Picturing World Cultures: Kiana Hayeri - Iran / Afghanistan01/04/2024
Kiana Hayeri was born in Iran, and this was where she launched her career as a photojournalist and visual storyteller. Yet after traveling to Afghanistan for a 2014 assignment, she decided to relocate, spending the next eight years covering the frontlines of conflict and everyday lives of the Afghan people.
Above photograph © Kiana Hayeri
In this second installment of our monthly series, Picturing World Cultures, we speak with Hayeri about her experiences living and working in a region mired in cultural upheaval, failing infrastructure, and rife with political violence.
Listen in as Hayeri shares insights about her early work documenting youth culture in Iran and Afghanistan, while revealing subtle differences in how each society approaches a division between public and private life.
When it comes to making pictures, Hayeri's first concern is for the latent potential of her photographs to endanger the lives of her subjects. She elaborates on making conscious calculations in her head related to every small detail to mitigate this risk.
Working as a woman within a patriarchal society involves great challenges, and we broach this subject, as well as the advantages she has when photographing culturally sensitive subjects.
While Hayeri has little problem maintaining focus on the frontlines while immersed in her work, we also discuss the tolls of making pictures in traumatic situations, and the importance of taking breaks to reëstablish a sense of normalcy and maintain health and sanity.
Hayeri has worked with an extensive network of local contacts to arrange access for the stories she tells. She avoids using the term "fixer" for these essential collaborators, pointing out, "The credit for a lot of the stories that we work on goes to our local colleagues, because they are the ones who put themselves on the front of everything. It's their reputation, their lives that they risk. I have a lot of respect for that."
Check out the first episode of our new podcast series Picturing World Cultures, featuring my interview with Australian photographer Wayne Quilliam, here.
Guest: Kiana Hayeri
- 2:54: Kiana Hayeri's 2014 decision to move from her native country of Iran to Afghanistan and her early work on youth culture in Iran and Afghanistan.
- 5:54: Societal splits between an individual's public and private sides, and the subtle differences between the two countries.
- 7:14: Hayeri's photographic approach, plus making conscious calculations in her head about whether the photos she makes might put a subject at risk.
- 9:32: The personal risks of photographing in Afghanistan, how Hayeri tries to minimize risk for her subjects and herself, and how this dynamic shifted since America's withdrawal in 2021.
- 16:23: Hayeri's photo kit, tips for concealing one's identity, and keeping a low profile when transporting gear, plus current travel conditions within Afghanistan.
- 21:03: Episode Break
- 21:13: Maintaining focus when working in a country of extremes, plus the importance of taking breaks to maintain health after photographing something traumatic.
- 23:18: Hayeri's varied approach to photography between documentary and portrait subjects, plus the challenges and benefits to being a woman photographer working in Afghanistan.
- 28:50: Insights on pictures that are problematic to make or pose challenges, as well as working with fixers and local colleagues.
- 36:24: Hayeri's decision to leave Afghanistan as America fell, her return as a journalist six weeks later, and how she handles the question of risk.
- 56:20: Hayeri answers our Picturing World Cultures Visual Questionnaire.
Kiana Hayeri grew up in Tehran and moved to Toronto, Canada as a teenager. Faced with the challenges of adapting to a new environment, she took up photography as a way of bridging the gap in language and culture. In 2014, a month before NATO forces pulled out of Afghanistan, Hayeri moved to Kabul and stayed on for eight years. Her work often explores complex topics such as migration, adolescence, identity, and sexuality in conflict ridden societies.
In 2014, Hayeri was named as one of 30 emerging photographers to watch by PDN magazine. In 2016, she was selected for the Chris Hondros Award as an emerging photographer. In 2017, she received a grant from the European Journalism Center to do a series of reporting on gender equality out of Afghanistan. In 2018, she received a Stern Grant to continue her work on the state of mental health among Afghan women. In 2020, Hayeri received the Tim Hetherington Visionary Award for her proposed project to reveal the dangers of dilettante "hit and run" journalism. Later that year she was named as the sixth recipient of the James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting. In 2021, Hayeri received the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal for her photographic series "Where Prison is a Kind of Freedom," documenting the lives of Afghan women in Herat Prison. In 2022, Hayeri was part of The New York Times reporting team that won The Hal Boyle Award for "The Collapse of Afghanistan," and was shortlisted under International Reporting for the Pulitzer Prize. In the same year, she was also named as the winner of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award for her portfolio, "Promises Written on the Ice, Left in the Sun," an intimate look into Afghan lives from all walks of life.
Hayeri is a Senior TED fellow, a National Geographic Explorer grantee, and a regular contributor to The New York Times and National Geographic. She is currently based in Sarajevo, telling stories from Afghanistan, the Balkans, and beyond.
Kiana Hayeri Website: https://www.kianahayeri.com/
Kiana Hayeri Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kianahayeri/
Kiana Hayeri Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/kianahj
Kiana Hayeri Ted Talk:https://www.ted.com/speakers/kiana_hayeri
Senior Creative Producer and Host: Jill Waterman
Technical Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Yermy Weiss
Editorial Director: Shawn C Steiner
Theme Music: Gabriel Richards