since then, the photographer has visited more than 40 countries and conflict zones (Iran, Iraq, Chechnya, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Rwanda) struggling to find the condition he encountered during his teenage years, to live the situation till the end. 

Taking photos of war consequences is a kind of compensation, continuation of things that began in childhood. The man admits he has not managed to do this.

Every foreign war evoked less sentiments than his own did, and could not touch him in the way he wanted.

He had always been a neutral observer, a person in the ‘bubble’ capable of leaving at any moment while the other people in these wars were included into history, ‘stuck’ in the situation and unable to stand up and leave as the foreign photojournalist could.

Everything was real for them, but he was only working. The matter was about the party that kept options open in those situations.

Therefore, a therapeutic effect after such trips was not long-lasting.

Later, Ziyah admitted the vainness of these attempts and reconsidered the value of photography for those who are taken photos of and those who take photos, and for the world in general.

“Frequently, photojournalism is more about ourselves than about photo objects, and then it becomes a powerful and useful ego tour. I wanted to do something detached from my ego.” 

The photographer makes an emphasis that he does not believe that his photos may change the world, but it is not unlikely that they may change somebody’s certain outlook on life.

The most reviving moment is when you realize that nothing will change because of what you do. You would be surprised how many photographers believe that the world will benefit from their works.

Almost always only photographers themselves gain from their images, and very rarely - the objects of photos do. 

Ziyah Gafić explains that the war has affected his life dramatically. He had been looking for some answers in the other countries.

He intentionally tried to draw parallels with the Bosnian reality, and attracted the points of connection. Almost ten years’ time was necessary to realize that all armed conflicts bear resemblance to each other.

Witnessing one war means witnessing all of them.

“Wars are usually depicted within a conventional black-and white dichotomy between good and evil whereas the war by its nature is of endless shades of grey in conjunction with ultimate good and incomprehensible evil.

Unfortunately, this becomes clear only retrospectively.

As soon as you understand the banality of evil, your optics will change forever. It is not necessarily good or bad, it is just that”. 

Selected awards and grants

  • 2001. The Ian Parry Scholarship
  • 2001. World Press Photo, 2nd prize
  • 2001. World Press Photo Workshop
  • 2002. Kodak Award for Young Reporters at Visa pour l'Image
  • 2002. World Press Photo, 1st prize
  • 2002. World Press Photo, 2nd prize
  • 2002. Special mention by the HSBC foundation for photography
  • 2003. 30 emerging photographers by PDN Magazine
  • 2003. Grand Prix Discovery of the Year at Arles Meetings of photography
  • 2005. Giacomelli Memorial Fund
  • 2007. Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography 
  • 2007. American Photography
  • 2007. News Photo Award
  • 2007. Finalist for the Hasselblad Masters Award

Ziyah Gafić’s Photography Projects

The photographs of Ziyah Gafić were presented at various festivals and in galleries including Visa pour l'Image in Perpignan, Les Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles, Fovea Editions in New York, Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, Blau Gallery in London, and Grazia Neri Gallery in Milan.

He publishes his works in Amica, La Repubblica, Time, Tank, The Telegraph Magazine, Newsweek, and L'Espresso.

Ziyah Gafić has won the World Press Photo Award four times.

He is the VII Agency author, lecturer and scholarship holder of TED & Logan fellow, Pulitzer Center and National Geographic.

His famous photography projects include “Quest for Identity”, “Troubled Islam”, “Bosnia: Paradise Lost”.

Besides, Ziyah Gafić is the director and producer of such documentaries as Art and Reconciliation (in cooperation with Paul Lowe), Mladen Miljanović: Portrait of an Artist, and The Rope (in cooperation with Nermin Hamzagić). 

Quest for Identity

The idea for this project appeared when Ziyah Gafić was taking part in the creation of the book titled Tales from Globalizing World and edited by Daniel Schwartz.

For it, he was taking photos of war consequences in Bosnia.

Project Quest for identity by Ziyah Gafić

Project Quest for identity contains thousands of photographs


The photographs of war do not have to be blatant images; he is trying to convey everything indirectly through consequences and some detached items and common routine events in non-typical circumstances.

According to Ziyah Gafić, we can talk about awful things, convey a very similar message and yet create a calm and inconspicuous image, and assume they are whispering.

The photographer tries to make the stories in his photos simple but emotionally significant and understandable for as many people as possible. 

