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Reza War and Peace

Reza Deghati*

In my travels in war zones, natural disasters, and places of sorrow and beauty, I have often been reminded of the tale told by Rumi, the 13th century Persian sage.

It is a tale known to many cultures; the tale of villagers who had never seen an elephant and are frightened when one comes near their village. The three men who are sent to examine the beast in total darkness come back with three completely different explanations of what it is. This is because each has only touched one part – an ear, a leg, its trunk – and is misled into seeing that as an explanation for the whole. The different versions lead to deep divisions in the community based on which version each person believes.

 As Rumi said, “What all three of them said was true, but not one grasped the Truth. If the light of even one small candle had been shed on the elephant, they would have been able to see.”

As a child in Tabriz, my parents used to whisper to their children the poetry and tales of wisdom and love for freedom and justice.

For almost 40 years now, I have been using my camera as a tool to bear witness. As a teenager, I chose photography as my universal language. In the years since, in my exile from my native Iran, in the midst of wars, revolutions, and natural disasters, and also in moments of untold peace and beauty, I have always tried to shed the light of knowledge on the events of our time. It is my hope that with this light we may see the whole and not just the parts, the truth and not the illusion.

I have never stopped acting as a witness. I do this to contribute to building a world in which the word “war” will belong to the past. I believe that one day humanity will remember these conflicts as a form of behaviour practiced by its primitive ancestors. Then, peace will have triumphed.

Though the world I have seen and photographed is a story filled with war and tragedy, injustice and heartbreak, I have come to see that it is also a tale of the power of hope and the incredible resilience of the human spirit.

*Reza Deghati is a prominent Iranian-born photojournalist and an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. He currently lives in Paris. The text above is the preface to Reza’s latest book, Reza War and Peace: A Photographer’s Journey, published by the National Geographic Society.

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