On the occasion of the forty years of the Islamic revolution, last year you reopened your archives for the book Iran, dreams and excesses, co-directed your brother Manoocher. How did you experience this plunge into this chaos?
With great pain, because the dream that the Iranian people had forty years ago – freedom, democracy, justice, what Iranians took to the streets and sacrificed for – has been sabotaged. When the revolution took place, they believed that they had reached their goal, but unfortunately, nothing changed: the Iranian people still live in misery. It was difficult to see these photographs again, which were the symbol of a momentum and a hope shattered by the Islamic and mafia regime of Iran.
The cover of this book is poignant with all these faces of veiled women on a black background, as if they represented small candles, lights in the darkness. Why this choice of illustration?
These women are prisoners, they suffered the worst tortures by the mullahs' regime, which used all means to make them repent. One day, my brother Manoocher managed to enter Evin prison, in Tehran, to photograph detained men and women – we see in their eyes and on their faces the traces of torture… This photo is the symbol of what Iran is today: a country over which a black veil has fallen. The women were doubly victimized by this regime, because, like all Iranians, they were taken hostage by the criminal groups linked to the power, but also because their feminine condition disqualified them, numerous laws prohibiting them to realize themselves as human beings.
Throughout your career as a photojournalist, you have crossed many fields of ruins to detect the slightest traces of humanity. How do you succeed in seeing the beauty in these horror scenes?
In poetry, in particular the works of the Persian poet Rumi, I find a strength, the means to have faith in man and in the future, because poetry represents pure beauty. She goes beyond words… She helps me a lot to read the wounded souls in the war zones and in the refugee camps that I have visited. No one emerges unscathed from these plunges into horror, means must be found to heal their bruised heart. But poetry does not only consist in the reading of a poem, it is present in nature, in painting, in a person's gaze... What is also important to underline is that despite the suffering experienced During these conflicts, something positive always emerges: giving a voice to those who have none. Finally, I am a kind of medium; I do not exist as me, but as a witness and spokesperson for those who are deprived of speech.
What do you think of this qualifier " war correspondent concerning you, you who, on the contrary, bear witness to life?
What I try to do with my photographs, even in the most difficult moments, when for example I can't see what I'm aiming at so much my eyes are misty with tears, is to show faces in the most human possible, the beauty that pierces in each of them. I want to bear witness to those who suffer, but also to give thanks to their humanity. I deeply believe that man, nature and animals are marvelous beings, they must be protected! Finally, I believe that we are all linked to each other, like the different parts of a table: if you remove one leg, it crumbles. The same goes for man and nature, you have to know how to respect their fragile balances. This is why I constantly try to bring these looks of love and benevolence into my works.
“Despite the suffering experienced during these conflicts, something positive always emerges: giving a voice to those who have none. Finally, I am a kind of medium; I do not exist as me, but as a witness, a spokesperson for those who are deprived of speech. »
Here you are applying the Buddhist concepts of compassion and benevolence. Is it a source of inspiration?
At the age of sixteen, I began to wonder about these questions. I studied the books of the main religions, attended rituals, but also dug into various spiritual thoughts, including Buddhism. I actually discovered it in 1995, while working on Buddhist art (Buddha's Brush) in caves in the mountains of Xinjiang province, the former Chinese Turkestan, where the Uyghurs currently live. I was able to enter and bear witness to one of the most marvelous sites of Buddhist art, almost unknown until then. This allowed me to come into contact with the man who was the Buddha, with his thoughts, his words, and realize that I shared many of his messages. The particularity of Buddhism is that it puts man at the center of society, much more than other religions, for which the latter is constantly under the gaze of some deity.
In 1989 in Paris, you photographed the XNUMXth Dalai Lama. What memories do you have of this meeting?
When you are a photographer and you are used to capturing the image of men, it is important to observe your subject, to read his gaze, before grabbing the camera. The Dalai Lama is an extremely important character that I was dying to meet, not only to photograph him, but also to try to get to know him. Finally, through this work on the gaze, the photographer becomes a sort of psychologist of humanity. With the Dalai Lama, something very strong happened, despite a fairly strict protocol. In the end, it was really him who read me. By his gaze, his handshake, his way of keeping it in his for a long time, then putting the second on mine... hit.
In his teachings, the Buddha insisted a lot on the importance of having one's own experiences and being in reality, not letting oneself be guided by one's projections, in order to be able to act. What inspires you?
I have been going into the field for forty years to be as close as possible to reality, to what I see, to what surrounds me. I have subscribed to this Buddhist discourse for forty years, without knowing it… As soon as I hear a story, I question it until I have gone there to interview the protagonists. Because behind every story there are always other stories to unravel.
If you had to take a photo to illustrate your vision of Buddhism, what would it be?
This would be the next shot, a photo that I have to “find”, not necessarily in a Buddhist country, but with this spiritual thought in mind. As during my immersion in these Buddhist caves, where I spent fabulous moments after three years of research and negotiation with the Chinese authorities, because I found myself faced with works dated from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century made by the greatest painter monks of the time, the Michelangelo, da Vinci, Chagall or Picasso of the region. There is a photo that remains dear to my heart and which symbolizes, in my eyes, what Buddhism is: that of a hand placed on the head of a character.