“I like to slap my audience or shock them”: Iranian documentary photographer Shayan Sajadian

For the past three years, Shayan has been using photography as a tool to capture history – specifically within his home country of Iran.

15 June 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read

For Shayan Sajadian, it was while studying architecture in university that he became fully acquainted with photography. “My world changed completely,” he tells It’s Nice That, “and photography has things that I’m crazy about!” These things include travelling, discovery and excitement, accompanied by his intrinsic desire to become a documentary photographer and photojournalist – a path laid out by many great and inspirational photographers before him.

Now, the 26-year-old photographer based in Iran has been immersed in his medium for the past three years, and considers himself to be on the right path. When it comes to describing the type of work that Shayan creates, rest assured that it presents an unfathomable amount of emotion and impact. “I have to say,” he adds, “that sometimes I like to slap my audience or shock them.” Interested mostly in portraiture – his subjects being those that he finds interesting in their appearance or way of life – he seeks to find the people that are “removed from society in any way, whether by government or by the people themselves.”

Above all, Shayan strives to work on topics that are of personal interest to him. “I have many concerns about my country (Iran) and the Middle East, as well as some other parts of the world,” he says of the reasons why he takes pictures. “I hope to spend the rest of my life dealing with them.” By way of approaching these certain topics, Shayan will, if wanting to take a photo in the city for example, choose a specific area and begin to look for subjects. Here, he will be waiting for that perfect moment to capture. “And after I find the subject, I spend a few minutes talking to them and looking for a suitable place to take their photo.” Good light is of equal importance as the subject, so much so that colour and light are in his eyes “two of the most important factors” that can have an incredible impact on the work put forward.


Shayan Sajadian

How he got to where he is today, however, couldn’t have been done without the help from those that have inspired him over the years. There are various great photographers and artists that have impressed and therefore influenced his career, whether it’s for the long term of those “transient influences”. He cites “one of the greatest” photographers, Sebastiao Salgado, as well as Iranian photographers such as Kaveh Golestan, Abbas Attar and Nasrullah Kasraian. “The photos of these three have remained in the history of Iran, but unfortunately both Abbas and Kaveh have died,” he says. “But of course, sometimes I am inspired by my own subjects, because I am very interested in strange subjects; their strangeness sometimes causes me to see something in them that is very interesting, and then I try to show it in my work.”

This is very much the case throughout the entirety of his portfolio. Most recently, he’s been working on a long-term project focusing on criminals in Iran. Traveling to different parts of Iran, he says how he either gets to know his subjects through “communication” or “sometimes by accident”. He adds: “I also look for them in areas where there are high rates of illegal and criminal activity.” A further project sees Shayan build a series that’s centred around identity, specifically that which is disappearing in one of Iran’s richest regions. “It’s about Persepolis, a 2,400 year-old historic monument, and the people who live in those areas,” he says. “But various dangers have threatened this place and its people are destroying it.” Additionally, he’s also been working hard to finish up two documentaries, one about a criminal and the other on the topic of drug addiction in Iran.

Take a slow and thoughtful wander through his work and you’ll be taken to an important moment in history, one that’s aesthetically framed but also there to serve as a reminder for future generations to come. When asked what he thinks is the role of photography, Shayan says: “I don’t think anyone can define a role for photography and give it a specific frame; for some, it may be capturing a family moment, and for others, it may be capturing a historic moment for the rest of the world. In my opinion, photography is a tool.”

Taking photos in order to express his concerns about his community and immediate surroundings, Shayan puts his subjects at the centre – “those who can’t be seen and are constantly suffering”. He also marks his medium as a way of being able to record evidence for what has happened now and in the past. So, when you hear about his specific goals as an artist, Shayan’s pictures quite frankly end up speaking a thousand words.

GalleryShayan Sajadian

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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