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Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

Tehran is a city of contrasts. Photography from Tehran has its own restrictions and sensitivities. Despite the problems, mobile photographers like Shahram Sharif and Ako Salemi have been photographing this city for several years.  In this interview they tell us how they got to know each other and will share with us their experiences of street photography in the capital of Iran.

Tell us about yourselves? When did you start and how did you become interested in mobile photography?

Shahram: Well I’ve been working as a Technology journalist for a long time and I’m currently working for  one of the well known financial newspapers in Iran. Photography and Cinema have been two of my priorities in life. However, I gave up film making very early after a few experiences in making a short films. Unlike cinema I continued photography passionately. It’s now 17 years that I am taking photos and my favorite fields are documentary and nature (although these two are totally different). Now that I look at my archive I see that as a technology lover I have had photography experiences even with my first basic smart phones. However, they were not significant experiences and low quality of cameras was disappointing. In the recent years quality of mobile cameras has dramatically improved and the wide variety of applications have transformed the world of photography. My first serious experience of mobile photography happened after I joined Instagram. I saw good photos taken by mobile phones on Instagram. This made me think that it’s possible to take good photos with mobile. Moreover, I found Instagram filters very interesting.  Despite this many of the Instagram photos where loose selfies and it made it difficult to think of serious mobile photography. I was astonished when Ako first showed me the Hipstamatic.  The afternoon I first started to take photos using Hipstamatic was the same as the first day you go photographing with a new camera. Watching a film by Koci on Linda, seeing the black and white street photos of some of the Instagram members such as Dan Cristea and also seeing the Wearejuxt website made me think What an ideal place.

Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif

Ako: I became fascinated by cameras ten years ago and I started walking and taking photos in the streets of Tehran with my pentax analogue camera. It is now eight years that I am working as a photojournalist in some of the famous Iranian newspapers.  Walking around in the streets and taking photos of people has been my passion for years. This habit has provided me with a moving photo studio. Big size of SLR cameras and the attention they attract was one of my concerns during all these years. It even caused me troubles a few times. Two years ago I got an ipod touch and took a few photos with it just for fun. At the same time I joined Instagram and I was lucky to see photos of Koci and Elif. Little by little I became more serious in taking mobile photos and sharing them on Instagram. I was also very excited when I first used Hipstamatic and its black and white films. I then got an iPhone for its camera quality. Over the past two years I gradually became an iPhoneographer. Now I only use my camera when taking photos for the newspaper I work for.

Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

What are your subjects for photography? Has mobile photography made any changes to your photographic vision?

Shahram: I like buildings and places. Cities are remembered by their buildings. However, in my work I try to capture presence of people in the streets. I basically document the life going on the streets of my city. I like nature photography. When photographing the nature I usually use wide lenses and capture vast areas. Photography from nature feels like reading a poem or listening to a soft music. However, I feel like mobile and street photography makes me more realistic. Using normal lenses takes you closer to the subject. You can capture every movement of your subject and the beautiful or ugly reality in front of the camera. I don’t put any effort for making the truth captured in the photos better or worse but I try to find frames that seem unfamiliar at the first look.

Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif

Ako: I still don’t know why streets and people motivates me for photography more than anything. Although I have tried many different fields of photography street photography has remained my main area of interest. I sometimes think this interest comes from my childhood when I spent most of my time playing with other children in alleys of the small town I was born in. I was interested in watching people and following their actions since I was a kid. Graphic connection between people and their surrounding, shadows, light and reflections in windows have always been the main attraction of a scene for me. That’s maybe the reason why I pay less attention to the colors and see my environment in black and white.

People usually don’t notice you when photographing with mobile and even if they do they won’t take you seriously. My photos are therefore more natural. I act faster and little time is wasted for preparing the camera. Most importantly I can easily share my mobile photos on the web. I am however aware that I miss on quality of the photos and I have less control over light  in using a mobile instead of a camera. But I think these aspects are of less importance in street photography.

Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

How did you two meet and what do you think of each other’s works?

Ako: I’ve been working for a financial newspaper as the editor of the photography group since 4 years ago and Shahram was the editor of the technology desk of the same newspaper.We were just colleagues until I realized that Shahram also shares his photos on Instagram. We talked to each other about street photography. We started going out together for photographing after working hours. Shahram doesn’t pass any visually attractive wall without taking a photo. His stranded and confused people well represent the reality of everyday life in this city. Accurate compositions and the fine balance of black and white makes his photos spectacular.

Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

Shahram: َAko and I were just colleagues for years. One of those colleagues you pass by everyday with a smile. Mobile photography  became a reason for our friendship. It’s now almost a year that we are taking photos together while walking in the streets of Tehran after work time. He usually borrows my portable charger! We sometimes use the lunch times at work to show our photos to each other and get feedback. A few months ago we formed a group for Iranian mobile photographers  named Fotomobers and we organised a few mobile photography training sessions for interested applicants.

Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif

Why is the theme of your work so close? And how do you think you two have influenced each other?

Ako: We usually show our photos to each other and sometimes even edit them together. That’s why the atmosphere of our photos have gradually become close. However, despite photographing sometimes even similar scenes I believe each of us has kept his independence and has his our own photographic vision.

I think one of  Shahram’s important strengths is his ability to make positive contacts and I have learnt a lot from him in this aspect. His motivation, encouragement and valuable experience were also vital for forming the Fotomobers.  As for my influence over his work I think my black and white style has mostly affected Shahram’s taste for photography.

Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

Shahram: I think this similarity is because of two things.Firstly the environment we work in and secondly our vision to photography. Yet these similarities are only in appearance.We have different styles of photography. When I am taking a photo I mostly pay attention to the background and composition of people in the frame. But in Ako’s photos the emphasis is on the relation between elements. I love Ako’s work. He grabs the subjects and doesn’t miss his favorite subjects like birds or pedestrians wearing a hat. I confess that I sometimes envy his photos.

Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif

What is the Tehran you are working in like and how do your photos portray this city?

Shahram: Tehran is a vast city full of contrasts. This contrast is not only the contrast of lights, urban areas and the weather but a contrast is also evident in very different lifestyles and behaviour of people. You may find the most elegant buildings next to the houses of the poor. The happiest and the most nervous people pass you by at the same time.On the other hand street phptpgraphy in Tehran is not at all an easy job.In many of the streets you see the “No Photography” sign .”No photography” sign has become a part of urban culture. Even in some cultural places such as the Book City you are not allowed to take photos. Most of the shopkeepers don’t like to be photographed.Interestingly these people love photos in their personal lives.Nevertheless, despite the political and social restrictions photographing Tehran can be a very joyful experience. It is a beautiful city and as a photographer you find many interesting and beautiful subjects for your photos.Mobile photography gave me the confidence and ability it takes to get closer to the truth of this city.

Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif

Ako : A big city like Tehran with more 20 millions population,various districts and buildings,different classes of people and a dynamic environment is a rich source of inspiration for me.We have four different seasons in this city. Tehran’s snowy,rainy,sunny and cloudy and even polluted days make a variety of subjects  and situations for photography.However as any other place photography in Tehran has its own problems. I usually try not to draw attention when taking photos and mobile helped me alot with this. The reason some people don’t like to be photographed is that they think their photo will be misused. This may cause troubles for the photographer. It might even become dangerous if you a government building is in your frame by accident. Therefore, photography in Tehran must be done with caution and it’s basically a risky job. Despite all the risks  photography in this city is very attractive and these risks have not discouraged me. My love for street photography provides enough motivation for me to face these problems. I don’t have the experience of photographing in other big cities in the world so I can’t compare but I’m sure it has its own problems everywhere but the only thing than make everyone to carry on is love and passion for mobile photography.

Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

You’ve been among the 24 hours project photographers. How was 24 hours of photographing Tehran and did you encounter any problems?

Shahram: 24 hours project was a great idea however I think  it was more than anything an opportunity for us to  examine ourselves to see whether we are able to take 24 good photos during 24 hours. I believe the most significant aspect of this project was the time pressure on photographers. One hour is a very short time and fatigue of mind may disturb one’s concentration.The other problem that Ako and I had in this project was that Tehran doesn’t stay up late into the night and we had to capture half of our photos during the night. I personally didn’t think it will be this difficult to photograph in the streets of Tehran at night. Despite its difficulty the 24 hour project was an amazing experience. We are planning to  exhibit some of  these photos in the “1st Tehran Mobile Photo and Film Festival”  in Tehran as agreed by Renzo and Sam.

Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif

Ako: I had not followed this project over the previous years so when Renzo first explained the project to me the project was somehow unknown to me. According to local timing Shahram and I had to start after the photographers in Australia,Japan and Indonesia. It did not seem to be a difficult task to post one photo per hour on instagram at first. However, after the first hours of the project and as we became more picky about which photo to post it became more difficult and sometimes even stressful. As the project happened at the time of the Iranian New Year holidays we faced a quiet and rather empty Tehran. This was a challenge for us since we are very much interested in capturing people in our photos.Nevertheless the emptiness of the streets helped us to take photos of almost  all the important places in Tehran without getting stuck in the Traffic. At the end I should thank Renzo and Sam for the management of the project and also other photographers in other countries for their participation that  made this somehow difficult experience also fun. I should  also thank Brad and We Are Juxt website  for giving us this opportunity to share our experiences in mobile photography.

Photo Credit: Ako Salemi

Contact Information:
Shahram Sharif    IG | eyeem |flickr
Ako Salemi   IG | eyeem | flickr | FB