He was in search of the objects for his stories, so he went to the place where personal belongings of the Bosnian genocide victims recovered from the sites of mass graves were remaining.

Having seen several of these items on a table, he took photos and spoke with a forensic anthropologist about whether those photos would be published because some relatives might accidentally identify them.

That was all. The photographs were published in Tales from Globalizing World, and Ziyah Gafić forgot about that story for several years. 

In the 2010s, the photographer tried to find the idea for photography without his own subjective story where the artist might remain outside the image context, something similar to a document.

He reviewed his own works but did not see the desired message.

Then he remembered the words of the forensic anthropologist that relatives could identify those who died from the photo. Ziyah Gafić understood: that was what he was looking for. 

There are such simple things as glasses, a toothbrush, a clock, a boot, and a family photo.

These everyday objects used by people around the world are located on a uniform background of a mortuary table, which needs a while to be identified within a scratched iron surface.

They are lying statically; there is no drama and no dynamics, only an unpainted and impersonal photoprint.

However, this seeming impersonality makes them emotionally powerful and understandable around the world.

Viewers can easily picture themselves as the owners of these things, understand the context and feel empathy.

Photography is exactly about empathy for Ziayh Gafić. 

The photo project title may be interpreted within three options.

Firstly, in a literary sense, it is an attempt to identify people from the sites of mass graves through their personal belongings.

In the future, the photographer wants to create an electronic catalogue where people could look through the things in hope to find or not to find their missing relatives and friends as a result of war in Bosnia because the procedure of attending a mortuary is much more traumatic than scrolling through the photos on computer screen.

After being used by forensic specialists and attorneys, the items are kept in several identification centers around the country.

But things from the sites of mass graves have already been totally destroyed for several times, and what is more, they are not adequately protected by the Bosnian authorities.

When this happens, restoring the identities of people from those graves is almost impossible.

Ziyah Gafić truly believes that these belongings are the documents, the only remaining things from people of that period, some of whom do not even have names since they have not been identified.

Moreover, the identification process is still in progress.

hat is why, being the evidence in this case, every photograph has its number, code, key words and precise address in the archive. 

Secondly, these items are the itemized social cross-section of that time. The photographer says that viewers frequently recognize them as their own.

This helps understand and empathize, put yourself in those people’s position, and to feel the involvement. 

Thirdly, Ziyah Gafić interpretes the project’s title in terms of metadata. People who possessed those belongings have passed away.

There are only the traces that enable us to tell stories about them. 

When he gained all the archive access permits, the photographing process became almost automated.

Inspiration stemmed from the photos of common tools by Walker Evans.

Ziyah Gafić wanted to make images as objective, precise and colorful as possible.

He saw something detached in the process of project work even though he cannot but be subjective because of his own experience of this time.

However, the mortuary as the place and a white coat and rubber gloves as the form of work created the illusion of detachment and a shaky borderline between engagement and disengagement with a mechanical sequence of movements and a surgical accuracy of the moment on the same background where bodies were being exhumed. 

For the Bosnian photographer, it is significant to make these photos a peculiar imprint of objects.

He thinks that this adds to a collective memory about the 1990s events since the absolutely precise and very painful topic of genocide and ethnic cleansings is under discussion. 

As a result of this project, the photo book with the same title has been published.  

Troubled Islam: Short Stories from Troubled Societies

The photographer was working on “Troubled Islam” along with “Quest for Identity” project.

In his interviews, Ziyah Gafić mentions that he has been interested in wars and conflicts in countries similar to Bosnia in terms of their economic, social, and religious features.

He has seen that in the world there is a range of transitional economy countries that adhere to similar models, used to resort or still resort to ethnic violence with further ethnic cleansings, and, eventually, to genocide.

All that has always been based on ancient disputes about property and natural resources.

The photographer kept an eye on some countries, which are similar and closed in their struggle, such as Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Ossetia, Rwanda, Chechnya, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and thus noticed a peculiar resemblance to his homeland.

Short Stories from Troubled Societies by Ziyah Gafić

These photo-essays unpretentiously seek to illuminate the pattern of questionable international involvement


“This is a series of photographs documenting the aftermath of war and violence in the daily lives of people living in dominantly Muslim societies.

My aim was to capture the quiet, the loneliness and the determination of people trying to carry on with their lives after the very fabric of their community, their rituals and their social life has been torn apart.

For someone who went through war empathy is essential, and empathy is the main aim of this project,” the photographer says. 

