Photographer behind the bar counter

“Are you a photographer?” the tall, thin man asks me, as he overtakes me along Chahar Bagh road, on the way to the bazaar of Isfahan. “No, I only take photos.” “Everybody starts like that.” He stares at the camera like an expert. “I have the same, but one number earlier.” “Are you a photographer?” “Yes, a press photographer, mostly for Iranian newspapers, but I have already published in Spiegel and National Geographic as well.” “Will you show me your photos?” “You’re welcome. I have a coffee shop here in the bazaar, I invite you for a coffee.”


Hassan Ghayedi’s one-man coffee shop is the only café in the city-in-the-city-sized bazaar of Isfahan. In Iran under the embargo, you can buy coffee almost nowhere, but in the small shop of Hassan you can choose from the best types. I secretly get a cup as a non-Muslim, the Ramadan fast is not yet over.

“The greatest Iranian photographers? Well, Cartier-Bresson. And Ingo Morath. They already knew all about Iran. As they see people, the Iranian landscape. This is the benchmark for us, too.”

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Iranian photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1950

“I grew up in the mountainous region of Lorestan, near the Iraqi border. My father worked in Qatar, from where he sent a camera to my sister. I photographed a roll with it. My first picture was a mountain tulip, then the family. When I had it developed, my employer, because I started in a café there as well, said he would buy this first picture from me. He paid a good price for it. A few days later he showed me that it was in one of the most popular Iranian weeklies, a full-page picture, under my name. He said I should be a photographer. He gives me a week off to go to Tehran to the photographers’ club, to introduce myself, to ask for advice. Well, that’s how it started.”

He asks for my Canon, takes a picture of the vendors next door, he lets me take some pictures of him and of his wife, who has arrived in the meantime. The latter also examines the result with an expert eye. “Nice, clean image.” Night is falling, the Ramadan fast is slowly coming to an end, friends are gathering in front of the bar, all coffee-hungry photographers. One of them assumes a pose, points at himself, wants me to photograph him. They bend over the photo, critically looking at the result. They are satisfied. They all assume a pose.

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“What kind of music do you like?” He is wondering, his wife says instead. “The Persian masters. Shajarian. Dariush Rafee.” Hassan nods.

“What do you most like to photograph?” “I’d like to photograph distant lands, if the coffee shop would let me go. To Abyaneh [50 km from the bazaar] I have already gone. To Sar Agha Seyyed [100 km] not yet. You did? Will you show me your photos? Will you upload them for me? But I mostly take pictures here in Isfahan, in the squares, in the mosques, on the bridge. In the bazaar, the vendors and the visitors. This is what I know, here I am at home.”



Hafez: Qatl-e in khasteh… Dariush Rafiʿee. From the CD Golnâr (2006)
Photos by Hassan Ghayedi. Many pictures are not displayed in the mosaic, they can be seen only by clicking on one of the tiles (logically, the first one), and scrolling through the large images.


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