Emily Garthwaite is an award-winning photojournalist and Leica Ambassador, focusing on humanitarian and environmental issues. She lives between Iraq and the UK and her most recent project was with Article 36, a specialist non-profit organisation focused on reducing civilian and environmental harm from weapons. Whilst Emily is self-isolating at home, she reflects on her experience, captured on the walking trail sweeping from west to east of Iraqi-Kurdistan. All images are shot on the Leica SL.

Over the past two years, the Abraham Path Initiative has carved the first cross-cultural long-distance walking trail sweeping from West to East of Iraqi-Kurdistan. They believe that by building cultural capital in rural communities, the path encourages economic development and furthers peacebuilding. This trail requires a large group of collaborators to make this possible. From drivers and translators to guides and mines advisors, to guest house owners and local restaurants, the trail offers an in-depth understanding of not only the landscape but also cultures and histories as told by locals.

On this trail, we followed the walkways of Neanderthals alongside shepherds in the meadow grass lowlands and along humble tributaries, leading to the Great Zab river towards the ancient Assyrian hilltop town of Amedi. We travelled on foot with Yazidi pilgrims, towards the mountain valley temple of Lalish, the holiest site for the Yazidi faith, and wandered down the roads built by Saddam Hussain. Later on, I walked inch by inch with deminers who are restoring the land and saving lives, in a country that has over 8 million active landmines lying ominously only inches below the soil.

As a photographer, I have to move slowly enough to encounter chance, to see the world fully, and with clarity. This is what walking has allowed for me; the opportunity to be humble, to better understand the world and to question. This is also what I set out to achieve in late 2019 when I joined the Abraham Path Initiative on a walking journey across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It’s about the spaces in between, rather than the walk itself. In this instance, we walked to get somewhere yet weaved cultures, communities, and human stories together. By walking with lone shepherds, the guardians of these trails, one can attempt to stitch the cultural history of this land together. After all, what is a place without human stories?

Discover more of Emily’s work at www.emilygarthwaite.com

Find out more about the Leica SL