How did you decide that photography was going to be your creative medium?
I was born one year after the revolution in Iran, in the midst of a war with Iraq which continued for eight years and affected many families, including mine, profoundly. A lot of them had to leave Iran and therefore family albums of photographs became the only evidence of the presence of the people I loved and who were part of my life. The only way I could connect with them was through the photographs and I literally had conversations with their images. Photography has formed a complete cultural foundation for me ever since, and I’ve built on that through studying photography in Tehran and then in the UK.
Were there any particular photographers that inspired you earlier on in your career?
When I was studying in Tehran I was lucky enough to be one of Bahman Jalali’s students and I also looked a lot at the work of Shirin Neshat. I was very much inspired by the gentle poetic lyricism of Persian cinema too, and directors like Dariush Mehrjui and Abbas Kiarostami were a big influence. Later I was captivated by Josef Koudelka’s black and white photographs, by the way that Sophie Calle brought together different image media and text, and how artists such as Joel-Peter Witkin constructed pictures in books like The Bone House.
For you, what makes a successful image?
The answer to that doesn’t really stay the same over time, because I am constantly changing. I guess a successful image frames what matters at a specific time and place, what is important. But it also invites the audience to see beyond the frame, and offers layers of meaning. It poses the question ‘why look at this subject’ and asks us to think about it.
You said at World Press Photo some years ago that the hallmark of a good photograph is telling the truth – do you still feel that way?
Yes, but the relationship between photography and social, political and personal truth is complex. In The Will to Power Nietzsche said that there are so many truths and therefore there is no truth, especially when we think about constant conflicts and contradictions. Personal truth in relation to political truth is what I meant. Photography can be read as traces and evidence of a specific experience, a truth that is my truth. This depends on who is reading the photographs of course, but in my recent work, especially with the introduction of poems, I try to create a universe that is close to home. My identity, my resistance, my response, rather than a document of the truth.