The countries he has photographed share one more common thing: all of them have a considerable Muslim community.

After the 9/11 attacks, these countries have become victims of the stereotype of being the main source of international terrorism.

As the European Muslim, Ziyah Gafić believes that documenting the chain of events ocurring in these places and showing their fragile nature depicted in diconnectedness by ethnic hatred, continuous and exhausting conflicts, infection by the legacy of colonial rule and cold war is his obligation.

Yet these countries are often considered the mysterious and beautiful cradle of our civilization.

That is the paradox.

“I’ve been documenting the aftermath since 1999.

This project includes photographs from:

  • Bosnia: a painful aftermath and identification of the missing persons,
  • Palestine: one of the longest conflicts of 20th century with the latest wall of segregation,
  • Iraq: the troubled neighborhood of Sadr City,
  • Kurdistan: at the dawn of the coalition invasion,
  • Northern Ossetia: Life after the Beslan school siege,
  • Chechnya: daily life amongst the ruins of Grozny,
  • Afghanistan: damaged people, damaged landscape,
  • Lebanon: picking up the pieces after the recent Israeli military campaign,
  • and Pakistan;

a people displaced to make way for war”.

He was halfway around the world for his “Short Stories from Troubled Societies” series.

He started with the war consequences in Bosnia studying the conflict aftermaths in the north-western Pakistani province, Palestine and Israel and ended with Kurdistan, Iraq, Iran, Chechnya, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Instead of taking photos of very obvious war pictures, Ziyah Gafić captures war's influence on society within the smaller routine moments.

In his TED Talk, he explains that there is a permanent, unbiased, and precise reminders about what happened.

For example, he has taken the photo of a forgotten toothbrush or a view from a ruined window that used to be a house.

The photographer says he always likes to reflect on what the house owner was thinking about while enjoying this view. 

The main idea was to compare the countries located in different ends of the continent or even the planet, but which adhered to the same ‘rules’ and algorithms in their armed conflicts.

On the one hand, it was an attempt to live through his own war, to find the state that he could not live through in his childhood.

In spite of all the horror and uncertainty of life during armed conflicts, it is a very easy and absolutely clear time.

There are no difficult choices and daily domestic obligations or problems.

The only task is to survive, and all the choices come down to it.

Adrenaline becomes a crucial element of life.

Although all the wars are similar to each other, the photographer, as he says, has not managed to reproduce that state.

During every next war, he was just a neutral observer, not involved in the conflict, and with available escape routes.

He was a stranger who could never be able to cross the borders of his ‘bubble’.

However, he tried to study the ways people coped with maintaining social, cultural, and community ties during and after the war, how they held on to traditions and their own identity in the time of catastrophe.

Thus, this very recovery after a complete destruction and saving human values during inhumane time has become the dedication of Ziyah Gafić in this photo series. 

Bosnia: Paradise Lost

This is the first photo project of Ziyah Gafić, which he started in 2000 for a very simple reason: he had no money and no offers from any publishing company to highlight any other story apart from his own.

Thus, he worked with what he had. Bosnia and Herzegovina is truly a paradise for a photographer.

There are inexplicably beautiful landscapes, a mix of mountains, rivers, fields and immense stretches of land.

This country started its recovery after the gruelling war in 2000.

Here is the contrast between beauty and ugliness, humanity and horror, more than enough to take photos of. 

Ziyah Gafić says that “homeland is the only place where you are not a tourist”.

That is why he has started to show his country to so-called spectating tourists telling a story through every image. 

In 2016, he captioned this exhibition as “a long and tedious journey through my war-ravage homeland.

It has been twenty years since the war ended. But peace can’t simply be the absence of violence.

Bosnia is locked in a self-perpetuating cycle of ethnopolitics, ruled by ethnic elites and rapidly devastated in suspicious privatization of public companies.

The state is so weakened by nepotism and systemic corruption that it may as well qualify as a failed state.

Yet, common people manage to maintain their lives even with the very fabric of society being torn apart and while missing Bosnians are still being exhumed from mass graves”.

This photo project includes a multitude of series, which may exist independently as separate episodes, but altogether they tell a whole story of the country and its people.

For example, in two series titled “The Last Bosnian Village” and “Family Album”, the majority of photos are inexplicably beautiful but at the same time imbued with a threat and agitation.

Hence, these photos are more powerful than the photos of war itself.

They bring us back to numerous victims, sufferings, the items that had been lost and will never be found or gathered again.

