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Unveiling Iran

Young Iranian photographer Mojgan Razzaghi says that our notions about West Asian women could do with some rethink

— Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

Mojgan Razzaghi: `Every little walk in India presents so many opportunities for a photographer.' — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

"YOU CAN'T believe all that newspapers and magazines write," says Mojgan Razzaghi. "People say all kinds of things about India too. And I have discovered that all of it is not true in my one-and-a-half-year stay in this country."

You gather that the young Iranian photographer has been asked this question — "Are Iranian women allowed to become photographers?!" — umpteen times before. And Mojgan, in her Persian-touched English (a language she has picked up in the course of her stay here) tries to dispel some of these stereotypes about women from West Asia.

Not all cooped up

"Yes, we have to cover our hair in public and alcohol is prohibited in the country. But it's not as if women stay cooped up in their homes in Iran," she says, her gestures speaking more eloquently than the words. She talks about the university in Teheran from where she graduated, where a number of women study photography, graphics, and a host of other disciplines. She reels out names of Iranian women filmmakers, photographers, and artists to prove her point.

But you persist in your line of argument and ask if it hasn't been bad for women after the Shah regime was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. You wonder if Iran isn't a country torn between West's tireless tirade against West Asia and its own conservative clergy. Refusing to be drawn into this debate, Mojgan says with all the vehemence she can gather: "I hate politics... Politics is dirty all around the world. Every war is a game in politics and power. Ordinary people suffer in all this."

And it is ordinary people who are the focus of Mojgan's works currently on display at Alliance Francaise (Exposure, till December 15).

Her stark and striking pictures of children, women, underprivileged people at work and so on capture facets of everyday life. A tired child asleep on his book, a fisherman who seems caught in his own net, children peeping through the chinks in a worn-out and grainy wooden slats, and just the eye of veiled woman against an overwhelming black background are some images that stay in one's mind.

"I don't believe in making people pose. I talk to peopl and make them comfortable so that they no longer need to pose before me," says Mojgan. She confesses she is partial to manual cameras ("where the camera belongs to you and not the other way round") and black-and-whites ("I feel I can express myself better in them.").

Some of Mojgan's landscapes are also quite overwhelming, playing up several moods (from absolute calm to impending storm), textures, and colours of nature. The only "obviously political" picture on display shows some strewn banners at a row of feet. We learn that Mojgan hasn't displayed this picture in her own country.

Colours of India

Mojgan has been taking pictures while in India and it's the colours here that are "driving her crazy". "Nowhere else in the world have I seen so many colours," she says. "Every little walk presents so many opportunities for a photographer, it's such an animated country!"

She hopes to put together a show of her Indian pictures when she returns to Iran in July next. Her special area of focus will be women, as it has always been. Art pictures of women, hinting at their psychological sufferings, occupy a good section of her ongoing exhibition. "Women all around the world are fighting, aren't they?" she asks. Pointing to the shawl she has draped around her stylish sleeveless top for the photo shoot, Mojgan adds: "This is the last of our problems."


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