In the streets of Bayeux until the end of October, Eyewitnessed exhibition traces part of the work of Manoocher Deghati. The Franco-Iranian photojournalist is the president of the 28th Bayeux Prize for War Correspondents. He has traveled more than 100 countries, covered more than 40 conflicts, but devoted his career to training the next generation. Maintenance.
As president of the Bayeux Prize jury this year, how do you plan to mark it?
It is already a great pleasure and an honor to have this responsibility. I hope that I can pass on my experiences accumulated over nearly half a century to the jury. This year there are very important reports in all areas. And especially young reporters. They are very courageous, even with little means, they produce incredible subjects. I would like to encourage them in this way. And this year I would like to highlight the conflicts and the forgotten subjects. Those that we don’t talk about much, like Yemen. This conflict has been going on for years, killing thousands. Even today, hundreds of children are dying from lack of food and medicine. Across Africa there are forgotten conflicts. Because the Middle East, Afghanistan occupy the international news.
Do you think that the work of young journalists is very different from yours back then?
Not really. Our mission is to tell stories, not just conflicts for that matter. But these young reporters have much less money than we do in our time. Sometimes they go on reporting with their own money, and they put out some really important stories.
Are the media committing fewer resources to cover this type of subject?
Unfortunately yes. My generation was that of the golden age of journalism, of photojournalism. We were often called upon, well paid to go and do our work. Today, it is not the same. Newspapers and magazines no longer pay. I was responsible for the Associated Press, as director of photography, during the Arab Spring. Dozens of young people called me from Syria, Iraq, etc. But unfortunately, I did not have the budget …. Many mention economic reasons. But I don’t believe it because they have the budget for other subjects, like those proposed by paparazzi. I think this is just an editorial question, and that there are no longer the same budgets for real journalism.
Moonacher Deghati: “We must shed light on the conflict zones where journalists can no longer go.”
You know Afghanistan well, how long did you spend there and for what purpose?
In 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, I went to Afghanistan. With my brother Reza, we founded an NGO, Aïna, to train journalists, a school of photojournalism. I trained the first five female photojournalists in Afghanistan and ten other young men who had never touched a camera. I stayed for about three years. Then some became very famous photographers. Massoud Hosseini, one of my students, won the Pulitzer Prize, the World Press Photo. Farzana Wahidi has become a world famous photographer, she presents exhibitions all over the world. In Afghanistan, it was not easy to photograph women. Only Afghan women could do it. So, after being trained, they were able to photograph the lives of women we had not known until then.
Are your alumni still in Afghanistan today?
Since the advance of the Taliban, even before, because regularly informing me of the situation, I sensed that what happened – before the fall of Kabul, therefore, I helped several photojournalists to leave Afghanistan. They are now in refugee camps in Holland, France, Turkey, or elsewhere. But unfortunately half of them are still stuck there. Those who remain are living in hiding, waiting to be able to come out and escape the hands of the Taliban.
Are they in great danger?
Absolutely, absolutely. Because for the moment, the Taliban are playing the nice cops, but when they have completely taken over the power, they will start to slaughter everyone!
The school you founded remained open for several years, until recently?
Yes, and it was my students who trained two generations of photographers. They continued to teach once they were trained. The tree that I had planted has grown big, it makes me happy to see. But unfortunately, for the moment, with what is happening, this is no longer possible and I fear that it will end badly …
Is transmission important to you?
From the start of my career, no matter where in the world I was, I trained young people as a photographer. In at least 50 countries around the world! It was my vocation to pass on my experiences because I believe that the inhabitants of a country can tell their story better than we who come from outside. This was the case, for example, in Afghanistan. The photos that my students have seen in recent years were quite different, with more depth because they know their culture, they know their history. They can tell their country better than a foreigner who comes to do a report for a week. I often said: “You have to see Afghanistan through the Afghan eye”.
This year in Bayeux are inscribed on the 2021 stele of the war reporters’ memorial the names of 53 journalists killed in the exercise of their profession …
Today, we are much more targeted as a journalist. For example, in Iran, journalist Rouhollah Zam was executed. He was a famous journalist, based in Paris. He left for Iraq and was then captured by the Iranian authorities. Transferred to Iran, he was executed.
There are two dangers for journalists: that of conflict, with explosions, bullets, etc., but for me the greatest danger is the authorities of these dictatorial countries. I escaped from my country, Iran, because of this. If I had stayed there, I probably wouldn’t be alive today, imprisoned, tortured or executed. The authorities in these countries are our worst enemies. Iran is not a journalist friendly country. As early as 1979 and the start of the Islamic revolution, around 100 journalists were imprisoned, tortured or executed. Iran is the most important prison for journalists. Then there is China, Turkey …
Nine Mexican journalists were killed this year, it is the country that pays the heaviest price …
As a journalist, you tell the truth. We have to reveal secrets, dictatorial regimes, Mafia. They don’t want us to talk. Today I live in Italy, colleagues must live there clandestinely, under police protection! Because they wrote articles about the Mafia.
We need to raise awareness around the world, show the truth, hoping that public opinion can put pressure on politicians to change things. It is important, it is our goal to inform.
It’s possible ?
Look at the Vietnam War. Photos, including that of the burnt little girl running naked on the road, have sparked massive protests, not just in the United States but across Europe, everywhere. Politicians and the military ended up ending this war.
Lately, after the photos (and videos) of George Floyd, killed by the American police, thousands of people took to the streets to protest against this police violence. If I thought that what I’m doing has no consequences, I wouldn’t be doing this job. It is done in the hope of a change and an improvement in the situation of society.
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Manoocher Deghati: “I trained young photographers in at least 50 countries”