That is the poetic manner in which Ziyah Gafić tells about the war. 

Muslims of New York

The photographer has a great deal of photo series where he researches the same issues, for instance, “Muslims of New York” for such magazines as Time (USA) and D’della REPUBBLICA (Italy). 

This series is a brief perspective on the lives of various Muslim communities in New York.

Ziyah Gafić takes photos of people in their ordinary everyday circumstances: in a bus, at school, at the playground.

He tells stories, adds captions about people’s origins and occupations.

He aims to draw attention to the fact that the Muslim community of New York is harmonious, cultural and developed, and one should not subject to stereotypes that have emerged after 9/11 because life is more motley than our belief about it. 

Maasai: Circumsition Ritual

“Maasai: Circumsition Ritual” is the project for the Catholic Cordaid organization (The Netherlands).

The photographer shows us photos of the East-African nomadic tribe that have undergone or are to undergo a painful circumcision ritual at the age of 14.

The images depict traditional settlements, much color and sun, however people do not look happy.

Since the ritual is performed without anesthesia and with non-sterile equipment, it leads to deaths, diseases, and disabilities.

In his photos, Ziyah Gafić narrates people's experiences without judgements or shocking details.

We learn about pain and horror through aftertaste, captions, and reflections. 

“Oimyakon:The Coldest Place on Earth” 

“Oimyakon:The Coldest Place on Earth” was created for The Telegraph Magazine (United Kingdom).

These photos show life in the coldest inhabited place on Earth (only Antarctica is colder).

In this project, Ziyah Gafić depicts the routine of the Yakuts, their main ways of earning a living and simplicity of children’s studying at schools.

Temperature in Oimyakon reaches -62 degrees Celsius.

If it goes down below -53, children do not have to attend schools.

The lowest temperature recorded by meteorologists was -70.2 degrees Celsius in 1933.

The Yakuts live in simple huts without special comfort even though they look beautiful and smiling in the photos. 


The “Dharavi” project was developed for The Telegraph Magazine (United Kingdom). It is about one of the most inhabited slums in the world located in Mumbai, India.

Mumbai is a metropolitan city with a population of 16 million, the majority of which live in poverty.

The record holder of the Asian slums, Dharavi, is situated here.

People have no place for living, the only available space consists of a 2-meter hut made of planks and cardboard.

The main activity in slums is recycling and sorting the garbage; there are even family businesses in this field.

Children usually play and work at landfills.

Child labor is one of the main issues in India along with overpopulation, poverty, and garbage.

The photographer captures the routine of people who deal with daily chores in an inhumane environment.  

Children of Hate (Rwanda)

The “Children of Hate” project (Rwanda) was also created for the Catholic Cordaid organization (The Netherlands) and dedicated to genocide in Rwanda.

When the Hutu people were implementing ethnic cleansings against the Tutsis, rape was one of the most violent weapons for those who had not been killed immediately.

As a result, the entire “children of hatred” generation was born, and AIDS spread rapidly.

Peace has been restored in Rwanda, and the Tutsis have come to power these days.

Nevertheless, the children born after those events will always remain a constant reminder about heinous crimes committed by the Hutu.

In addition to that, there is a taboo on this topic within the community.

Children who were nine years old at the time of the project in 2004 do not know who their parents are.

Almost all of them suffer from AIDS. Officially, there is no AIDS mortality in the country, even though numerous female victims of violence died from it.

Ziyah Gafić’s photos portray teenage girls who had to become prostitutes to survive in difficult economic conditions as a result of the conflict.

We can see the smiling women who risk their lives to get food today. 

Gypsy Happiness

“Gypsy Happiness” emerged for Amica magazine (Italy). For this series, Ziyah Gafić took photos of residents of the Moldavian city of Soroca, which is situated within the border area between Transnistria and Ukraine.

This geographical position is perfect for smuggling and arms trade.

The city is known as the gypsy capital of Moldova.

The photos depict the richest city baron in his new house that is architecturally similar to a church. His family are posing for a painting, and his house combines a mixture of tastes and ideas about wealth.

Nothing terrible or illegal is happening on the images, but they are as though reporting the entire stories about the lives of those people.

And these stories are really unsettling. 


“Havana” was also prepared for Amica magazine (Italy).

This photo series depicts Cuba in 2008, 50 years after the revolution.

The Communist regime with its visual and factual features still functions here.

