With her black and white shots Fatemeh Behboudi tells the strong contrasts of Iranian society and gives a voice to the people forgotten by politicians. But also "to the inner struggles and to the painful hope" of those who, like her, live in a perennial state of waiting for a new war to break out
“As photojournalists we can save people's lives as quickly as we can sentence them to death,” said Fatemeh Behboudi, a young reporter from Tehran. Every time she takes out her camera she knows well that she must be on her guard and always keep in mind the role she plays in society, especially the Iranian society, made up of paradoxes, where, "you don't even know what freedom is". In 2015 she was awarded a World Press Photo with a work on the mothers of war martyrs, forgotten by politics, but for a long time she would have preferred not to have won it.
Why did you decide to become a photographer? At first it was because of my dad, I was struck by his Iranian mountains’ shots. But I had no idea it could become my job, it was just a pastime. My first photos were taken with a Praktica MTL5 and a black and white film. Images of trees and ice and snow macro photos, very dark and full of contrasts, at the time I wasn't interested in portraying people at all. There was one of a tree where I had used a red filter, which told a lot about my world of the times. My best friend, Leila, was amazed, she told me that I was able to tell the spirit of the tree. She was convinced that I would become a great photographer and that day she had repeated it to me for the umpteenth time. Unfortunately, those were her last words, before she died in an accident.
For me it was a shock, I lived through years of anger over that sudden death, it wasn't fair. Then, over time, the dream that Leila had seen for me became a lighthouse in my dark world. Her confidence illuminated my life path and I decided to listen to her.
What is photography for you? For me it represents hope, it is the light in a dark world. There are many people around us who live in darkness and art, especially photography, has the ability and the power to enlighten things.
Was there a particular moment that changed your photographic approach, but also your life? Of course, because photography has always put me in front of new challenges from which I have learned a lot and maybe that's why I like it. There are two moments that I will never forget. During the One Moment project I followed and photographed the last minutes of the life of those sentenced to death, before they were executed. In Iran, executions are public, anyone can participate and often children are among the bystanders. I wanted to understand what kind of impact those scenes had on the people who voluntarily decided to take part in these events. The last time I documented the executions there were two young men aged 18 and 22, accused of robbery. One of them, in his last moment of life, told the reporters present: "We are dying because of you." Because here there are many thieves who will never be executed and who are free today, instead they would have been killed because they were filmed in various videos.
That young man gave me my greatest lesson, at that moment I understood the very delicate role of the media in society. We can save people's lives as quickly as we can sentence them to death. And I know I always have to be on guard when I'm holding my camera.
Politicians will never change, I only believe in people and I want to create bridges that can bring them all over the world
There was also another moment that enlightened me. It was when, in 2015, I won the World Press Photo with Mothers of patience. It was a project that I was following thanks to the help of people and I wanted to send them a message that came from the bottom of my heart, a message that from the victims reached all over the world. Especially to the mothers of martyrs, who have lost their sons, who have fallen into oblivion for over thirty years. As soon as I found out I had won the award, I called one of those women. I said to her: “Don't cry anymore dear mom. Now people all over the world know your son's story.” She thanked me in tears, I will always remember her because at that precise moment I realized that I wanted to be a photographer and that my shots would give a voice to the people forgotten by politicians.
What do you want to do with the "Looking for Freedom" project Looking for Freedom? I want to tell the world in which I felt lost and suffocated. I was looking for freedom, but I didn't even know what it was. Here we expect a new war to break out at any moment, in our country or in neighboring ones. This everlasting standby mode, this life marked by threats, is heavier than the war itself. Try to put yourself in our shoes, as soon as you wake up, every morning, you feel a threat that destroys all your thoughts, your hopes and your dreams as a human being. You cannot take decisions based on a future that can shatter at any moment. You live immersed in a state of tremendous stress and you don't even know when this war will start, a war that the politicians are talking about so much.
I was born in the middle of the war between Iran and Iraq. Every memory I have of my childhood, since I can remember it, is about war, I grew up in this thought. From that with Iraq to that of the USA in Afghanistan, to the emergency of new terrorist groups threatening our borders, to the constant threat of the United States to start a war on the Iranian soil.
Here we expect a new war to break out at any moment, in our country or in neighboring ones. This everlasting standby mode, this life marked by threats, is heavier than the war itself.
How is it possible to keep on hoping? It is the only thing that has kept the memory of the victims alive, that of the mothers who pray every day for even a small piece of their sons' body to be found, to put an end to their suffering. It is a painful hope that runs through the lives of the victims' families every day.
What does the title "Looking for Freedom" refers to Looking for Freedom? It recalls the days when I fought against myself, between being a woman and belonging to the traditional religious community. Being a woman limited me a lot, excluded me from opportunities and programs. I felt suffocated, so I imagined ways in which I could regain my freedom.
All but two of the photos are taken in black and white. Why did you decide to do them in color? The black and white technique is due to the fact that I live in a world of strong contrasts. The traditional religious community often made me feel suffocated with its strict policies and laws, . But in the midst of all my inner wars I have been trying to find that color that I lost a long time ago, which comes from my emotions, which are trying to find a way to change.
She won the World Press Photo award in 2015. Did the award change anything in your life and the life of the Iranians? Big awards are good for big communities. But when they come in small ones they have a different effect. It was good for me, but also bad. Good because I was the first Iranian to win such a prestigious award, it had a crazy impact on photographers, but to me it was also a bitter victory, because after that success, I saw the behavior of my male colleagues change. Unfortunately my commissioned services have gone down a lot, I have had really hard days. Honestly, I have thought many times that it would be better not to win that award, but today I am really happy and grateful, and I hope to find new job opportunities to keep dreaming.
Have you ever thought about emigrating? If so, why did you decide to stay? Yes, over the past three years I have thought about it more and more. Especially now that our working conditions are more difficult and there seems to be no way to increase the work. Ever since I started photographing I have always been dreaming of becoming an influencer, of being able to work for established media and document social events and important news. So I did my best, unfortunately as women we have a lot of boundaries. Where should I go since this is the situation here? I would like to find a place to be with people. But really, I don't know where yet.
© Tutti i diritti riservati
Silvia Criara - Journalist, born in Milan. At the age of 5 she asked for a pool for her dolls as a present but she didn't receive one. So she had an idea, she took a wooden drawer from her dresser and filled it with water to put her Barbies in it. From that moment she has never stopped following her ideas and resolves herself to talk about people who bring on the bravest ideas to promote social rights, through contemporary art, photography, culture, and design. Stories of creative resistance that she discovers all around the world. She dreams often, even during the day.