“In Iran, photojournalism is not recognized” — Blind Magazine

Born in the city of Tabriz, in northern Iran, in 1987, Farshid Tighehsaz is part of the generation that grew up after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).

For 10 years, the young documentary photographer has been painting an intimate portrait of a youth and a society struggling against poverty and depression. An inner cry that resonates today through the demonstrations of women, students and a whole section of the population.

His Labyrinth project was rewarded by the French magazine 6 months which, for the 3rd edition, awards the 6Mois Photojournalism Prize.

Freed from freedom. A young boy holds a pigeon that was put on the market for sale in Tabriz, Iran, August 10, 2015. © Farshid Tighehsaz

The 6Mois Photojournalism Prize offers an endowment of 10,000 euros to support photographers. What does this award mean to you?

I was really upset when I heard the news. It’s the best thing that has happened to my career, alongside the VII Mentor Program. I am so happy to see that my project has been selected and honored to receive this prestigious award.

Your connection with photography is very intimate. How did it become central in your life?

As a child, I was introverted. I have a passion for observing the stars through a telescope. As my father was an amateur photographer, I knew the camera from the beginning. Observing the world around me through a lens has always been a fascinating activity for me.

In 2011, I had a painful first love. Photography has become my only means of expressing this pain. My first project The environment of love was born. Thanks to this mysterious connection, photography has become a vocation for me.

What subjects do you evoke in your Labyrinth project?

I try to tell the story of existence that we face in Iran. A life lived in the shadow of the current government. Labyrinth explores the socio-psychological state of Iran’s post-revolutionary generation, repressed youth, unemployment and anxiety about the future. The series evokes the emotional state in which I find myself, mixed with the social and political conditions in Iran and in general in the world today.

For hundreds of years, cats have become an iconic part of the Grand Bazaar of Tabriz, and are cared for by guilds, here in Tabriz, Iran, October 11, 2016. Negative emotions and feelings are highly contagious and can expand to encompass all of life.  © Farshid Tighehsaz
For hundreds of years, cats have become an iconic part of the Grand Bazaar of Tabriz, and are cared for by guilds, here in Tabriz, Iran, October 11, 2016. Negative emotions and feelings are highly contagious and can expand to encompass all of life. © Farshid Tighehsaz
Sima looks out the window in self-quarantine, in Tabriz, Iran on April 02, 2020. She said: 'Fear of the pandemic is more destructive than itself.  Where you look is fear.  © Farshid Tighehsaz
Sima looks out the window in self-quarantine, in Tabriz, Iran on April 02, 2020. She said: ‘Fear of the pandemic is more destructive than itself. Where you look is fear. © Farshid Tighehsaz

“I took my 354th Sertraline [antidepressant] pill today. These are the first words of your introduction to the Labyrinth. Depression is a topic rarely discussed in Iran…

Expressing a mental problem, such as depression, is taboo. Society views mental problems as a weakness of the individual, causing stigma to most of those who suffer from such problems. Much of this taboo is rooted in the religious culture of Iranian society. Depression is considered a sin in Islam.

Since September 16 and the death in prison of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, accused by vice police of violating the dress code, protests have intensified in Iran… Have you had the opportunity to cover this popular uprising?

No, because in Iran photojournalism is recognized neither by the government nor by the demonstrators. It’s very risky. There is no law to protect it. During these demonstrations, many photographers and journalists were arrested and are still in prison.

But it is a unique and extraordinary movement in the contemporary history of the country. The courage of Iranian women is remarkable in the face of a patriarchal culture.

You shoot in black and white. Is there a reason for this?

Because in black and white, I think I’m closer to what I want to express. But sometimes I also photograph in color. It is the subject that determines the photographic language.

What are your influences ?

