Reza: Bearing Witness To War And Peace Reza Deghati is considered among the world's great photojournalists. He has traveled the globe for nearly 30 years, bearing witness to wars, unrest, great leaders and the courage of ordinary people trapped by history.
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Reza: Bearing Witness To War And Peace

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Reza: Bearing Witness To War And Peace

Reza: Bearing Witness To War And Peace

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Reza Deghati is one of the world's great photojournalists. Reza has traveled the globe for nearly 30 years, bearing witness to wars, unrest, great leadership, and the courage of ordinary people trapped by history. He has won countless awards working for publications that include National Geographic, Newsweek, and Time. His latest book is a retrospective of his life's work, drawing on his own tale of exile and giving voice to many of those he has met along the way, those without means or audience, who suffer from war and disaster. The book is titled "Reza War and Peace: A Photographer's Journey," and Reza joins us now from Stepbridge Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Reza, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. REZA DEGHATI (Photojournalist; Author): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You were trained as an architect. Tell us the story of how you became a photographer.

Mr. DEGHATI: Photography was my passion, my hobby. But those years, 40 years ago in Iran, photography was not an option for study or for working. So I start studying architecture, in the meantime continuously doing all kind of social photography. And at the end there was a day which changed the whole, my career. It was the day that I was staying in an office working with some friends in the city of Tehran, and I heard some demonstration against the shah. And this was in those days unbelievable. Nobody really thought that there would be demonstrations on the streets because the presence of the secret police and army was so strong during the shah that nobody would dare really.

So I came in front of the window watching this demonstration. Army jeeps came, surrounded the demonstrators. Soldiers came down. And they start shooting to this. They were students. And I saw one of them that was running. He had a camera, and he was taking pictures and running. This was a moment that really changed my life. And the day after, I was on the street starting photographing. And day after day, day after day I just forgot to return back to my office. And this was 30 years ago. I still haven't back to the office.

SIMON: Well, in fact, not only have you not been back to the office, but I guess this is as good a place to any as to mention the fact that you had to leave Iran, your country.

Mr. DEGHATI: I did. When I was a student, as an architect, and I was continuously trying to, you know, use photography as a vector(ph) of information, it was not possible really to show any things happening in Iran at the time. The old media and the TVs and radio, everything was under government control. And I was going taking pictures of the poverty around the city or villages. And nighttimes, I was putting those pictures hiddenly on the walls of the university. This was going on for a couple of years when the shah secret police finally find me and they arrest me. I was 22 years old at the time. And I had to remain three years in prison for those photographs that I have taken.

But, you know, you are 22 years old and you believe in what you have done and you believe that what you are doing is OK. And it didn't break me, this three years of prison, including five months of being in a small cell and being tortured day and night. And when I start the second part of photography, when after finishing architectures and the revolution happened, the regime has changed. And then I become a real photojournalist. And those pictures that start this time, it was not put on the university walls, but it was in the papers all over the world. It brought a real rush of the new regime and mullahs against me. And I had to flee Iran. I had to flee Iran in 1981. And I haven't returned back there.

SIMON: Can I get you to read a section from your book which is titled "Thoughts of an Exile".


(Soundbite of book "Thoughts of an Exile")

Mr. DEGHATI: (Reading) Within you remains the memory of your lost country, and you may feel disappointment in the land where you are now living, the country you thought would be your promised land and beyond it your way of being free. There remains, too, a feeling of mourning for your native land. This grief is always with you below the surface, but the longing for your homeland is called up even more acutely by a tangible reminder of your country — a familiar smell, a food that tastes like a dish back home, a countryside that evokes scenes from your childhood. You feel it as well when you hear someone speak your language and you hear once again the melody of your native tongue. For the exile, the joys of the present are full of memories of the past.

SIMON: Reza, do you think the fact that you're an exile, from Iran in your case, has given you a special connection with so many of the people you photographed over the years?

Mr. DEGHATI: It gives a totally different way of connection to the people I met. I understand also the suffering, and I understand when I am in refugee camps, when I photograph the refugees, I do understand who they are, I do understand their sufferings. And that's what you can see in my photographs.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a photograph which is even more startling now that I think when it was taken in the mid 1980s. That's Benazir Bhutto. She was running for office then. And there are people on roofs above her throwing down rose petals. And of course, it's just heartbreaking now to see these rose petals which now almost look like spots, splotches of blood. Could you tell us the story of how you came to take this photograph?

Mr. DEGHATI: When Benazir Bhutto returned back first times in '85, '86 - 1986 to Pakistan to start campaigning against Zia-ul-Haq. And I followed her for three months, nonstop. I was with her and right in her car a lot of times, or run and photographing and seeing the joy of the people that every place she was going, she was preaching democracy. And for me, a woman in a Muslim country preaching democracy, it was a real future.

When a few months ago, she returned back to Pakistan, I was going again to stay with her. And for some reason, I wasn't able to be on time. And this - when she was killed, I was really, really shocked, and big sorrow and pain on me. But when I heard the way that she was killed, and I looked to my photograph, I said, oh, my God, this is - when the explosion has gone off, it should be like the blood of all the people that going around her, and these roses that I have photographed became blood spots now.

SIMON: When you are being a photographer, is there a part of you that has to feel nothing when you're photographing the result of massacre, famine?

Mr. DEGHATI: I have never been in my life a moment that I feel nothings. Every times, every single works I do, every moment of my life, it's full of passion and love always. And many of my photographs that you see, believe me, I have taken with tears in my eyes. Some of them I haven't even seen if it's really focused or not, I just - because it was too much tear in my eyes.

SIMON: Reza, the famous photographer, his new retrospective chronicles 30 years of world conflict and his special eye on that. It's titled "Reza War and Peace: A Photographer's Journey." Reza, thank you so much.

Mr. DEGHATI: Thank you, Scott.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And to view a gallery of Reza's photographs taken over the years, you can visit our Web site, This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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