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The Sound of Silence

An exhibition of the photographs of the talented, young photographer, Newsha Tavakolian, was recently held in Tehran. She became interested in photography at the age of sixteen, and took up photojournalism shortly after completing a course in this field. She first started working with the women’s magazine, Zan, and gradually moved on to publish her works in many other Iranian magazines and newspapers. When she started 14 years ago, she was one of only five woman photojournalists in Iran, and the sight of a young woman taking photographs in the streets was not only unusual, but involved many risks for her. The students’ turbulent protests of 1999 were one of the events covered by her and the resulting photos taken at close proximity were widely published.

Newsha has been active on the international scene as well. A chance meeting with the head of the Polaris Images in a photography festival in France in 2001 introduced her to this agency which represents photographers and distributes their work to the media worldwide. She has been covering Iran and several neighboring countries for them ever since. Her pictures have been published in Time Magazine, Newsweek, New York Times, Stern and Le Figaro amongst others, and she won the National Geographic Society award as one of the ‘nine women of the year’ in 2006.

One of the main focal points in Newsha’s work concerns women’s issues in the East in general, and Iran in particular. Another is her great interest in singing, and two years ago she came up with the idea of a project to combine these two themes. The result was a striking collection of photographs which were shown at her first exhibition recently. As a child, she had grown up in the company of musically gifted aunts and once had dreams of becoming a singer herself. Women, however, are banned from singing solo in public.

In the exhibition, given the ironic title of Listen!, there is no sound to listen to at all. Instead, we see portraits of women with their eyes closed, their mouths half open, singing in silence. The tension is apparent between the women’s desire to express themselves through song and the danger of actually doing so. Almost as a mockery of the present situation, the same pictures appear on the casings of a pack of CDs. But they are just empty shells, with no CDs inside. In another group of photographs, a solitary woman is placed against deserted urban landscapes. She is standing motionless in an empty road, in front of abandoned high-rise buildings, against a brick wall, or knee-deep in a turbulent sea.

In this multimedia report we visit this thought-provoking exhibition of photographs, and hear the views of its gifted creator, Newsha Tavakolian.

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