Why photographing in Iran?
There are general and specific reasons. Iran is an ancient civilisation and Empire with a contemporary life filled with troubles. Anyone who has been there, is overwhelmed by the richness of the culture, the openness of its people, its combination of old and modern – and the vibrant cultural life, in Tehran in particular. Not to forget the sheer beauty of nature and many places. Enough in terms of reasons!
I still don’t really know why, but I didn’t visit Iran before 2012. I did so as peace researcher and director and co-founder of The Transnational Foundation.
We have three goals with this program – to learn as much as possible by doing fact-finding missions during which we dialogue with people of all walks of life as well as with leading individuals and institutions.
Secondly, to help set up academic peace and conflict studies at the Faculty of Global Studies at Tehran’s University – which will make Iran the second Muslim country to spearhead this discipline.
And, third, to travel as much around as possible with the camera in my hand, hopefully over time shooting enough for a book.
More truthful image of Iran and the Iranians
The first-mentioned goal serves an essentially important purpose, namely to try as much as we can as a small think tank to counter all the fake, omitted and systematically negative Western political and media views disseminated on a massive, daily basis.
This is not the place to enter into the long history of bad relations between Iran and the West. But one point of departure is the coup d’etat by CIA and its British sister agency in 1953 which deposed the first democratically elected prime minister. Since then relations have been problematic, a little less so in the times of the Shah but, in particular since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that ousted the Shah’s militarist, authoritarian regime and its White Revolution.
The best one can do is to go and see for oneself. I have yet to meet a visitor – there or here – who was not very surprised by the huge gap between what they had read before going and what they experienced. I can subscribe to that experience. The real Iran is so very different from the Western dark perception – a perception that serves of course to continue to harass the country and its people, lately and paradoxically imposing even harder sanctions than those since 1979 and threatening war on the country for two non-reasons: Iran has renounced to acquire nuclear weapons (also because it is “Haram” – the forbidden thing according to its religious leaders) and it has done everything it should according to the 2015 nuclear deal.
How my photographs came about
As explained above, my primary purpose in going to Iran is not to take the perfect shots or realize a well-planned project idea. That may come later?
I travel with my Nikon and iPhone and take pictures whenever I have the time between meetings and, often, on the spur of the moment. I actually like that spontaneous photo philosophy.
Sometimes the images are shot indoor or at places where there is too little or perhaps too much light and they may not even be completely sharp. And if you photograph people, say in the street, some move (!) and others don’t know they are being photographed. In 90% of the cases that makes for the most natural facial and bodily expressions, but leaves the photographer with virtually no time for planning or setting the stage.
Photography for peace
I see my peace and conflict research work as well as my photographic endeavours in Iran as a tiny contribution to promote a more truthful, diverse perception of Iran, to make friends, to exchange cultural and other values and views and simply to learn rather than judge or condemn as so many do who have never set foot in Iran.
Ignorance furthers war more than peace.
For me it’s an act of peace-making – the synergy of research, art and friendship.
It is my hope that these and future photos will stimulate others to visit Iran – and look at the West from the outside in the process. Because, whatever views one may have about politics, the West has done terrible things to over 80 million innocent Iranian citizens, continue to do so and may – God forbid – very well end up with not only the ongoing diplomatic and economic but also a military war.
The basic thing for me isn’t technical perfection but the story of Iran and the sharing of it to convey another overall image of Iran than the one we get in the West which is compatible with conflict and war.
I hope my works are compatible with cultural exchange and peace in some little way.
Published August 21, 2018, updated and expanded in June 2020.