My hair in the wind

You can’t lose what you don’t have

These pictures are my homework in the distant days, are my efforts and experiences at the very beginning of my path, at the time when I didn’t know what a ‘good’ picture is and what a photographic view is, from what and why and how I should take photo, a sort of confusion that I have seen in most of the people who have just started photography.
Today, when I look at these photos as a professional photographer, I see them not just as authentic evidence but also as photographically correct photos and I want them to be seen as my very first photos. It might be also a fillip for those who are at the beginning of the way, those whom I see myself in them and they are my continuation.
These pictures belong to the good days. The days when my brain was not filled with pictures and memories. The days when I had just owned an astonishing tool so called ‘camera’ and I wanted to see the world through its tiny window. The days when for me, pictures were lives of the moments and not their death.
The days when I had happy and beautiful images in my head. The days when the air was still clean, and when I knew who lives in the first tree in the forest, where the red mushroom has grown and the days that I would count the rain drops.
The days when it was the beginning of achievements, and losings were not there yet and I still did not have any image of them.
These pictures are from the days when my head was still not filled with images of killings and injustice. The days when I had no image of dusty and bloody Syrian children, when my head was not filled with images of gallows, and I still hadn’t seen pictures of the drowned refugees. The days when my head was not filled with images of skinned animals and burned forests. The days when I still didn’t have a clear picture of death, war and injustice. Although when I look at these pictures today, I see the poverty and the injustice, but those days I was inexperienced and hopeful.
These pictures belong to the good days, when I didn’t know the death, when my dad’s love was my anchor and I was overwhelmed with my mother’s affection, without even thinking about it and I thought it is everlasting. My dear brother was next to me, telling me about fighting and art, and I thought it is everlasting. My oldest and youngest sisters, who were my childhood playmates and then later on my photo models, were next to me. I never knew that I am going to have the images of their deaths in my head, and how fortunate I was not to know that.
When I obtained my diploma in Gorgan and got accepted into Law and Politics at University of Tehran, I was very upset that I have to leave my town Gorgan. I went to a friend of mine, Farzin Maghsoudloo, who we looked-alike a lot, and I told her to bring her camera (I still didn’t have a camera back then) and take pictures of me in all corners of my home, bedroom, on the trees, and with the cats and the pigeons so I can have them as mementos. We were both young and jolly. I didn’t know that I, the one without the camera, will become a photographer and my kind and beautiful friend will have a sad destiny. On that day I had no image of her death in my head.
On 1969, my brother, Nader, bought me a single-lens Ricoh camera. I can’t exactly remember whether I asked him to, or he bought me as a gift, but in any case I had got a camera. By then, I had no special interest toward photography and I had never really paid any attention to it. I cannot remember at all why this camera was bought; maybe there is something called fate!
I was studying at the university and was living together with Nader in Tehran in Amirabad Street. But I was still missing Gorgan, my green, damp, beloved childhood city greatly. I used to take any chance to visit Gorgan. When I was there, it was even better for taking pictures and I could find better subjects for my photography. Most of the holidays and of course the summer I would take a bus or a train to Gorgan. My father was always waiting for me in front of our door. When I would turn into our alley I would see him in front of the door, wearing a white undershirt, his glasses on his head, smoking a cigarette while standing under the sweet-smelling jasmines hanging from our wall, waiting for me.
On that day, I could not understand how magnificent he is and how much he loves my sisters and me. He used to hold my sisters in his arms while laying them on his sides, and me on his chest and he would say: Maryam is my crown princess.
I wish I could, with my current understanding and consciousness, hold him just for a moment and devote all my love and appreciation to him. Once I heard him saying: “if I had a son, he would keep my name alive”. I wish he was still alive to see how I have kept his name alive more than any ordinary son.
We had several bitter orange and mirabelle plum trees in our garden. Even if the fruit picking season was over, he would still keep few of them on the trees, until I go to Gorgan and he would say: “I have kept these for you to come and pick them yourself”.
My father had 30 hectares agricultural land in Shirang village, about 40 km away from Gorgan. He, along with his partner Mr Banaei, used to plant cotton in there. The workers, who were working on the field, were mostly ‘zaboli’ people and they have moved from Zabol – a city in south of Iran – to Gorgan. They were living in several thatched huts next to the farm. My father’s partner used to also live there with his family for couple of years. Some of the pictures in this book are from these people and this place.
Since I was about ten years old, I used to go to the farm with my father and play with Mr Banaei’s and zaboli kids, in dirt and dust, and among cotton bushes and watermelons. I have beautiful memories from those days. So when I owned a camera, I tried to reflect some of them in pictures, I never knew it will be for today and for this book!
I took photos from kinds who were my playmates, from baluch and zaboli women who were doing needlework and I would sit and watch them for hours, from cotton and wheat farms under the sun, from waterfalls of hanging cottons, from watermelons which had become so hot under the sun that we would just break them to eat its sweetest core, from tiny green corns that we would pick from their stalk and eat, from hot breads right out of furnace with local honey, from grasshoppers imprisoned in glass jars!
There was an odd seesaw made by the kids out of a huge tree trunk, which could turn so fast. Every time that I would visit the farm, I would fall down of this seesaw and would go back home with injured hands and legs, but still I wanted to try it every single time.
