Facets Of Iran - Exhibition Berlin

Facets of Iran - Exhibition at Somos Berlin

Can we meet others as people and not projections of our romantic notions or our worst nightmares?

This exhibition reflects the experiences of 3 people with distinct impressions of a shared place and time. 

Utilising our combined tools of photography, filmmaking, anthropology, and material art, our work represents glimpses into the richness and diversity of Iranian people and their environment.

We have stepped away from the de-humanising geopolitical headlines to show a Western audience more nuanced and intimate perspectives of the Iranian people.

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Everyone is a photographer

The more I travel the more I see people taking photographs of not just themselves, but also each other, historic sites, their food and anything else that catches their eye. This in itself is not unusual, and after all I do the same, but what is escalating beyond any sense of proportion is the sheer scale of it.

And this is not something that is limited to Western or developed countries. This impulse is universal and perhaps nothing else in the modern era un masks the sameness of every human on the planet. Culture, religion, wealth, class, age, none of these things matter when it comes to joining in with the taking photos obsession. The sight of someone taking tourist snaps of themselves has become so common place that it's hardly even noticed by other people.

Tourist doing a selfie of himself with statue looking over his shoulder.

The most recent development of these compulsions is the 'selfie'. Now there is no need to ask a passer by to take a photo for you. You are your own photographer, art director and editor. There seems to be no limit to the lengths people will go to get the shot, often putting many a hard working photojournalist to shame.

The selfie stick is an added incarnation of this craze, allowing everyone to artfully pose themselves in front of any scene or event. This innocuous piece of equipment has become quite divisive though and many profess to dislike the proliferation. This has reached a kind of angst among some people who complain about 'their' view being ruined by phones, attached to poles, prodding up in to the sky in front of them.

A couple taking a selfie on a beach in Italy

It's hard to analyse the universal popularity of all of this. I suspect a strong narcissistic element to much of it but there seems to be more to it than that. What does everyone do with their images? Mostly, it would seem, to gather social reinforcement and validation by sharing the shots through social media. There does seem to be an element of societal belonging, as though you didn't really go to where you said you did without the required proof.

However, like all good photographers, many seem to simply enjoy the process of image making. Taking photos is a fun thing to do. It can also be a kind of mediative undertaking, which is after all, what draws many photographers to pursue the craft seriously. There is another element that I've observed and it is less sinister than the usual commentary around photo proliferation and that is that many people do seem to have a genuine and quite sincere desire to share their experiences. The modern day version of choosing a postcard and writing 'Wish you were here' and posting it back home. Most of us have a rush of excitement at seeing somewhere new and we often think of someone else who would love to have felt that same feeling by being there with us.

A woman taking a photo of woman taking a photo

There are hundreds of millions of photos being uploaded to sharing sites every day. I don't know how many of those get seen compared to how many just drift off in to cyber space, like a satellite knocked of course drifting aimlessly around in orbit. Perhaps that's not the point. Perhaps they don't need to be seen, just like no one (mostly) keeps every single thing they're ever written down, no one really has the intention of keeping every image they make.

As a photographer, I found all of this quite irritating at first. The ability to compose and create images of popular travel locations is difficult with dozens of people all doing the same thing in front of you. However, photographing the photographers proved to be more interesting. There is something intriguing, and even amusing, to watch people who are free of preconceptions marching around a historic site snapping away as though there is no one else there.

A man in a suit with a selfie stick

It looks like we are entering a new era of self awareness. The universally popular past time of people watching has now come to include watching ourselves watching people and recording the act of it. A friend can be on a trip on the other side of the planet and you are treated to a steady stream of reference shots of every twist and turn of the trip, almost in real time. For the most part they're, as they've always been, uninspiring and of little interest to anyone else, but now again there is a great shot that gives a sudden pang of wishing you were there!

Tourists photographing mirrors in a shrine in Iran.

One thing is for sure, this craze doesn't seem to be abating and if you can't beat them, join them!

See more images from the project here.

Inside Iran

Nowhere else has such a stark difference between its international persona and the people you meet as does Iran. Walking around the streets of Tehran or Shiraz feels more like being in Europe than the Middle East. For the series Inside Iran I spent 2 weeks travelling around the country, meeting people, seeing ancient sites and witnessing the Shia celebration of Hussein.

Old man selling flowers in Esphahan, Iran

The country is an enticing mix of ancient sites, modern development, conservative Islam and Western aspirations.

Go as far as you can see and when you get there you'll be able to see further. Persian Proverb.

