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Interviews

Ebrahim Noroozi on finding and taking powerful portraits

Ebrahim Noroozi on finding and taking powerful portraits

© Ebrahim Noroozi

April 2013

The eyes are the windows to the soul, so the saying goes, and for Iranian photojournalist Ebrahim Noroozi, the portraits he took of Somayeh and her daughter Rana Afghanipour – victims of a heinous acid attack by a malicious husband – were to open the world’s eyes to this most horrific of crimes. CPN Editor David Corfield talks to Noroozi about his images and his approach to observed portraiture...

It’s impossible not to be moved by Ebrahim Noroozi’s pictures. Somayeh and her daughter Rana Afghanipour, aged 3, were attacked with acid by Somayeh’s husband Amir in June 2011. His wife had frequently been beaten and locked up by him, and finally she found the courage to ask for a divorce. Warning her that if she persisted in her attempts to leave him, she would not live out life with the face she had, one night he poured acid on her and her daughter as they slept. Somayeh’s and Rana’s faces, hands, and parts of their bodies were severely burned. Somayeh was blinded, and Rana lost one of her eyes. Somayeh’s father sold his land in order to raise money to pay their medical expenses, and fellow villagers have also helped out as much as they could.

© Ebrahim Noroozi

Using just available light, Noroozi worked quickly and quietly to record the harrowing operation to repair damaged skin on 3-year-old Rana’s face. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF24mm f/1.4L USM lens; the exposure was 1/800sec at f/2, ISO 100.

Working with just available light and a couple of lenses – an EF24mm f/1.4L USM and an EF50mm f/1.4 USM – on his EOS-1D Mark IV DSLR, Noroozi worked closely with his subjects and because part of their daily lives; following them to hospital, sitting in on operations, watching them live… the whole project was a deeply moving and emotionally painful one, but it's this close involvement with a subject that allows a photojournalist to get the full story.

Speaking about his feelings on this series of powerful images, Noroozi reflects: “Because this subject is very humanistic and painful, it must be viewed to make people stop these kind of events happening, and so change the world to be a better place in which to live.”

He adds: “I think our duty as photojournalists is to observe pain, record and show them to the others, and hope that governments and communities can solve the problems.”

© Ebrahim Noroozi

Using just available light once again, Noroozi kept the backgrounds simple and focused all the viewer’s attention on the mourning women. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF50mm f/1.4 USM lens; the exposure was 1/125sec at f/3.2, ISO 400.

Noroozi chose his subject matter not to win an award, but because he felt moved to report on it. “When I shoot a project, I never think about prize winning and such things. I believe if I choose the subject correctly and feel my subject's pains deeply, I'll be in the right time and right place for pressing the camera's shutter button. So my photos can transmit pains of subjects to audiences. If this happens, my photos will reach their final destination: of being effective and helpful. And to me, that's absolutely more important than the prizes, although winning means my work is exposed to a wider audience and that is a good thing.”

On his second place in the Staged Portraits Stories category of the 2013 World Press Photo Contest, Noroozi kept his compositions simple, placing maximum attention on the subjects – grieving women in a ceremony of Chehel Manbar, the commemoration of the battle of Karbala when Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed.

“It is one of the most important ceremonies of the year for Shia Muslims,” Noroozi remembers, “And on the ninth day of the Muslim month of Muharram – on the eve of the climactic Day of Ashura – women in some regions participate in Chehel Manbar in an act of mourning for Hussein by going veiled and barefoot to light candles different locations.”

Two very different sets of circumstances for stories, but one very considered - and thoughtful - approach that has deservedly earned dual recognition for Ebrahim Noroozi from the 2013 World Press Photo Contest jury.

Biography: Ebrahim Noroozi

Ebrahim Noroozi

Ebrahim Noroozi was born in 1980 in Tehran, Iran. He began working as a professional photographer in 2004, with the Fars News Agency. His photographs have appeared nationally and internationally, in such publications as The New York Times, Time, The Washington Post, and have been distributed by Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press, Reuters, United Press International, and the European Pressphoto Agency. Noroozi has worked in India, Afghanistan, and Iran, and has worked as head of the photo department for the Iran Daily, as well as for Alvefagh newspaper, Iran Sport, the Iran Photo Agency, Jamejam newspaper and Jamejam online. He has won seven awards in Iranian photo contests, and a gold medal from Asahi newspaper.