Poetry, a lot, and my memories. The images in our memory, I think, are the most powerful influences in photography. I also really like cinema. For example, I love the movie biutilful by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Fear cells.  Construction of cheap houses in Birjand, South Khorasan, Iran on May 4, 2014. With the worsening economic crisis in Iran and the existence of high economic inflation, raising a family and buying a house in Iran has become one of the main problems of youth.  The government tells them to start a family and have children so that the young people rejuvenate the society.  © Farshid Tighehsaz
Fear cells. Construction of cheap houses in Birjand, South Khorasan, Iran on May 4, 2014. With the worsening economic crisis in Iran and the existence of high economic inflation, raising a family and buying a house in Iran has become one of the main problems of youth. The government tells them to start a family and have children so that the young people rejuvenate the society. © Farshid Tighehsaz
A view from the rooftops of a house in Tabriz, Iran, January 17, 2019. After Iran's revolution, the new regime moved quickly to ban alcohol and gambling and force women to wear veils, but modernity and Western influence still broke through.  Hip-hop and pop music, as well as Hollywood films, are broadcast on satellite dishes that tower above the city skyline.  © Farshid Tighehsaz
A view from the rooftops of a house in Tabriz, Iran, January 17, 2019. After Iran’s revolution, the new regime moved quickly to ban alcohol and gambling and force women to wear veils, but modernity and Western influence still broke through. Hip-hop and pop music, as well as Hollywood films, are broadcast on satellite dishes that tower above the city skyline. © Farshid Tighehsaz
A group of mourners mourn and walk through the alley at night of Ashura Day in Tabriz, Iran, November 4, 2014. In Iran, the streets belong to the dominant ideology and followers of the dominant ideology have the massive right to perform their own ceremonies in the streets.  The opposition, on the other hand, does not have the right to assemble or announce its presence and it is severely repressed.  © Farshid Tighehsaz
A group of mourners mourn and walk through the alley at night of Ashura Day in Tabriz, Iran, November 4, 2014. In Iran, the streets belong to the dominant ideology and followers of the dominant ideology have the massive right to perform their own ceremonies in the streets. The opposition, on the other hand, does not have the right to assemble or announce its presence and it is severely repressed. © Farshid Tighehsaz

Was Abbas, the great Iranian photographer, a source of inspiration?

Abbas was a wonderful photographer, a legend. I never had the chance to meet him because I discovered his photographs too late. Abbas and Bahman Jalali did a wonderful job describing the events of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Now, many years later, when I look at these photographs, I wish people had seen enough back then.

Can you make a living from photography in Iran?

Making a living from documentary photography in Iran is nearly impossible. There are photographers who come from wealthy families and it’s not their business. But in general, with the critical conditions of the Iranian economy, I think even they are not comfortable. I struggled with lack of money for half my life. Sometimes I couldn’t even buy a pack of cigarettes. I worked as a taxi driver to live and support my project.

Elham Soltani, 30, was attacked with acid by her husband in 2018 in Garmsar, Semnan province, Iran, on June 13, 2021. She lost her right eye and half of the skin on her face with the back of the skin of her hands when she wants to cover her face.  Elham currently lives with her 10-year-old son in Garmsar and she said: I am afraid of him that one day he will come back and attack me again.  © Farshid Tighehsaz
Elham Soltani, 30, was attacked with acid by her husband in 2018 in Garmsar, Semnan province, Iran, on June 13, 2021. She lost her right eye and half of the skin on her face with the back of the skin of her hands when she wants to cover her face. Elham currently lives with her 10-year-old son in Garmsar and she said: I am afraid of him that one day he will come back and attack me again. © Farshid Tighehsaz

Tell us about your other projects…

After The Environment of Love, I described in Like the color of loneliness the sudden death of my father and the consequences of the bereavement on my family. My third project, butterfly suicideexplores the issue of youth suicide in Iran.

How do you see the future of Iran?

I am not an expert on Middle East issues. I only know that the geopolitics of Iran and the Middle East is very important and any future perspective should be within this framework.

Sima takes a shower after every outing due to the horror of the COVID-19 virus, in Gilan province, Iran, November 12, 2020. © Farshid Tighehsaz
Sima takes a shower after every outing due to the horror of the COVID-19 virus, in Gilan province, Iran, November 12, 2020. © Farshid Tighehsaz
A young man rests in Honarmandan Park, in Tehran, Iran, June 12, 2022. © Farshid Tighehsaz
A young man rests in Honarmandan Park, in Tehran, Iran, June 12, 2022. © Farshid Tighehsaz
Love is hard when you can't touch.  Two friends sit in a traditional restaurant waiting for their order in Tabriz, Iran, December 1, 2014. © Farshid Tighehsaz
Love is hard when you can’t touch. Two friends sit in a traditional restaurant waiting for their order in Tabriz, Iran, December 1, 2014. © Farshid Tighehsaz

About Sally E. Bartley

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