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 a point.
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 of history.
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 future.
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!”