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Photography has come a long way in Iran since the day Queen Victoria gifted a camera to Mohammad Shah, a Qajar-era monarch in the 19th century. From photographers who focus on the abstract and cityscapes to photojournalists shooting current events and making social commentary, we profile 10 Iranian photographers to look out for.
Tehran-based photographer Mohammadreza Mirzaei takes an abstract and often geometrically-based approach to street photography. Illustrating through his lens the limits of our vision, Mirzaei invites viewers to ask questions and to construct the possible context behind each image. Born in 1986, he can also list his talents as a writer, translator, and founding editor of Dide Magazine, a monthly online publication which showcases contemporary Iranian photographers. An Master of Fine Arts graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater published his latest photobook, Here Comes the Sun, in 2014.
Having grown up during the Iran-Iraq war in the town of Ahvaz, near the border of Iraq, has clearly influenced the style of this young photographer. Gohar Dashti uses themes of Iran’s history and topography in stage photography to depict her surroundings and current events. Her 2008 collection Today’s Life and War illustrated Iranians going about their daily life in the midst of conflict while her latest collection, Stateless, examines migration and refugees. Her public collections can be viewed in museums across the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Another Tehran-based photographer, Shadi Ghadirian comments on the contradictions that exist in present-day Iranian society, a culture caught in limbo between the traditional and modern. Her first series which gained acclaim, Qajar, portrayed women posing against a backdrop wearing vintage Qajar-era clothes of the late 18th and 19th centuries, holding an object of modernity such as a boombox or phone. Her work can be found in the major museums in Europe, the US, the Middle East, and Asia.
Documentary photographer Mehdi Vosoughnia captures lost cityscapes. His haunting collections Pamenar, in southern Tehran, and Anzali, a port town in the north, poetically portray areas which appear to be have been forgotten and are lacking signs of life. His black-and-white collection, Masouleh, composes people as shadows strolling aimlessly on the foggy rooftops of this northern town. Vosoughnia tends to spend a few days in each place in the creation of his collections, and although he has yet to work outside Iran, one wonders what he would produce.
Covering the war in Afghanistan at the age of 19 is how Yalda Moaiery began her career in photography. Since then, her main area of focus has centered around wars, conflict, and natural disasters around the world. Her portfolio of international publications includes Time, Newsweek, and various European press.
Tahmineh Monzavi is another young Iranian photographer and filmmaker who chooses to show the social contradictions in Iranian society. She is known for her long-term projects, as she believes that it allows her to get to the heart of the issue. Her older work includes a documentary about a group of addicted women in the south of Tehran, and her current work aims to expose the social issues surrounding the younger generation in Iran and Afghanistan. A recipient of the Sheed Award, her work has been published in numerous international art magazines and museums around the world.
At the age of 18, Majid Saeedi set off to the Iran-Iraq border to photograph refugees. Over two decades later, he’s a multiple award-winning photographer focusing on humanitarian issues in the Middle East. He recently published a book of black and white photos entitled Life in War, in which he brilliantly depicts the everyday occurrences of life as it continues, despite the death and destruction of war. Street photography and teaching young photographers are among his other areas of interest.
It very well may have been photos of Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji that inspired you to visit Iran or put it on your bucket list. His wide-angle photos of Iranian architecture beautifully capture the perfectly symmetrical details of tourist attractions, making them appear like real life kaleidoscopes. At only 27 years old, this award-winning photographer has appeared in the likes of National Geographic, CNN, BBC, Spiegel, and ABC, among others, and no doubt has a long career ahead of him.
Jassem Ghazbanpour’s style of photography has changed with his circumstances. As a young teenager, he began photographing daily life in his hometown, but with the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, transitioned to show the battlefield and local impacts of war. The fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Kurdish independence in Iraqi Kurdistan have also been the subjects of his lens. Ghazbanpour has since turned to a different side of Iran, focusing on art, cultural events, architecture, and nature. He has published several books, and his work has been regularly featured in international newspapers and magazines.
Shahariar Tavakoli is a photographer, lecturer, and founding editor of Herfeh Honarmand magazine. Tavakoli has gained his reputation for his shooting of landscapes, playing with light and colours while focusing on the force of nature devoid of any human presence. More recently, his work has developed a more personal touch, and his Night series gives a different perspective of cities after dark, one in which artificial light is the protagonist, illuminating the trees, a car, or a space to leave viewers with an impression of the similarity of cities in the silence of darkness.