Camel being prepared for sacrifice at Ashura celebration in Yazd, Iran

Ashura celebrates the death of Hussein, the most revered figure in Shia Islam.

A young boy watching an Ashura procession.

From the choking streets of Tehran to the quiet calm of the old city of Yazd.

Wandering the alleys and passage ways of Yazd.

The country is changing. The people are changing. In history there has always been change in Persia and now as modern day Iran, it continues.

Conservative and liberal.

See the full gallery here.

Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine, National Park must be Eden on earth for landscape photography. I first went here in 2009 and was captivated by the whole region.

Many people are confused about 'what is Patagonia?' It's a vast area of wilderness land mostly in Argentina but also in Chile. Actually, the Chile parts of Patagonia are some of the most stunning, mostly because of the mountainous influence on the landscape. This is the tail of end of the Andes and the infamous granite massifs, that are so iconic. Patagonia was a favourite of Galen Rowel (whose work inspired me to go there) and many others have lost themselves in the natural beauty.

It's incredible watching the morning light bathe the sides of the mountain in soft coloured light, which causes the granite to glow golds and yellows. Lots of places have gorgeous light but it is different here.

Patagonia is also the destination of one of our Creative Trails trips, which you can find out more about here.. Come along in November if you fancy sampling it for yourself.

Mountains of Torres Del Paine in Patagonia. This surreal shot was taken at first light in the national park, Chile.

Old Man Of The White Desert

Some places are just more photogenic than others. While it's true that you can take a great photos just about anywhere, there is without doubt, some environments that make life so much easier. One such place is the White Desert in Egypt.

The bizarre rock formation that looks like a human head!

The bizarre rock formation that looks like a human head!

This one of the most interesting of what are generally known as the 'mushroom rocks'. The white desert is, rather oddly, right next to the black desert. Getting there takes a bit of determination although the main highways in Egypt are usually in good condition.

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Toy Train Darjeeling

Darjeeling is home to the famed Toy Train or more accurately, The Darjeeling Himalaya Railway (DHR). This fascinating train is little changed from when it was originally created in the late 1800's. Confusingly, there are two trains that run on the line that extends from New Jalipuguri in the south to Darjeeling in the north. The first is a diesel powered commuter train that runs the whole distance (or rather, it did, the line has been closed south of Kurseong for some years due to a land slide). The second is a steam powered train that runs back and forth from Darjeeling to Ghum, several times a day.

What makes a trip on this train so interesting is that for most of the journey, it rumbles along the old Hill Cart Road, sometimes only inches from buildings on one side and passing traffic on the other.

Originally built by the British, to transport tea and other goods from the hill station of Darjeeling, the railway was an incredible feat of engineering. The narrow gauge track of only 2 feet was carved out of the hilly terrain and included multiple loops and switch backs. It has hardly changed to this day. The service is maintained by a dedicated workforce who run and maintain the antique trains and track.

The original line was opened in 1881 and the lineclimbs from NJP, at around 100 metres, up to Darjeeling at around 2,200 metres. The section from Ghum, is the most spectacular. The train blows its whistle almost constantly, in an attempt to give itself a clear run among all the obstacles. There are also some fantastic views across the lower Himalayas en route.

Besides a stop for water, shortly after leaving Darjeeling, the train also takes a rest at the Batasia loop, around half way. This has a well manicured garden and great views. Price for the train cost 270 rupees for a return trip Darjeeling - Ghum. Tickets are available at the station in Darjeeling but it's advisable to book a few days in advance as there are only two carriages and they are often full. The ride is popular with Indian tourists as well as foreigners. A round trip takes around four hours. Just be careful not to confuse this train with the regular diesel service. As fun as that is, it's not quite in the same league as sitting behind a puffing and panting Victorian steam engine rattling along the road at what feels like a break neck pace.

The engine driver and his accomplices are forever making adjustments and twiddling with levers and taps. There seems to be a long and well rehearsed ritual to coax the engine in to the right mood for its job. When it pulls out of the station at Darjeeling and crosses the road to the other side, it starts making so much noise it feels more like sitting in a dragon than in small train. Nevertheless, in true Indian fashion, it somehow makes its way along and after a while you stop holding your breath every time the engine scrapes by a car, or house, or pedestrian. It's huge fun and I hope it continues running for another 130+ years.

Keeping the fire stoked. There always seems as though there is something to do to keep a steam train running! Finally, if you do make it here and decide to have a ride, make sure you allow enough time to get a cup of tea from the tea stall at Darjeeling station. It's the best you can find and perfect for fending off the chilly high altitude air.