Iranian photographer Kamran Heidari documents the historic graffiti of Shiraz in his urban portraits

Kamran Heidari often strolls through Shiraz, camera in hand. It leads him to fortuitous encounters, with both the city’s architecture and its inhabitants – two elements that the Iranian filmmaker and photographer combines to produce compelling images that document the city’s history and the lives of its inhabitants.

What made you choose the streets of Shiraz as backdrops for your photographs?
I am fascinated by the historical aspect of this neighbourhood and its architecture. The graffiti or wall paintings in old Shiraz span different eras, from pre-Revolution, to the war, to present day Iran. You can see a girl’s declaration of love here, a martyr’s portrait there. Those testimonies of the country’s history are slowly disappearing, which is why it is important for me to document them. To do so, I explore four different angles: the destruction of old buildings to make room for modern complexes; traces of both passing time and mankind on the walls in the form cracks or graffiti; the perseverance of old traditions; and the unique atmosphere of the city’s bazaar.

In all of your photographs, the subjects are looking straight at the camera, proud, almost defiant at times. How do you reach this level of ease with them?
I make them feel comfortable by telling them about what I do and show them the photos I have taken. Sometimes, I print and gift them their portraits. It is their image after all. Documentary photography entails an anthropological dimension: I learn to delve in the heart of society and popular culture without intruding or disrespecting traditions and ways of life.In your documentary films, you narrate the unusual lives of Shirazis and how, through ambition or perseverance, dreams can be achieved even within uncooperative environments.

Do your photographic series aim at spreading the same message?
I see photography as a practice for my filmmaking. My films are documentary and do not require my intervention in the form of staging. My photos are the same: I am the eye who sees and captures moments of ordinary people’s lives, their hopes and dreams, within their own environments.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on page 70-71.