Photography From Iran: Photo Exhibition at Media in Cooperation and Transition (MiCT), Berlin

I have been ready to get a blog started for some time now and have a long list of artists to interview and topics around art, photography, and culture in Berlin and beyond to cover. And then I went to this exhibition last Friday, November 6th and knew I had to write about it while it was fresh in my memory. So, proper introduction to my new blog to follow in the next posts, but here, I’ll just get right down to it.

I was lucky enough to run across the organization Media in Cooperation and Transition (aka MiCT ) in my research into the non-profit/NGO scene in Berlin lately and see this show was coming up. MiCT’s brief is to conduct media development projects in areas of the world in conflict or crisis–including training on topics around media production, from book publishing to television production–and to monitor the media landscape in these areas. The idea is that the development of the media environment will lead to reconciliation and improvement of  conflict situations.  I highly recommend checking out their site and publications and following their activities, especially if you’re in Berlin and can attend events.

The exhibition this past Friday and Saturday November 6-7, Photography From Iran, represented the results of a workshop this past August in Teheran entitled “Photo Reporting & Photographic Feature.” Heinrich Völkel of famed post-GDR photographer-run photo agency Ostkreuz led the workshop. The majority of this pop-up exhibition at MiCT’s headquarters in Mitte comprised the work of Soheila Sanamno, a photographer from the city of Tabriz in Northwestern Iran. She also received MiCT’s “Photo Eye Medal” at the opening event.

Before we get to the work itself, I have to tell you, this exhibition drew an ENORMOUS amount of interest from Berliners. 2015-11-06 19.12.36The organizers had to add a second day to the show in an attempt to accommodate all of the people trying to make reservations, which were required to attend. The room was packed with guests on Friday evening, and the crowd spilled out into the rainy courtyard as a line out front of unregistered visitors just trying to make it inside snaked out into the sidewalk.

Sanamno’s work, though ironically a bit obscured by the huge crowd, was really remarkable. Her series, “Sisters,” follows the lives of twin sisters in their daily life in East Azerbeijan. You can find images from this series on Sanamno’s Tumblr, along with several other projects. These photos are atmospheric and sensitive–she captures the connection between the sisters, their personalities and the landscape that surrounds them, both geographic and familial. Sanamno also maintains a stunning Instragram account.

The project that won Sanamno the Photo Eye Medal, which was produced during the MiCT workshop, was produced in a 24 hour period in Teheran and entitled: “What means the nuclear deal between Iran and USA to you?” Sanamno asked people she encountered what they thought of the Iran-US nuclear agreement, gave them paper to write their thoughts and shot portraits of them. She created a key to their responses in English and German, which were for the most part positive, ranging from  “I don’t care” to “I am hopeful,” but also included “I don’t feel positive about America,” and “I don’t care about Iran. I will leave Iran.” A projection on one wall of the space showed other images by photographers participating in the MiCT/Ostkreuz workshop.

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The photo projections from the workshop in Teheran appear here on the left. Sanamno is in the blue headscarf to the left of the very tall man in blue. MiCT Director Klaas Glenewinkel is at the mic. Heinrich Völkel is to Sanamno’s right.

To give you a proper sense of the images and the show as a whole, I’ll defer to MiCT’s album of the setup and opening night of the exhibition on Facebook, since my photos are mostly of people’s backs and heads (it was so full while I was there, you could see the photos, but not really get a proper photo of the exhibition). I also tip my hat to this very nice blog post/review of the evening in German by Elmira Schaltuganow with images by Natalie Mayroth at Sebstdarstellungssucht.de. She clearly waited until the boisterous crowd started to thin. I had no idea I would blog about this show, but next time, I’ll be ready! Meanwhile, being in a room full to the rafters of people that enthusiastic about supporting this talented photographer and the projects of MiCT was exciting. It’s clear that Berlin is full of curiosity about Iran–hopefully we will all follow and support the development of such artistic and documentary projects, particularly by women as talented as Sanamno, in areas of tension and conflict.

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