War photographer Majid Saeedi was honored at Italy’s World Report Award at the Festival of Ethical Photography for his collection on Afghanistan entitled “Life in War.”
Having already won countless awards, including the 2012 R.F. Kennedy Award, the 2010 UNICEF award and the 2013 World Press Photo contest award, Saeedi was presented with the Master Award for his photographs on Afghanistan. In his home country of Iran, he has been nominated seven times as the country’s Best Photographer of the Year between 1992 and 2001.
Saeedi was born in Tehran in 1974 and began taking photographs from the age of 17. Following the disputed presidential election of 2009, he was arrested in the July of that year. Police confiscated his photography equipment and interrogated him at a secret location for four days. After this, he was taken to Evin Prison where he spent 40 days between solitary confinement and tiny four-prisoner cells. Although he was initially released on bail, the courts later sentenced him to three years in prison on various charges including activities against national security. For this reason, he left for Afghanistan feeling that he was no longer able to freely photograph in his home country.
His collection “Life in War” is the result of his time in Afghanistan from the moment he left Iran. The jury of the World Report Award lauded it as “a tableau of Afghan society in its multiple nuances, everyday life of a country that was able to keep its culture alive together with a flicker of normality in the midst of a devastating conflict. Ten years of war are told with a profound vision and the capacity for empathy managing to present the complete Afghan reality in its contradictory nature, a nature that oscillates between a profound desperation to a likewise extreme beauty.”
“The work surpasses the classic development of a reportage story and instead is an account of an entire civilization,” the jury declared.
“Although I have spent my entire professional life traveling from one conflict zone to another,” Saeedi said about the collection, “in the past year, for this project, I have focused exclusively on the men and women whose lives have been crushed by the war in Afghanistan, a country I have been visiting for over a decade… I could never find out how much the portentous, traumatic passage of life has hurt these peoples’ lives, as they have always remained impassive in front of my camera. I am very much interested to know how the viewer feels when seeing my images. The main question I have had during these years is: what have these wars achieved? Every time I see a young Afghan boy or girl in the streets, as unhappy as European children are happy, the question rings in my head.”
When news of his most recent award was announced, IranWire spoke to Saeedi about his life and his photography.
Your collection “Life in War” has been quite the success. Why did you go to Afghanistan and not elsewhere?
The Getty Images photo agency suggested several countries, of which Iraq and Afghanistan were definitely the most dangerous. I could have gone to safer places like Lebanon or Dubai, but I chose Afghanistan because I felt the culture was closer to the Iranian culture.
I’d travelled to Afghanistan a few times before and obviously having lived in Iran, I’d grown up with Afghan refugees and therefore felt I could understand them better.
Are you still living in Afghanistan?
No, I went back to Tehran several months ago. I felt like my work in Afghanistan was finished, at least for the time being. I’d experienced a long period of hardship and felt physically tired in body and mind so wanted to experience life differently for a while.
How did you come up with the idea of “Life in War”?
Well, the collection is the outcome of five difficult years in my life. It’s a vast collection broken up into small chapters, each 20 or 30 photos long, covering various subjects such as conditions for women in Afghanistan or the rights of children. The final product was “Life in War” and I wanted people to remember the photos from the past five years under that title alone.
Is the collection known under the same name in Italy?
Yes. Part of the collection will be exhibited there when I receive the award.
Was it this same collection that also got you awarded the 2014 FotoEvidence Book Award?
As I mentioned earlier the collection consists of various sections and photographs and so part of it won the book award, another part won the World Press award and other sections were selected by UNICEF.
How do you feel about being such an international success?
Wanting fame is an integral part of any artistic work. Artists the world over, and actually in different fields as well, showcase their art in the hope of getting noticed. At the beginning I loved my successes; they served as an antidote to the pain, bitterness and violence I saw as a photojournalist. But now, to tell the truth, it doesn’t excite me in the same way that it excites my friends and other people.
Maybe something inside me is telling me that turning the suffering of others into an exhibition is not a valid reason to be happy.
Majid Saeedi is featured in IranWire's Journalism is Not a Crime project, which highlights the cases of jailed journailsts in Iran.