Iran

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(1984, Gorgan) Mahdi Barchian is a visual storyteller based in Iran. He began his freelance career in 2013, and he joined the Canadian photo agency NVP Images in 2018. In his extensive travels in the Middle East, he has documented diverse stories, mainly focusing on the distress of humankind, the environment, and the relationship between the two. His work highlights the destructive effects of human beings on the environment and, ultimately, on life itself; it also emphasizes the critical role of education and art as means of hope.

“How Does it End?”

“My country, Iran, has one of the highest rates of environmental destruction and climate change in the world. My project documents climate change effects in Iran and human life after environmental destruction in Iran. I live in northern Iran, in one of the rare places with forests and a suitable climate in Iran. When I was a child, I always saw people with different clothing styles, languages, and sometimes different faces in my hometown, and the people in my town did not always look at them with a positive attitude. Years later, when I heard about the 120-day storms in Sistan and became aware of climate change, I realized that they are migrants who, as a result of climate change and the onset of drought, have migrated from central and eastern regions of Iran to my city.   

“Over the past 10 years, I have documented climate change in Iran and its effects on human life. The project is composed of various small stories and projects, by traveling to different regions of Iran. I have witnessed the lives of the last survivors in semi-desolate villages on the shores of the dried Hamoon lake,  I saw the effect of  internal migration of more than 400,000 inhabitants due to drought and sandstorms, as well as the lives of more than 120,000 people in Iran’s largest informal settlement on the outskirts of Chabahar. I have also documented environmental conflicts, such as floods and hunting and fire and their impact on people’s lives.   

“I am currently photographing people in Iran who are forced by the government to leave their villages so that the government can build dams in waterlogged areas to provide water resources needed in drought-affected areas. By traveling to different parts of Iran, I will narrate the lives of the residents of villages that the government has tried to force to emigrate during the last 20 years by cutting off their access to basic facilities such as water, electricity, gas, health, education, and more.   

“My project seeks to illustrate human life after the destruction of the environment, while also demonstrating the role of humans in the destruction of the environment. I believe that the environment and ecosystem are more powerful than humans, and eventually, we are doomed to be destroyed. However, for a moment, I imagined what the future of humans would be after environmental destruction and tried to portray it.  

 As a final part of my project, I intend to take a positive approach and focus on the lives of individuals who have been affected by climate change but are trying to find solutions and sometimes creating a new paths for themselves, their families, and their communities by finding new ways to live.” 

Despite the fact that a significant portion of climate change is due to the misguided policies of governments, people play a crucial role in preventing environmental destruction and climate change.

Interview

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

My country, Iran, has one of the highest rates of environmental degradation in the world and is severely affected by climate change today. Large-scale internal migration, land subsidence, depletion of water resources, drying up of large lakes, and the extinction of many animal species will not only affect the future of Iran but also the future of our neighboring countries. Faced with this irreparable destruction, it motivated me to document the damages and consequences of climate change in Iran over nearly 10 years. For this project, I always paid attention to environmental events and sought out local people in each region to find my stories, striving to view events from their perspective.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

This project initially started as a personal endeavor for me, aiming to explore the relationship between humans and the environment. However, as I progressed, I encountered a greater volume of events related to climate change and its impacts on people’s lives. Ultimately, I believe that despite the fact that a significant portion of climate change is due to the misguided policies of governments, people play a crucial role in preventing environmental destruction and climate change. I have tried to showcase the reciprocal relationship between humans and the environment in this project, and I hope to raise people’s awareness about climate change.

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

I learned photography through observing and taking pictures, and for years, I lacked educational training for complementary skills such as writing proposals, captions, and selecting photos. However, my most serious training occurred after attending the Foundry workshop and participating in courses at the VII Academy. I was struggling with both photography and the selection and presentation aspects of finishing this project. However, with the above trainings, especially the one-on-one mentoring program and workshops like Grant Writing by Sara Terry, I was finally able to complete this project. I could write a good statement for it and ultimately bring a strong edit of the project for presentation.  Currently, with Anush Babajanyan’s guidance, I am also starting my new project.