© KIANA HAYERI
LOOKING GLASS VIEW: During a final dinner at her grandfather's house on the night before she left Iran for Australia, Parastou looks in the mirror, which is supposed to bring clarity on her path, according to an Iranian tradition. Hayeri is currently documenting Parastou as she adjusts to her new life in Australia.
In her series "May God be With You, My Daughter," Iranian-Canadian photographer Kiana Hayeri documents the emotional journey of teenage girls in Iran who leave their families in search of a better future.
PDNedu: When did you move from Iran to Canada? Kiana Hayeri: My parents applied for immigration back in the 90s. We got our residency in 2002, but I didn’t move until 2005. My parents joined me the following year.PDNedu: How did this cultural shift compare with previous thoughts or assumptions you may have held about the West?
KH: The cultural shift was gradual for me; it wasn’t like I didn’t know anything about where I was moving. From 2002 to 2005, my parents and I frequently traveled to Canada to visit my brother, who lived in Toronto at the time. Also, my generation in Iran is well exposed to the West through the Internet and satellite media.
PDNedu: Where did you study photography in Canada?
KH: I did two years of high school in Canada before university and was accidentally enrolled in a school with a strong visual arts focus. That’s where I was first introduced to photography.
PDNedu: How did your studies in Canada compare to your schooling in Iran?
KH: The school system in Iran is completely different. Due to the tough and complex system of university examination, young people are not always able to continue their studies in their chosen field, so being in Canada certainly enabled me to study what I actually liked.
PDNedu: How long after you arrived in Canada did you start working on "May God be With You, My Daughter?"
KH: 5 years later, in 2010.
PDNedu: How do you find the subjects for your pictures?
KH: I have a pretty good network in Iran and I talk about my projects to as many people as I know, friends, relatives and even strangers. The rate of immigration out of Iran is really high at the moment and pretty much everyone knows at least one family who is in the process of immigrating.
PDNedu: Tell us about your access for making pictures.
KH: I’m often surprised by how much access I’m given once I actually start shooting. But, getting to that point is pretty hard and not always successful. My project looks at some very sensitive topics: teenagers, girls and immigration. With the political situation in Iran, the fear some families have is completely understandable and I immediately can draw the ‘red lines.’
PDNedu: What’s your most useful tool in building relationships with subjects? KH: Gaining trust, trust and trust. Under the current circumstances in Iran, especially since the 2009 uprisings, so much trust is needed for a family to open their door to a photographer/journalist. I am very honest and upfront about what I’m doing. I explain the project and my motivation for pursuing it, telling my own story through the lives of these girls. I also have to make sure that the exposure will cause them no harm and that the family is aware of all details related to publishing and where the photos may end up in the future.PDNedu: How much time do you spend with subjects and their families before you start photographing?
KH: I carry my camera from the very first day I visit the family but I spend quite a bit of time hanging out with the girls before I turn my camera on them.
PDNedu: Do you keep in touch with subjects between photo sessions?
KH: Yes! I am Friends with them before being a photographer. We speak frequently by phone while I’m still in the country, and we use e-mail and Facebook while I’m overseas. I try to follow them on Facebook to get a sense of transformations that happen once they arrive in their new country.
PDNedu: In addition to your images, do you plan to use additional content (audio, video, written material or interviews) in presenting this body of work?
KH: I am taking notes and recording sounds throughout the project but I currently don’t have any plans for this content.
PDNedu: What’s most important to you in your pictures?
KH: It’s the feeling, expressions and mood that I go for. I think it takes more than just an informational or pretty photograph to connect with a story saturated with emotions on so many levels.
PDNedu : What have you learned about your own experiences in moving between cultures from the process of photographing others?
KH: I’ve become more conscious of my role as an insider vs. an outsider. I like the position that I have right now in regards to the Iranian community, still being an insider while I can distance myself from the events and culture whenever I want to. On the negative side, I am a bit hesitant to go deep in another culture as I feel I may misinterpret the reality, something that I need to work on for myself.
PDNedu: Tell us about your recent trip to Iran.
KH: It’s probably my smoothest trip back since I permanently left. I’m working with three families on May God be with you my daughter and wrapping up another project, Your Veil is a Battleground for a mid-March exhibit at IMA Gallery in Toronto.
PDNedu: What photographers do you look to as mentors?
KH: I’m constantly looking at other photographers whose work and personalities stimulate me on different levels. Christopher Anderson, Stefanie Sinclair, and from the younger generation, Ed Ou, Matt Eich and Justin Maxon.
PDNedu: What’s in store for the future?
KH: Aside from a recent project, "The Day I Become a Woman," a visual anthropology of Iran and its different cultures and sectors, with every trip back to Iran, I become more amazed about what the youth is up to and what goes on behind the closed doors. I’ll be spending more time to gain access and explore other sides of this complex society.
Camera: Nikon D700
Lenses: AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D, AF NIKKOR 35mm f/2D, AF NIKKOR 24mm f/2.8D
Computer: Macbook 4,1
Software: Adobe Bridge, Photo Mechanic, Adobe Photoshop CS5
Audio: Olympus L30
Additional gear: Moleskin sketchbook!