New Emissary

Past the Headlines

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New Emissary

Past the Headlines

Photos from Iran remind us not to forget faces behind headlines and stories worth telling.

Iran’s making all sorts of international news headlines again, and I’m glad that I was able to talk to a photographer—whose latest exhibit, Illuminating Iran, was shot entirely in the country—this past weekend about topics revolving around the nation that didn’t contain terms like ‘detainees,’ ‘nuclear’ and ‘sanctions.’

With all due respect to the dedicated journalists and news agencies working on major world news that does require coverage, we mustn’t forget the faces of the people behind the headlines, who too have stories worth telling. For that’s where much of the humanity can be found.

Such are the stories told by photographer Tom Kuczynski, who I mentioned yesterday. It’s people like Kuczynski, photographers who document the everyday in these turbulent nations, whose work—if we have a chance to see it—gives us a broader perspective.

While many of the images in Kuczynski’s Iran exhibit are quiet scenes that don’t necessarily include people, including the golden-yellow dome of an Armenian church at night and a shot of a vibrant blue sky littered with clouds, it’s clear that what left the biggest impression on him were the country’s people.

He told me, ‘During all of my travels I have never been to a country where people were so curious and open and really willing to talk and exchange information and views,’ and also mentioned that it seemed almost like the people he encountered in Iran felt a sense of duty to show him their country and culture, to provide a unique experience they knew he’d otherwise not have, possibly ever again.

He cited the example of a day out shooting during Ramadan, when he and his travel companion were actually allowed to enter certain places that were closed for the significant Muslim holiday: ‘At a certain place in Esfahan we were allowed to get in and spend maybe 15 minutes just taking photos. And it was only because of the generosity and kindness of the people that were taking care of the place.’

Kuczynski elaborated further on his affinity for the people he met, telling me, ‘Usually we are brought up in an atmosphere where we shouldn’t judge people by how they look, but the people that we met (in Iran), you could see the wisdom and kindness and openness and the good-heartedness… and so yes, I was judging them by their looks.’

Illuminating Iran is currently showing at the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Tokyo, Japan through Sunday May 23. More on Tom Kuczynski is on his blog here.