Jamshid Bayrami is an Iranian photographer who dropped out of high school and then became known around the world for his celebrity photos and protest images, including an iconic one he took in 1999.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to Iran, where we will meet a veteran photographer. His most famous photo was of an Iranian protester years ago, but he also used photography to explore the world. He spoke with Peter Kenyon of NPR in Tehran about his career and some of his favorite scenes.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The walls of Jamshid Bayrami’s apartment in Tehran are lined with some of his photographs of Iran and around the world. Bayrami says he dropped out of school before graduating from high school, convinced he needed to learn about the world firsthand, seeing it for himself. He says through an interpreter that he also fell in love with capturing images of the people and places he saw.
JAMSHID BAYRAMI: (Through an interpreter) In fact, I am in love with traveling and traveling to various places. And I love taking my camera with me when I travel to take photos. So in fact, I can say that I started with photos from social documentaries first. And later, indirectly, I was put into news journalism.
KENYON: One of Bayrami’s best-known news images appeared on the cover of The Economist magazine. It was taken during the 1999 student protests, which were brutally repressed by the security forces. It features a young protester holding a bloody T-shirt over his head. Bayrami says the young man was singing along with the other protesters. But it was when he suddenly fell silent that the photographer saw the image he wanted.
BAYRAMI: (Through interpreter) I took several photos, several frames of this man. I noticed one of them where it is silent. And his silence catches my attention. And for me, that photo and that person looked more like Che Guevara. And so I decided to choose this photo and send it to the newspapers.
KENYON: Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary, is one of the people Bayrami says he would have loved to photograph. Another is Nelson Mandela. He also says that he would like to photograph Donald Trump, mainly to tell him that Iran is an important and civilized country with some 7,000 years of history.
Analyzing a career spanning three decades of taking photographs in some 30 countries, Bayrami says that India stands out for the sheer multitude of scenes and images it offers. He calls it a photography college. It also highlights two other places you’ve photographed for a special mention, a combination you might not expect.
BAYRAMI: (Through interpreter) One is Mecca, in which around 3 million people or Muslims gather each year wearing a kind of simple uniform, without difference, all in white. And that is very interesting for me to see. And the other place that impressed me the most was Las Vegas in the United States of America, where I notice a huge crowd of thousands and thousands of people who were very happy and enjoying the time.
KENYON: Bayrami has seen the tools of his craft evolve and change over the decades. He says he was one of the last photographers in Iran to switch to a digital camera. When asked what draws him to capturing moments in time, he thinks a bit and suggests that it probably has something to do with the power of an image to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers and communicate with many different people on an emotional level. . He says that the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said it best.
BAYRAMI: (language not spoken English).
KENYON: “Photography addresses all groups and nationalities in the world,” he says, “whether a person is illiterate, literate, or intellectual.” But the important point, he adds, was made by Cartier-Bresson when he said, quote: “A good photo is when the mind, the heart and the eyes click the shutter at the same time.”
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tehran.
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