I took my first ever portraits from the cotton picking farmers and zaboli families (pages 16-40, 44). The camera was so new and unfamiliar to them and they never showed any reactions, maybe they even didn’t know what I was doing, or maybe just because I was the boss’s daughter they wouldn’t say anything!
But they were always calm and smiling. They never turned their faces away from me and they never wanted to see their pictures.
From time to time, I would ask my father to take me to public places such as hospitals, cotton factory or so to take pictures. The photos on pages 46 and 48, I think are from the very first roll of negatives that I took while travelling.
The photo that made me a photographer; was the photo taken from ‘Ali the dog-lover’, in one of my trips to Gorgan in 1969.
Following the announcement of Animal Protection Organization, which I was also a member, regarding a photo competition for their journal, along with my youngest sister, we went to an almost dried out river close to Gorgan and we found Ali the dog-lover.
Dog-lover, was a title given by the kids, because he had gathered many dogs in that area and he used to feed them. I took couple of photos from him and his dogs in his home.
I also sent one of these photos (page 134) to the National Art and Culture Photo Competition, in 1969, and I won the first prize, which was 25 golden coins. I think this achievement was a great motivation for me.
Exposure and development of my photos, was like unwrapping a delicious chocolate that was in your pocket for some time. Whenever I was back to Tehran, I would take my film negatives to Photo Waheh, in Istanbul Street. Mr Waheh was Armenian and I was told he is one of the best in developing and printing photos. I became his customer. I would hand him over all the negatives and in couple of days I would go back to get them all printed in small sizes. On those days I didn’t know how to make a contact print, and probably neither did Mr Waheh. I was a student and the costs of films and their development was a big deal to me. Especially, since I liked to print some of them in a larger size. I still have the prints of Mr Waheh.
Whenever I was going to get back my photos from Mr Wahe, it was like I was going to take an exam (although I was always an honour student) or as if I was going on a date to see my lover after thousands years of being apart! My heart was pounding, I was so excited and nervous, until I get to his studio and make sure that all that I had taken photos of, are now printed and in my hands. And eventually I got addicted to this.
In 1969 I finished my Bachelor degree with Dr Motamed Nejad in field of sociology. My thesis was on a study about the Iran’s Turkmen which was the first ever sociological study on them. I thought it might be a good idea to add few photos to my thesis as well. Since my childhood I had travelled quite often with my father to Turkmen desert and places where the Turkmen lived; Gonbad, Gomishan, Aqghala , Turkmen Harbor,… . The kind and nice Turkmen people were no stranger to me, but photography was. I went to the Turkmen residential areas and took many photos. In 1983, the photos were published as a book, which is my first ever photo book, and first book about the Iran’s Turkmen and first photographic ethnology book published in Iran.
In 1983, when I was laid off from Iran’s Radio and TV, they gave me 700,000 Rial for all the years which I had worked there. I spent all that money to publish my ‘the Turkmen and the Plain’ book in 3000 copies.
Due to my lack of experience, and having no advice or mentor for publishing such a book, the publishing quality of the book turned poor. At that time there was also no advertisements, social networks and etc. Therefore, the books were not sold, except for very few copies, and eventually I threw out the rest! Since the photos in the book were really good and I liked to re-publish them with a higher quality and a better design, some of the photos in this book are taken from the ‘the Turkmen and the Plain’ book and some are from the photos that I took later on (pages 50 – 132) and at my publisher’s suggestion we decided to also re-publish the ‘the Turkmen and the Plain’ introduction which was written by Nader Ebrahimi, because they read as if they are written today and not 35 years ago.
I think it was in 1971, when my father travelled to Japan and United States to introduce and talk about his important and novel invention to the Shell Company. He had invented a pesticide against spiny cotton bollworm, which is a very dangerous and wide spread cotton plants’ pest. I asked him to bring me back a camera.
My knowledge was quite limited about photography (and I’m still learning) at that time. There was hardly any magazine or material about photo and photography. I did not know any photographer. I just kept taking photos.
I was not familiar with cameras. I don’t know how and why I asked for a Canon non-reflex camera with a fixed lens. I even didn’t know the difference between a reflex and non-reflex camera. I ordered this camera because of its lens which its diaphragm size was less than 1 (0.95), and I thought it is the best! I should say, this the lens with which I went to the first Shiraz Art Festival, on behalf of the Television, and at night and with low light, I could take pictures better than everyone else and the next day in the newsletter, only my photos were printed. Being non-reflex was a disadvantage. I was sent to the ‘2,500 year celebration of the Persian Empire’ among other photographers at the very last moment, with lots of difficulties and without official outfit. When I was taking photos a foreign photographer told me: Ma’am, your camera’s strap is in front of your lens! I was so embarrassed.
Today, after almost fifty years of photography, which feels like yesterday, when I close my eyes, I see everything as a photo. Sometimes I remember some places and events only through the visor of my camera, when I take my eye away from it, I can’t remember any more. Now when I go through my photos, I realize that people have always grabbed my attention, and I have always focused on people and their interactions in the society.
As I said, these photos are from the good days. The days of pocket money and being a student. The days of rainy Gorgan and cotton farms under the sun. The days of zaboli women and seesaw out of tree trunk. It is like I was in a different plant. Only with these photos I believe that all this has happened. If we don’t remember our memories, it is like they have never happened. Photos help us to not forget our memories or better remember them.
These photos are from good days that are getting further and further, and dearer. But I can still clearly see my father standing under the Jasmines waiting for me. Waiting for his crown princess.