Iraq’s first independent photo agency

In war-torn Iraq, Metrography photo agency’s wish is to break ethnic, cultural and religious barriers with visual stories from all communities. Free Press Unlimited is helping Metrography develop into a professional organisation, with more and more photographers joining and receiving international recognition.

Metrography is the only independent photo agency in Iraq. The organisation has photographers from all corners of Iraqi society, such as Yezidis, Christians and Kurds. Together, they highlight the many aspects of daily reality in Iraq through their photography; a unique and important achievement in a country where conflict, terror and fragmentation reign.

Wings thanks to professionalisation

Ahmed Najm is at the helm of the organisation. ‘Before our partnership with Free Press Unlimited, I was also editor-in-chief, head of finance and the marketing man,’ says Najm. ‘We undertook just about everything all over Iraq, but were very restricted due to a lack of staff and focus.’

Free Press Unlimited helped Metrography to make a major step towards professionalisation. We organised a strategy session to clarify the goals of the agency. With financial support from Free Press Unlimited, Najm was also able to hire full-time staff to help him with the commercial side of the photo agency, among other things. Where necessary, Free Press Unlimited coaches Najm and his colleagues in the field of operational management.

The more focused method and better division of tasks gave Metrography wings. ‘We managed to improve the quality of our photo selection, and the number of affiliated photographers has grown from 8 to 73 since 2015,’ says Najm. Last year, Metrography organised the second edition of its photo festival in five regions, where exhibitions drew attention to themes such as the online harassment of Iraqi women.

Copyright victory

The ultimate goal of the professionalisation of Metrography is for the organisation to become financially independent and commercially successful. A major obstacle to this is the poor compliance with copyright law in Iraq. Iraqi media organisations regularly use photos without paying a photographer, or even mentioning her or his name.

To counter this, Metrography set up a volunteer team that brings copyright cases to court. They achieved an important victory last year: photographer Mootaz Sami won a lawsuit after his photo was published without permission. He became the first photographer in Iraq to receive compensation for a copyright violation, which sent a signal to his colleagues that they could actually make a living from this profession.

The growing success of Metrography was marked with special recognition at the end of 2018: Najm was selected as a jury member for the prestigious World Press Photo competition. A great honour, and something that would not have been possible a few years ago, according to Najm. ‘I was doing so many different things, I couldn’t even have considered it.’

Since: 2016
Donor: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Contribution: € 70,000

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