Newsha Tavakolian is an accomplished photographer responsible for some of the most explosive images to emerge from the 1999 unrest that took place in Tehran. The Iranian student led protests were sparked by the closure of a reformist newspaper. Authorities notoriously raided a dormitory, even setting fire to some rooms, forcing panicking students to jump from perilous heights. The chaos escalated into a week of precarious anarchy. The photos that emerged from these turbulent days were from Tavakolian, who spared no effort at capturing the mayhem. Climbing trees, she perched herself there, capturing what communicated to the world the fierce unrest the country was grappling with. The photos would eclipse with its graphic detail other reportage of the unrest.
Tavakolian is as passionate about photography as she is about her country. She sees Iran as “an island cut off from the world” and encourages fellow photographers to mine the country for stories the world has to be told about. “I tell them they can take their best pictures in Iran, because they live here and it’s their story and their concerns. Ultimately they’ll find more here that they have meaningful things to say about.”
Iran’s 2009 post-election uprising brought about a new malaise to afflict many things including Iranian photojournalism. Authorities apprehended protesters using press photos to identify them, many of whom suffered unspeakable atrocities in detention centers. Iranians, according to Tavakolian , “developed a phobia toward having their picture taken, they were simply very scared.” This development would lead her photography into more artistic leanings with a strong foundation in social documentary.
Look is her latest work, which recently debuted in New York. It is portrait collection of co-dwellers of her own apartment building in Tehran. It captures the confounding uncertainty in their faces of living under precarious conditions in Iran. “They were all scared or anxious, and I saw that despite how much access they had to technology, despite not being at the edge of poverty, they were still lonely, perplexed,” she relates. “I wanted to capture such a moment in their lives.” Look is unsettling, clueless, pensive, and helpless all at once. It puts a face to an existence trapped in Iranian limbo.
View Look and the genius of Tavakolian.