Newsha Tavakolian, the 33-year-old Iranian photographer and one of the newest members of Magnum Photos, was barely a teenager when her father took her from Tehran to Berlin. It was a family holiday with friends, and she remembers a night dancing with her childhood friend before they saw the Berlin wall. “How could people live behind a wall and not be allowed to leave?” she asked Hamila, who couldn’t imagine either. So they continued to dance.
That family picture of the two of them, dancing their childish dance, acts as the requiem for Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album, the first photobook of Tavakolian’s almost 20-year career. A self-taught photographer, she was born in the midst of the Iranian revolution and the country’s bloody war with Iraq. From a job as a 16-year-old working on a now-defunct woman’s magazine in Tehran, to photographing the 1999 student uprising in Iran, the 2003 war in Iraq, and then ensuing conflicts in Yemen, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Pakistan, she now has a collection of photographs, and an exhibition, that encapsulate this complex and expressive documentarian and artist.
The student uprising in 1999, when Tavakolian was still a teenager, was seminal. Tehran had not seen such violence on its streets since the Islamic revolution of two decades earlier, and merely the act of photographing such an event was life-threatening. The protests, small at first, began on the day of the forced closure of a moderate and progressive newspaper, Salam.