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Photographs of Iran and Afghanistan 1973-74
[This essay is courtesy of Scott Wyatt, whose work is also featured today in a “Now & Then” Postscript that showcases his July 26, 1970, photos of Jimi Hendrix in concert at Sicks Stadium, the rock guitarist’s last Seattle show. Hendrix died less than two months later, on Sept. 18.]
By Scott Wyatt
I got my first 35mm camera in 1967 and fell in love with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” street photography. I took my Nikkormat with me everywhere, including the Hendrix concert at Sicks Stadium in 1970. Not much later, I was studying Edward Weston’s work and other larger format photographers and ended up buying a Hasselblad (a larger, medium format camera). When Jenny and I joined the Peace Corps in 1973 and went to Iran, I packed the Hasselblad too.
Well, Iran is no Point Lobos, and photographing peppers was missing the incredible opportunity in front of me. Iran is a rugged country with beautiful people and some magnificent architecture. So, back to street photography for me …. with a slow, clumsy Hasselblad!
It turns out, I think, that the medium format was perfect for portraits of Iranians in their surroundings and their architecture.
The sidewalks of Iranian towns and cities (sometimes just a dirt extension of the roadway) were magical. So much life and interaction. The sidewalk community would have made Jane Jacobs smile ear to ear.
A typical street would have bread shops next to the shop making shoes and buckets from old rubber tires, next to a yogurt shop, next to a shop selling live turkeys, and on and on. Sidewalk sitters everywhere. Stop and have tea and chat.
Hot from the oven, best bread I ever tasted. Many of our dinners (countless) were composed of one of these flat breads and a large bowl of yogurt. In the photo was our favorite, Nan-E Barbari.
Here is a different kind of “street” photographer. He would open and close the “lens” with his hands (shutter). The “film” was a positive paper. Developed with chemicals under a blanket while-you-wait. All for 7 cents. Jenny and I still have the photo of us he took.
We took our first New Year’s vacation (Iranian New Year is the first day of spring) and traveled to Afghanistan for three weeks. Farsi is also the language in Afghanistan. We each had a small backpack. My cameras and film pretty much took up the whole pack.
We traveled by train, bus, and hitchhike. Our Iranian friends told us that we should go to Afghanistan to see what Iran was like 40 years ago (now 90 years ago). It was the trip of a lifetime: spectacular sights and amazing people. We almost died from food poisoning and came back with some nasty parasites. Worth it, I think.
I took this photo of money changers in Kandahar, a tough town even in 1973. Happy to get out alive.
The religious architecture in Iran is second to none. You can get religion just by being in one of these great mosques. Isfahan has some of the best, still standing architecture thanks to being less prone to earthquakes.