|Interview with photographer Jamshid Bayrami
In history's archive
I wanted to take photos that would make a point
By Fariba Amini
July 5, 2002
Jamshid Bayrami's famous photo of Ahmad Batebi holding the bloodstained T-shirt
of a friend became well know throughout the world when it made on the cover of the
London Economist following three days of bloodshed at Tehran University in July 1999.
Batebi was given a 13-year prison sentence and has reportedly been severely tortured.
Bayrami's photographs were recently exhibited at conference of the Society of Iranian
Studies in Bethesda, Maryland. He was one of five Iranians who were granted visas
to take part in the event. Thirty-five others were denied.
We spoke just before his return to Iran. Excerpts:
I began photography during the Iran-Iraq war ("Karbala 5" and
Velfajr 8" operations). I grew up in Nazyabad (southern Tehran) and studied
only through 9th grade. I had neither a tutor nor a guide to teach me the basics
of photography. What I never expected was to become an artist, a photographer.
First I took a lot of news photos. Many photos have been taken during the last 23
years; of the revolution, the war and major events inside the country. Everyone looks
at things differently -- with a special eye. I wanted to take photos that would make
I worked primarily for newspapers such as Neshat, Tous, Jame'eh and Asr
Azadegan before they were shut down by the government. My very last news photos
were from the student uprising in July 1999.
After realizing that the right atmosphere for such photography doesn't exist, I decided
to switch gears. Now I am only doing photos of landscapes and people. I want to capture
our national heritage and culture through photos. I want to keep these in the archives
Iran has a long history of photography. Since the time of Nasseredin Shah Qajar,
when the first camera was brought in from Europe, we have been involved in the art
of photography. In recent times, there have been many renowned photographers. As
in cinema where Iranian films have taken a lead in the world, Iranian photography
has also acquired its own style.
We now have many young people, especially women who are interested
in photography. My photos depict the life of ordinary people in the cities as in
the rural areas. The many cultural and ethnic varieties, which are colorful and rich
throughout our homeland, are shown in my photography.
I have taken photos of the life of people in the seaside, from the Caspian shores
to the south in the Persian Gulf as well as in Kurdistan. A picture tells a thousand
words. There is a photo of three Kurdish women holding "sabzeh". This is
for the funeral of a loved one.
A photo of a young girl is amongst the hundreds of women covered in black chador.
She represents the future generation. She is Iran's tomorrow. In another picture,
in Tehran I show young men standing with the latest Western-style clothes, looking
at a covered woman. They have a new outlook, a new style of clothing but an unknown
I didn't have a photography teacher. What I have learned is from the streets of Tehran.
I must say the best of my photos are from the war period. In the midst of destruction
there was a ray of hope, sweetness for life. You see a photo of the first prisoners
of war, when they had finally returned. There was never an exact number of missing
or dead. There I show a young man, with dark features from the south that is trying
to find his lost brother by showing his picture to them.
My experience here in America has been very positive,
both with Americans and Iranian expatriates. I have been welcomed warmly. Americans
are a kind and generous people. We must always distinguish the people from the government.
They are very much interested in the lives and the culture of other nations.
And my Iranian compatriots have embraced me so incredibly. I am amazed at how Iranians
are such an active group of people in every field - education, the arts, medicine,
and business in this country. I will be going back with a feeling of pride and will
miss all the people who have accepted me with open arms. To all Iranians in the US,
I say, "Hope to see you soon, in Tehran!"