KT: How did you get into photography? When/what was your first encounter with photography?
KK: I was given a camera by my uncle as a new year present when I was under ten years of age.
KT: Your photobook ‘Revolutionaries: the First Decade’ is one of the most important archive about the Iranian revolution and its aftermath. What do you like about photography in a book format? What is the collaborative process between you and your publisher ?
KK: This book, I dare say is unique in its genre. There have been a few books published on Iranian Revolution and the war with Iraq but never on what went on in those years. My book looks at the first decade since the revolution. It is my analogue of black and white work. When the idea came to me to concentrate on the early days, it was discussed with the publisher and we took it from there. Choosing from hundreds of images was a difficult task but i conferred with the publisher as we went along. I knew his manner of working, adapted myself to it and he did vice verse.
KT: You have been photographing for over 4 decades, taking break taking photos that comprises of an archive of black & white photographs that depicts a very critical time in Persian history after 1979 and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war that followed. How do you manage to get so intimate with your subjects? We would like to know how the ground reality in Iran has evolved after 40 years?
KK: Throughout my four decade career, my main concern was just to document. I did not rush into publishing a book for the sake of it. My colleagues came out with their books a few months after the revolution or war with Iraq but I was in no hurry to do so. I studied photography in England and unknowingly went back to Iran in early days of revolution and started covering the events.
For me, coming up with a nice photo was more important than satisfying a client’s need. In those days I was just shooting for myself without a client or being commissioned. My first assignment was when the US embassy was taken over and diplomats were taken hostage. But that assignment started from the top of the ladder, with – STERN magazine. It has been a turbulent 40 years, specially the first 10 years. In the years that Khatami was president of Iran, things were much calmer. During Ahmadinejad much tougher but now relatively calm – but that doesn’t mean that you can do your job as a photographer with full liberty.
KT: In Iran a lot of pro-regime propaganda books are published every year in order to divert the attention from real issues. How does one deal with the issue of propaganda in context with the censorship considering your work has also faced censorship in the past?
KK: One of the reasons this book came to life at this stage was because I had never thought I would pass the censorship earlier. Somehow, miraculously I was given the green light to print it after an initial battle with the authorities in-charge of printing in Iran. First, they wanted to take out 20 photos but then the publisher and I wrote them a letter explaining that these are historical events and can not be denied. After a while they conceded and took out only one image and we were obliged. That photo was suppose to be the closing image of the book but somehow it turned out that it helped the book one way or another.
KT: “With cameras everywhere and an unending outburst of images on social media, the new digital generation does not realize how photography documented Iranian history”. Please comment.
KK: These cameras as far as I am concerned have ruined the real joy of photography and have also destroyed the market for real photographers. We lived and worked in golden days of photojournalism. What we see today is a market flooded with mass production and citizen journalist photos. Majority of which has no real photographic value.
KT: In one of your interviews, you quoted ““In 1978 and 1979 the people unanimously wanted the Shah out. Now there is disappointment among many, but the feeling is very different. Still the majority wants to see reforms within the existing system.” What are views about the recent American sanctions? How does that impact the Iran’s visual contemporary history?
KK: Having seen what happened to Arab Spring, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and ISIS on top of that, people are very reserved and in my opinion, are very concerned about the drastic changes. The new sanctions which will soon come into effect in two stages – August and November of this year(2018). It remains to be seen how it will affect us and the way we photographers will continue doing our jobs. We have a new player on the field who is prepared to go into any length to harm Iran.
KT: You have been an important photographic voice from Iran documenting important events which have huge historical relevance. What do you do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?
KK: I believe my main mission in photography has been accomplished. Having been present in hot spots of this planet other than Iran (Northern Ireland, Iraq Gulf War 1991, Lebanon 1986 and 1996, Syria 2012) and managing to do my work successfully has been quite an achievement. I consider ‘IRAN’ my most important and historical work. After this long journey, what comes after will be a bonus.
All Images © Kaveh Kazemi