The photos depict children in red scarves on the background of the Museum of the Revolution, the retired people sleeping under the Che Guevara portrait in the nursing home, or the functioning Ration Distribution Committee that makes provisions for people.

We can also see street baseball and the photo of the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, which is aimed at revealing people who disagree with the regime.

All these photographs exhibit complete havoc and poverty.

Tea with Terrorists

“Tea with Terrorists” was made for Seven, The Telegraph Magazine (United Kingdom), GEO (Germany), Courrier (Japan) and La Repubblica (Italy).

This photo story is about the unique strategy of fight against terrorism.

The Saudi Arabian government implements the entire program of education, recovery, and socialization for rehabilitation of ex-terrorists.

It is similar to recovery centers for addicted persons, but with better living conditions.

There are tennis courts, a swimming pool, a TV, and game consoles.

When the rehabilitation course ends, the graduates obtain financial support, employment assistance, and some benefits paid after they get married.

Ziyah Gafić’s photos represent smiling and posing people who deal with their daily routines.

However, we know that there is a story behind each of these men, the story about the terrorist attack.  


The “Indonesia” project for D’della REPUBBLICA (Italy) shows moments from the Muslim community life, which is really versatile in Indonesia.

The project focuses on the Islamic boarding school and mosque for transgender people and non-heterosexuals.

Being funded by government till 2007, this complex has been the only place where individuals with no dependence on gender and sexual orientation can pray jointly, study Quran, and perform religious rituals altogether without discrimination or humiliation. 

“Sketches from Valley of Tears”

“Sketches from Valley of Tears” series for Condé Nast Traveler (USA), The Telegraph Magazine (United Kingdom), L'Espresso (Italy), D della REPUBBLICA (Italy), Newsweek (USA) literally constitutes the sketches of people’s lives in different countries that Ziyah Gafić has visited.

Thus, here we see the praying moment of an Orthodox or Muslim community, and children in surroundings of their ordinary existence.

People in Ziyah Gafić’s photos look harmonious and well-recognized, be it the East European village, the urbanistic KFC building, the Saudi Arabian desert, the Bosnian pond, or the Khrushchev-era apartment. 

State of Ignorance

The photo story titled “State of Ignorance” for The Telegraph Magazine (United Kingdom) and La Repubblica (Italy) is about Pakistan, one of the most illiterate Asian countries.

Having the population of 212 million in 2021, nuclear weapons and the developed security system, only 2.5% of the state budget is spent on educating the citizens, which entails illiteracy of almost half of them, particularly women.

Due to poverty and patriarchal society, two thirds of females cannot write their names.

In the photo description, Ziyah Gafić notes that when the series was being created, in Afghanistan, which had been devastated by war, 66% of the Afghan boys were attending primary schools as well as 80% of children in India.

In Zimbabwe, after the catastrophic rule of Mugabe, approximately 80% of children got primary education.

Pakistan, in its turn, spends 66% of its annual budget on military needs that equals to €2.6 billion, and 2.5% on education that is €600 per school-age child.

The wealthy Pakistani can afford to provide their children with education in private schools whereas the poor are compelled to send their kids to madrasas (Quran schools) or to cotton fields to earn a living.

However, even the children who were lucky to be enrolled in schools appear in the conditions of an outdated education system based on thoughtless memorizing.

Thus, the Pakistani education is considered to be one of the worst in the world.

In this project, Ziyah Gafić portrays the school children of Pakistan. 

Generation Zero

“Generation Zero” launched for La Repubblica (Italy) is the photo project depicting the Bosnian teenagers born in war times who feel no fault or memories about it.

This is the generation forced to live in the era of transition economy, during times of changes, and the country's rehabilitation after the war.

On the background of the Bosnian sceneries, we may see ordinary children dealing with their usual routine, but if we look at the details more attentively, the feeling of agitation evoked by these photos becomes clear.

Ziyah Gafić subtly feels the tragedy of his own story and is skillful enough to show it indirectly through nuances and connotations.


The “Hercegovina” project was initiated to advertise the Slovenian trademark called “Argeta”.

This scenery sketches series represents the southern part of the country along with the historic sites of Bosnia and Herzegovina attributed to the UNESCO historic memory fund.

It is a magnificent country with an ambiguous history, and as a result, with the architecture and landscapes calling for adventures.

Even though these photos were taken for pâté advertising, they entail the desire to  pack pauldrons and to ride somewhere to spectate this beauty firsthand. 


“Portraits” were created for Time (USA), Amica (Italy), The New York Times Style Magazine (USA), Courrier (Japan), and D della REPUBBLICA (Italy).

Portraits taken by Ziyah Gafić are well-recognized and developed on the conjunction of contrasts and subtleties that also tell stories.

There are dynamics in his photos; even a portrait does show a movement, life, ceaselessness, and focus on a moment. 

Inside Tito’s Nuclear Bunker

“Inside Tito’s Nuclear Bunker” for The New York Times (USA) is the photo tour across the bunker, still closed for the visitors, of Josip Broz Tito, ex-Yugoslav dictator.

The bunker was built at a depth of 900 meters; it is skillfully disguised and can house 200 people for two years of living.

To obtain a permit for taking these photos, Ziyah Gafić referred to the fact that Bosnia was going to join NATO soon.

Later, this prospect seemed less realistic, and the bunker was re-equipped for art events.

For example, in 2011 the Biennial of Contemporary Art took place there.

Successful Muslim Women of Saudi Arabia

This is the photo series about successful Muslim women of Saudi Arabia who graduated from universities and hold top posts in society.

Very often a woman there is much more educated than her husband, but she is always in the shadows as a result of patriarchal regimes in society and religious customs.

Ziyah Gafić tries to convey not only the woman’s image but also to use the space around her, and this space reveals the aspects of personality.

Saudi Arabia is closed enough, and everything that happens among people takes place within their private houses, not in the streets.

This is the Muslim country, women have to wear abaya and niqab, and thus they are closed as well.

There is pride and a true power in these photos and in the world where strangers are rarely let in.

Picture Perfect: Ziyah Gafić documentary has been directed about the Picture Perfect VICE project, and is available on Youtube.


“Meccamorhphasis” within is the project that has been halted due to coronavirus pandemic.

Ziyah Gafić’s idea was to photograph the holiest Muslim place, Mecca, the place where taking photos is forbidden and where extracting the camera is considered to be haram, i.e. the sin.

He used to come there and take photos for several years depicting not only the crowning glory of the sacred place but also the point-by-point decay of the historical part.

Cultural heritage in Mecca is being destroyed by restoration and real estate development.

Pilgrims daily pray on the background of restoration works, and the sacred hills are closed for the people of faith because of the constructed hotels.

The Holy Place is surrounded by slums where thousands of refugees and migrants live.

Ziyah Gafić retrospectively shows the current process of destruction and construction.

The Game in the Age of the Pandemic

“The Game in the Age of the Pandemic” supported by Pulitzer Center, National Geographic, The VII Foundation and VII Photo Agency is the project that the photographer has been working on since the Covid pandemic began.

It highlights the migrants’ condition during quarantine.

Owing to the fact that Hungary has closed its borders with Serbia, Bosnia has become the so-called gate for tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Egypt on the way to European Union.

Talking to people, Ziyah Gafić got to know about the worsened attitude of the Bosnians towards them since the beginning of quarantine.

Friendly relations and mutual support have transformed into controversy.

In the meantime, the state turns a blind eye to these issues. 

VII Interactive Book Club

Cross-country mobility has become restricted in the time of quarantine, and the photographer, like all of us, was forced to stay at home.

Ziyah Gafić initiated the Interactive Book Club based on the VII platform where the project photographers could share and discuss their book preferences with the other people online.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, there also were book clubs where people used to gather, read books, and discuss their readings.

When such gatherings became impossible, Ziyah Gafić in cooperation with his colleagues came up with such an alternative. 

VII is the multi-level photo agency established a couple of days before 9/11 in order to challenge globalization in the world of photography when smaller agencies cave in to prevalent ideas and standards.

The agency proclaims their independence in beliefs.

They have commenced the active educational outreach through lectures and discussions based on their platform.

Ziyah Gafić was among them too.

Ziyah Gafić is not prone to catastrophize reality.

Despite his own biography and the entire life experience connected to his work, the man is ironic in his attitude towards the world. He is speaking fluent English while conducting his lecture for people in Sarajevo.

He is smiling a lot and playing on words. His speech has started with a joke, which is not actually a joke. 

“The world is falling apart” is written on the background of the 2020 popular meme.

“The world is falling apart” is reported by an unknown image author who continues with a further line: “Ex-Yugoslavs: First time?”. 

It is agitating and encouraging at the same time as the photos of Ziyah Gafić are.