Reza, Images of History

Click here to view the photographs discussed in the interview

-Reza with wife, Rachel.  February 2008.

There are many ways to benefit humankind through one's occupation.  A few direct choices spring to mind: doctor, firefighter, teacher.  Photographer might not seem to be an obvious fit for the list, photojournalist gets closer, but these terms are inadequate to define the work of Reza.  Looking through his new book, Reza War + Peace, it's hard to imagine a more complete portfolio. If there was a war anywhere in Eurasia during the last three decades, there's a good chance Reza was there, recording the truth with a camera.  

Reza has done important work in Africa too (South Africa, Congo and Somalia are featured prominently in the book) but his focus and his heart clearly point to the Middle East. Born in Iran, Reza was raised with a profound sense of justice. In 1981, Reza was wounded covering the Iran-Iraq war but the injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  He was allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment and he never came back... Reza knew he was a wanted man. It was fortuitous timing, less than one month later government forces raided his home, they found nothing but furniture.

Leaving Iran was a necessity for Reza, two governments had threatened his life and livelihood for visually exposing the truth. Today, still in exile, Reza has a wife and children in France, but he continues to travel the world taking pictures. His photographs show the beauty and resilience of humankind even in the worst conditions.

Taking pictures is easy, anyone can point and shoot.  But it takes real guts to do work like Reza does, he won't shrink from challenges or hardship. He hiked snow covered mountains for weeks to find and photograph Ahmad Shah Massoud, head of the Afghan resistance fighting the Soviets. He started a photo identification project in Congo for lost children, reuniting over 3,000 families. He was on the front lines in Lebanon to photograph Yasser Arafat peering out from a bunker while under fire. Reza is consistently in the right place at the right time and it's no accident. Going where the action is, recording the scene, and sharing it with others...these actions can create ripples.

In his new book, Reza writes: "When cannon are silent and armies withdraw, the physical reconstruction of a country is urgently needed — an army of men and women with shovels to remove the rubble, NGOs to rebuild infrastructure, and doctors to treat the wounds of the body. But, deep inside a people are other, invisible injuries: the destruction of dignity, the wounding of the soul. These injuries reside in the deepest part of one’s being and can, despite the best efforts at physical reconstruction, prevent a country from becoming whole. A culture of war breeds war, and those who have not been provided with cultural and intellectual tools will return to their only point of reference: the deafening noise of cannon and guns."

To help Afghanistan gain those 'cultural and intellectual tools,' Reza founded an organization called Aina in 2001. Farsi for mirror, Aina is empowering Afghans to express themselves through a variety of media. There are so many positive outcomes from these communication builds within a community, so does understanding and tolerance. When citizens are informed of the news, they are better prepared to vote and engage in political debate. In a region where despots often act with relative impunity, it will be a vital tool for Afghan society to have a group of young, passionate and well-trained journalists working to spread information, both internally and to other countries.

Founding Aina was a remarkable act of foresight on Reza's part, and he and his staff should be lauded for what they're doing for Afghanistan. Reza is a tremendous photographer and humanitarian. His career body of work is exemplary and no high acclaim would be above its merit.

Reza's love of humanity shines through his profound work, we are honored to have him on our program.

- Dan Bloom

Click here to view the photographs discussed in the interview

Click here for the website of Reza's foundation, Aina

Reza's bio at National Geographic (with links)

The book Reza War + Peace is published by National Geographic.

Music in the piece was provided by Pejvak Ensemble. Visit their Myspace page here.

Video montage of Reza's photography: