Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, September 27, 2012


Story: Moyukh Mahtab
Photos: Reza Dehgati

I recently watched this documentary on National Geographic photographers, very simply titled 'The Photographers'. It showcased some of the most iconic photographs ever to have been published in Nat Geo, a magazine over one hundred years old. With photographs - like the Afghan Girl, which have become so famous that people who have never heard of the magazine have seen it - you wonder at the power of photographs at getting a message across. And it was no surprise that since watching the documentary, I wished I could lead the life of a Nat Geo photographer - so when I got a chance to interview Reza Deghati, I jumped at it.

Reza Deghati is an Iranian-French photojournalist for Nat Geo - with awards to his name as prestigious as the ICP Infinity Award - who, living in exile from his country, Iran, has covered events around the globe in as many as 115 countries.

Reza talks a lot about following one's dreams; having gotten in trouble with the subversive secret police in Iran at the age of 16 and still carrying on with his beliefs about that which is right. “There are two types of people in this world, those who meet obstacles and say, 'Oh my God, I have reached a wall, I can't go anymore' and the others who think it is a stepping stone for them to go higher and get better.” Idealistic, even after all the conflict he has been through, he says life is based on dreams and without the pleasure of doing something you believe in, life is superficial.

It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for someone to be interrogated by the secret police for something as simple as writing an article at the age of sixteen. A piece about the corruption of the state involving a poor fisherwoman - who had to give half her earnings to the police - accompanied by some amateur pictures which he took, Reza made his own magazine of about fifty copies using his high school library's photocopy machine.

Few days later, men in posh cars showed up in his school and took him away. Soon his delusion that he was already famous with just one article was broken; he realised he was being taken to the headquarters of the secret police. He was beaten and told information is not something he had a right to. Reza believes this experience played a significant role in what he does and when asked if he sometimes wonders if that and all the subsequent beatings, jail times and tortures he had to face were not worth it he says, “Of course not. It was fantastic to have all those experience. If I hadn't been there, I wouldn't be able to do what I do - I wouldn't be able to give this speech that touched your heart.”


And it truly is an inspiring story to hear of a teenager following his passion, living in a state where information is so guarded and of his father telling him to pursue what he believes. Having lived in a country ruled by the secret police - stories of which are tantamount to Orwell's 1984 - and amidst a lot of explosive conflict zones, Reza is still optimistic about the world changing for the better. He says, having experienced all these first hand, he can tell that the world is changing - very subtly and slowly but definitely changing.

Having been to Bangladesh before and having taught a lot of students in the art of photography, Reza seems very optimistic about Bangladeshi photographers. While discussing how non-mainstream lines of work including writing are discouraged here, he goes on to talk about how, internationally, photographers from the country are highly thought of. Since the days when he taught at Pathshala, photography as a profession has come a long way. When asked about how effective a photographer's role is when he can't directly help the subjects of his photograph - Reza seems to have a clear conscience. He says you never know how many people you are inspiring to go out and help, “It's not what I will do; what is important to me is to get the right picture, the right words so that more people are touched and inspired to do something.”

Creativity is something that burns inside; you don't think about it and you don't think about the money, Reza tells me. “I trained as an architect but what was burning inside me was photography.” He tells me it doesn't matter if the job is not that mainstream. If you have the passion, it will find an outlet through you. Having been to over a hundred countries, covered a lot of international news, when asked about his most fulfilling work yet, Reza replies, “Most fulfilling work? I haven't done it yet. Still looking for it.”

Reza ends the short interview with a message for the one's here who aspire but are afraid of society and dragged down with the demands of making a career out of something feasible. “The future belongs to [him] who believes in the beauty of his dreams.” And after hearing his story and his sacrifices for what he believes in, one is tempted to dream.


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