Passport: Nick Danziger - `My inspiration was Tintin. He was my hero'
Sunday 09 August 1998
"I take about 100,000 photographs a year, freelancing on different assignments. Most of my work is based on people living in difficult or unfortunate circumstances, particularly young people. Given the right environment and circumstances, all children have potential. I think that is very important."
On leaving Chelsea College of Art in 1984, he travelled to China on a Winston Churchill Memorial Travelling Fellowship. "I went away for 18 months, travelling overland on foot, camel, horse and donkey through Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan and Afghanistan. I was the first foreigner to cross over the Karakoram mountains into China since 1949. I wanted to follow trade routes to China in the way that they would have been followed centuries ago. I took photos and sketched along the way."
Nick lost all his belongings in an ambush on the Afghan border. "I was upset about losing my diary and my camera, but fortunately, someone saved them and I got everything back six weeks later when they finally tracked me down." Very fortunately for him, as this was the base material for the book he went on to write, the best-selling Danziger's Travels.
"I was living in the States when the book came out and various magazines started offering me photographic assignments." He decided to put down his palette and pursue a journalistic career. "I wanted to go back to painting but photo-journalism allowed me to go to all the places that I had dreamt of travelling to when I was a child."
Nick left home for the first time at 13, when he travelled on his own from the family home in Switzerland to Paris. This was the first of many solo teenage sojourns around the world.
"My inspiration was Tintin, the Belgian comic-strip character. He was my hero. My parents tried to stop me travelling by reducing my pocket- money, but that didn't prevent me. A lot of the time I was petrified, especially as I had to sleep in parks. It was illegal, so I would have to hide. I was always really panicked about that, so I never got a good night's sleep."
He survived on the money he earned selling sketches of tourist sites he visited along the way. "People took pity on me and, although the sketches were probably pretty poor, they bought them anyway."
Ten years ago, he set up an orphanage for abandoned and orphaned children in Kabul. "They were living in a mental asylum and, for eight years, I felt responsible for those children and took them on excursions or holidays when- ever I could."
Nick visited many times until, eventually, all the children were found foster homes, or turned 16 and were able to leave. Two years ago, he adopted the last three orphans, two girls and a boy. They now live with him in Monaco.
"For the last eight years, virtually all of my holiday time has been spent in Afghanistan with the children. I am determined that we spend all of our holidays together. I haven't taken the children back to Kabul, but as we had all built close ties there - with three women in particular, whom we regard as part of our family - I have been back. Now, I want to see what we, as a family, can do to help them."
"A Tale of Three Cities - Glasgow, Tijuana and Kabul", an exhibition of Nick Danziger's photographs, is showing at the Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham (tel: 0121-440 4221) until 20 September.
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