Reza: Resistance and Resilience

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Portrait of a photojournalist who tracks down and reveals beauty in conflict zones. A correspondent not of war, but of life.

Two black marbles burn under the eyelashes in a circumflex accent and light up a piercing gaze. We detect a trait of benevolence, a way of welcoming his interlocutor with a smile. When he plunges his eyes into yours, Reza seems to decipher you with open heart and book. He is seated in front of one of his famous photos, showing four children mimicking the photographer, their hands rounded as lenses. A mise en abîme to illustrate damaged existences. He is called a "war correspondent", but Reza Deghati swears by the buds of life that emerge from the ashes of the devastated cities he has surveyed for forty years.

It is customary to say that photographers take pictures, but do not write captions. This is not the case of Reza, who testifies to the madness of men, by posing a humanist gaze. Incendiary reports on glossy paper. Reza's personal portfolio is a fresco engraving horror in black and white, seeking light in flesh colors. If a tear, a haggard look or a ruin speaks for itself, Reza always places a touch of hope in the panorama.

to be accountable, to be accountable

Born in Tabriz, Iran, in 1952, the young Reza is wary of the paternal camera, a "torture device" remembers the one who then posed with his brothers and sisters facing the sun and had to smile without closing his eyes despite the 'glare. He changes his point of view on this object of misfortune after reading an editorial: "I was a subscriber to the only science magazine for children, The Scientist, the Iranian equivalent of Science & Junior Life. I received it every month, it was my dose of oxygen! In 1965, a paper marked me; it evoked photography and the use of images in the XNUMXst century. At the bottom of the article, it was written that “the illiterate of the XNUMXst century would be those who cannot read photography”. It changed my life! »

At the same time, the young boy witnessed a shocking scene at the gates of his school: “A beggar's child, barefoot, tried to enter, but the guard and the other kids pushed him out. He would cry, screaming that he just wanted to "see what a school was like." We were the same age, nine to ten. I had intervened to ask them to let him pass, but in response, I took blows. I was so stunned by this situation that I went to see the director and then the parents of the other students to tell them about the violence of this scene and the misery of this child rejected by society. Their only reaction was to tell me: “When you grow up, you will understand”. Since then, Reza has been searching for his own answers through the viewfinder.

He discovers the "field" at the age when his little comrades swear by those of football. “At sixteen, I had already suffered reprisals from the secret police following the publication of certain articles in my newspaper. ledge (The Flight). At twenty-two, I was then imprisoned and tortured, for three years; I rubbed shoulders with death, in short I quickly witnessed the violence of men. On his release from prison, the young man gave up on becoming an architect and launched himself into photojournalism in 1979, covering the Islamic Revolution for the agency Sipa-Press and the magazine Newsweek. His work forced him into exile in Paris in 1981. From there, he traveled the planet freely and multiplied his humanitarian commitments.

In 1983, the photoreporter took on the role of consultant to the United Nations Organization in Afghanistan, in a program of reconstruction and aid to the population in the northern provinces of the country. Then, in 1991, he joined the editorial staff of National Geographic to testify through his reports and 25 covers of a chaotic world. A year later, he co-founded the Webistan agency with his wife Rachel. In 2001, the war correspondent launched his NGO Aina, in Kabul, right in the middle of the Afghan powder keg. Its goal: to train young people and women in the image and techniques of the media to enable them to free themselves from the dictates of the Taliban and become, in turn, chroniclers of society. More than ever, Reza is a man in the field who acts on a daily basis.

Reza, the Dalai Lama and Juliette Récamier

Shooter. Machine gun. Walk to the sound of the Cannon. On the scenes of war, the jargon of the photojournalists rustles with a strange echo. While many people use burst mode to capture the moment, to capture live, Reza likes to take some distance, use the large focal length, to seek perspective. He explained it in the note of intent of his book Further on Earth. “Telling a country in pictures means trying to put yourself in the place of those who live there, to better understand, while maintaining the distance required to testify”.

“Few people have this ability of the Dalai Lama to see through and understand the person in front of him. »

From Iranian jails to refugee camps in Rwanda or Iraqi Kurdistan, from the Afghan mountains alongside Commander Massoud to the favelas of Buenos Aires, the unblinkered photo-reporter tracks down the slightest traces of humanity. During his exhibition Cross Destinies, at the Luxembourg Gardens in 2003, Reza explained that “my images do not only tell the sad observation of mutilated lives. If they are witnesses, they tend to show the smile behind the tears, the beauty behind the tragedy, life stronger than death. Seeing with compassion, witnessing with benevolence, Reza illustrates Buddhist concepts in his own way. Moreover, the message of the Buddha will resonate strongly in him, when in 1995, within the framework of work on Buddhist art, he manages to penetrate the caves of the mountains of the province of Xinjiang, the former Chinese Turkestan, after three negotiations with Beijing. Inside, the photographer marvels at the frescoes made between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries by painter monks, retracing the life of the Buddha. He reveals these caves – inaccessible since the Communist Revolution and located in the kingdom of Kucha, a place of pilgrimage which played a major role in the diffusion of Buddhism from Central Asia to China – to the eyes of the whole world in his book. Buddha's Brush. The paths between the one who affirms that his "only religion is photography" and Buddhism will not stop crossing. In 1996, Reza draws the portrait of the monks of Angkor, in Cambodia; ten years later, he went to Bamiyan, where the three statues of Buddha were destroyed by the Taliban at the end of 2001. Finally, on April 21, 1989, he met the XIVth Dalai Lama in a Parisian hotel. He still marvels at the memory of this “very strong” session, where I felt he was reading me. Few people have this ability to see through and understand the person facing them. He smiles shyly when we talk about his famous shot for which the Dalai Lama poses under a painting representing Juliette Récamier, an XNUMXth century French woman of letters who gave her name to the couches of that time, represented in… scantily clad. “A simple coincidence, I did not choose the setting for this session. Moreover, when I photograph, I always stay focused on the person, not on what is happening around, "concludes Reza, the portrait painter who triggers in full consciousness.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

Leave comments