EK Interview: Mohammad Kheirkhah

art blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdom
As mentioned by Konahrtist in his original post of Mohammed Kheirkhah started his career as a photographer at age 14.  It shows.  His photographs from around the world are emotionally gripping and vibrant with life of all kinds.  Check out his interview.

Tell us about yourself.  Where are you from?
I am an Iranian photographer. I started photography when I was 14, and a few years later my work with BBC, and United Press International (UPI) started. I have been a part of UPI news agency as a photographer since 2005 where I had the opportunity to visit 20 countries, and 40 States of the U.S..
You have two particularly stunning photos from Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the outside of a Mosque, and one of an army soldier kneeling on a prayer rug with a gun.  Can you tell us about the man you photographed?  Is it common for soldiers to bring their weapons into Mosques?
Actually the soldier was one of the guards of the mosque. While in basic training in the army, soldiers learn not to leave their guns alone, and they should always have it with them – not matter what the situation is.
What cultural similarities exist between the Western and Islamic world that one might not expect?  What are some surprising differences are there?  What will it take for the Western world and the Islamic world to overcome some of these differences?  What common ground do we have?
Not knowing each other for years, and not willing to know – either people in west or in east – have made them to hate each other without any reason. East knows west as Satan, and West knows east as the axis of evil. But if we observe the two cultures closely, we can find out that the similarities between these cultures are more than their differences.
Comparing the U.S to Iran, I can say both are religious, both hate terrorism, people of both culture like each other but dislike their politicians.
art blog - Mohammed Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdom
Can you tell us about your trip to Mecca?  How did the trip affect you on a personal level?  Are you religious?  Are you spiritual?  Do you think the two are necessarily or intrinsically related or can a person be one and not the other?
Every year, Saudi government invites dozen photographers from all over the world to cover the Hajj. With an invitation from them, I was able to get my visa to the big Hajj – which usually takes up to 20 years to attend, and costs around $6,000 – as a photographer for UPI in a few months, without waiting or spending that much of money. I was there to work, and not as a pilgrim. Although my name is Mohammad, I am neither religious nor spiritual. I think each person sees this universe different, with or without a religion; we tend to see the world in our way.
In the photograph of the man being lashed for consuming alcohol and having sex outside of marraige, from Qazvin, Iran, how long did the 80 lashes take?  How did everything happen, was he marched up?  Why are two of the men wearing ski masks and why are some of them uncovered?
The sentence was for 80 lashes. I didn’t count, but I believe they did not do the whole 80 lashes, and it took around 25 minutes. Those who have covers on are the ones who did the sentence. The rest are either media or part of the government, I am guessing. Interesting thing is that I find Saeed Ghanbari – the person who received the sentence after three years. He told me that with my photos he was able to get into the U.K. as a refugee. He is now taking college classes there. (With all the efforts to get a fund to document his life in the U.K, I have not been lucky).
art blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdom
Your photo from Tehran of the old US Embassy has a piece of graffiti within it, a revolver with the colors of the American flag, how is the graffiti of Iran and other countries in the Middle East similar or different from Western graffiti?
In Iran, someone may be able to do the graffiti art in public, as long as it’s not against the government. The pro government artists somehow make most of the graffiti arts that stay.
art blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdom
Were you surprised by the international response to the recent intentionally offensive depiction of the Prophet Muhammed?  The film was the action of a single person, but it was not perceived as such, how do you think the Western world should respond to such insensitive material?  Where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and prohibition of slander?  Do you think it’s the job of the government to stop such material from being created?  Or that of the people?
I was actually surprised to see how people react to such a bad, and unprofessional video. We could all ignore it, and just move on. But at the same time we can understand the power of media. One single video with a little of budget plus YouTube can really make change in the world. — For sure not the government. People might decide to take action, but I believe anybody who has something to say, can say it respectfully. There are many authors that criticizing Mohammad, Koran, and Islam but they do it in a way that does not anger people, but make them think.
I would like to mention the same thing that I wrote at the beginning of my book:

“ Life is fleeting but photographs last. Photographs even have the power to tell a whole story of life. With my brother’s borrowed camera, I began my quest to tell stories. My story as a photographer began when I was 14, and I started to work for local newspapers. I sold my flute and bought a camera. After a few years of working hard, I became a photographer for BBC Worldwide Service and then for United Press International. Working with these news agencies was a start for me to know the western culture better, and now I am part of that culture.

I believe photographs are not just a small part of me, they actually form my life, and by looking at these photos you are walking through my life, seeing through my eyes. If only one of my photos can stay in your memory, I have reached my goal. When a photograph lingers, remains, or is memorized, then real change can happen in the stories of our lives. That is my goal.”

For many reasons – the more important would be financial issues – I am away from journalism and I am doing fashion, and family photos. I would love to go back to journalism to document people, and their life, to travel again, and stay away from these “cheesy” pictures.


art blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdom

art blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdomart blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdomart blog - Mohammad Kheirkhah - Empty Kingdom