Anti-government graffiti, scribbled out and signed “death to Israel”.
Category Archives: Photography
© William Yong, 2009
© William Yong, 2009
© William Yong, 2008
It had been a while since I’d taken my camera into the city. I was in a good mood after getting paid 200 bucks for 2 hours of voice work so I left the studio on foot, trying to keep my visual filters at bay and just let the streets speak to me.
Sometimes I think my Tehran pictures are excessively two-dimensional and lack depth. The streets gave me a clue as to why that might be. Walking forwards and back, turning 90 degrees to cross – no doubt city streets have the power to impose their geometry on where you point your camera.
Another constant theme in Tehran is the unwanted attention that cameras tend to draw. It’s almost unconscious for me now to swing my camera to the opposite shoulder when I see a police car. It was something I hadn’t foreseen before I bought my DSLR. When I have my zoom lens on I definitely get more questions and looks than with my little 50mm prime.
So I’ve adopted certain guerrilla tactics – keeping my weapon concealed behind my arm before stopping suddenly to point, shoot and make a clean getaway – all in a matter of seconds. I’ve certainly learned the benefits of getting light settings right in advance since stopping too long to readjust multiplies the chances of getting someone on your case exponentially.
But yesterday, happily, the rules seemed to be in reverse. As I passed the Interior Ministry, my sensors began to flash amber as usual. Anywhere near a government building is after all, the worst possible place to be caught pointing a lens. A safe distance away I was shooting the pattern of some creepers on a concrete wall when I heard the excited voices of three young women from a car behind me.
“Hey Mr. Photographer, take OUR picture!”
Spinning on my heel I got off three shots which came out useless and blurry in the rush but it was well worth it for the squeals of delight from the car as it drove away. That was all I needed to put me on track. I was now in the mood.
Not long after, I was shooting the opposite side of the street when again I heard a voice calling me from behind, this time a man who sounded like he had a point to make. I girded myself for a confrontation.
Instead, he said to me in a matter-of-fact way, “If you’re going to take pictures, take a picture of this.”
The man, middle-aged, thankfully not in uniform, motioned for me to look at an electricity routing box which had been prised open, exposing bare wires, presumably packing a high-voltage punch if a stray hand touched them.
“Look at that… I had to remove a dead rat from that box – all dried up it was. A child could get killed.”
Impressed by his sense of civic duty I didn’t ask why he’d taken it upon himself to remove electrocuted rodents from municipal facilities – himself risking death by electrocution. I told him I thought the gaping box did look very dangerous and that I would certainly send a copy of my picture to the Tehran mayor (a certain Baqer Ghalibaf – tipped to follow his predecessor, Mahmud Ahmedinejad’s footsteps and become Iran’s next President.)
Further up the road, my beloved Vali Asr maple trees – Tehran’s seasonal barometer – were poised to shed for the winter. The rain and wind later that night gave us the first big drop of late autumn. Waves of leaves cascading in ever-changing patterns under the streetlamps.
But before that was the day’s final street photography moment. This time I was kneeling down in front of some fraying tarps hung to conceal a building site. When I got up to walk on, a voice with an unfamiliar accent asked what I was taking pictures of.
At first he said he was from “Shomal” which is Iran’s Caspian Sea region but without much prompting he admitted that he and his wife had been smuggled illegally into Iran, presumably I thought from Tajikistan – his Farsi was close to incomprehensible to me.
Walking together for no more than 50 metres, he still had enough time to ask me whether I was married.
I told him no and he fixed me with a mischievous smile.
“But you have a friend don’t you?”
I told him not exactly but that I did have someone in mind.
“Well God willing, you will be successful!”
I walked on in high spirits before turning back after just a few steps. My Tajik friend was still where I had left him. “Can I take a picture – for a keepsake?”
Happily, he obliged.