Picturing World Cultures: Kiana Hayeri - Iran / Afghanistan

01/04/2024Link0

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

Beyond the Veil: Two women en route to a gallery opening in Tehran, Iran, 2011
Beyond the Veil: Two women en route to a gallery opening in Tehran, Iran, 2011
Beyond the Veil: People watch and react to an Iran-Argentina sports game, broadcast live from a cart on Vali-e-Asr street, Tehran, Iran, 2014
Beyond the Veil: People watch and react to an Iran-Argentina sports game, broadcast live from a cart on Vali-e-Asr street, Tehran, Iran, 2014
Born in War: A group of young Afghans bowl at the only bowling club in Kabul, Shahre Now, Afghanistan, 2015
Born in War: A group of young Afghans bowl at the only bowling club in Kabul, Shahre Now, Afghanistan, 2015
Born in War: Every Friday the Shahre Now Park fills with hundreds of young Afghan men who come to play volleyball, soccer, or cricket, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2015
Born in War: Every Friday the Shahre Now Park fills with hundreds of young Afghan men who come to play volleyball, soccer, or cricket, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2015
Child Soldiers: A young man of 15, from the Khugani district of Nangarhar province, at work at an ALP check point, Eastern Afghanistan, 2015
Child Soldiers: A young man of 15, from the Khugani district of Nangarhar province, at work at an ALP check point, Eastern Afghanistan, 2015
Child Soldiers: A young man of 14 from Said Karam district of Paktia was picked up at a check point and told that once he attends school and learns of his duty, his family will be reimbursed and paid, Afghanistan, 2015
Child Soldiers: A young man of 14 from Said Karam district of Paktia was picked up at a check point and told that once he attends school and learns of his duty, his family will be reimbursed and paid, Afghanistan, 2015
Child Soldiers: Cloaked portrait of a young woman who joined ANP forces in the city of Bamian when she was only 16, Afghanistan, 2015
Child Soldiers: Cloaked portrait of a young woman who joined ANP forces in the city of Bamian when she was only 16, Afghanistan, 2015
Soldiers in the snow during an ambush scenario at a Female Officer Academy, Afghanistan, 2019
Soldiers in the snow during an ambush scenario at a Female Officer Academy, Afghanistan, 2019
School children in a classroom, Wakhan, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2020
School children in a classroom, Wakhan, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2020
School children in the classroom, Hossein Kheil, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2019
School children in the classroom, Hossein Kheil, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2019
Women in festive masks dance at friend’s fifth wedding anniversary, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021
Women in festive masks dance at friend’s fifth wedding anniversary, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021
Ariana Saeed, an Afghan singer and judge for the Afghan Star talent quest TV show doing a photo shoot with her husband and manager before heading onto the stage, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021
Ariana Saeed, an Afghan singer and judge for the Afghan Star talent quest TV show doing a photo shoot with her husband and manager before heading onto the stage, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021
Two high school students play the whisper game during English class, Wakhan, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2021
Two high school students play the whisper game during English class, Wakhan, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2021
Portrait of an elderly woman at home, revealing a throat wound that doctors believe was formed due to grief, Khalid Ibn Walid, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2021
Portrait of an elderly woman at home, revealing a throat wound that doctors believe was formed due to grief, Khalid Ibn Walid, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2021
Cloaked portrait of a female martial arts athlete, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2022
Cloaked portrait of a female martial arts athlete, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2022
Former ANA soldier hides her face in her hands. Her husband, also an ANA soldier, was killed in the months leading to the fall, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2022
Former ANA soldier hides her face in her hands. Her husband, also an ANA soldier, was killed in the months leading to the fall, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2022
Incarcerated women climb the entrance gate to retrieve a volleyball that got stuck in barbed wire during their game, Herat Women’s Prison, Afghanistan, 2019
Incarcerated women climb the entrance gate to retrieve a volleyball that got stuck in barbed wire during their game, Herat Women’s Prison, Afghanistan, 2019
Incarcerated women practice hair styling skills at a weekly makeup workshop inside Herat Women’s Prison, Afghanistan, 2019
Incarcerated women practice hair styling skills at a weekly makeup workshop inside Herat Women’s Prison, Afghanistan, 2019
Female inmate caring for a prison guard’s newborn, Herat Women’s Prison, Afghanistan, 2019
Female inmate caring for a prison guard’s newborn, Herat Women’s Prison, Afghanistan, 2019
Kiana Hayeri photographing the scene of a triple bombing attack in Western Kabul, which killed at least 80 and injured more than 150, mostly teen girls leaving high school, 2021
Kiana Hayeri photographing the scene of a triple bombing attack in Western Kabul, which killed at least 80 and injured more than 150, mostly teen girls leaving high school, 2021
Kiana Hayeri (at left) in the field with her gear, Afghanistan, 2021
Kiana Hayeri (at left) in the field with her gear, Afghanistan, 2021
Kiana Hayeri interviewing a woman in Afghanistan, 2022
Kiana Hayeri interviewing a woman in Afghanistan, 2022

Episode Timeline:

  • 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.

Guest Bio:

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.

Stay Connected:

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

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