The Glass Eye

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Mahdieh is an Iranian photographer who goes to war-stricken courtiers to take photos. In this film, she goes to a remote village in Kurdistan to hold a photography exhibit for the local inhabitants.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “I first saw Mahdieh in 2009. She came here with a camera crew and took many pictures. I was chosen as their leader, showing them around the village. That’s how I got to know Mahdieh better. Mahdieh thought differently, she wasn’t like the others.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “One day my father asked me, “Mahdieh, why do you keep going on these trips? Choose an easier job, open up a photo studio. Why do you go to Afghanistan and other war-torn countries that are so dangerous?” I told my father, “Even though Karbala is a dangerous place, you still go there, because you love Imam Hussein, because you’re a devout believer. I, too, believe in what I do. It is my faith that makes me go to such places.” After this short conversation, my father thought it over and was convinced. Now every time I come back from one of my trips, my father is the first one who looks at my pictures.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_09:38

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “The pictures my daughter has shown me can make any human being cry. Today’s world is full of aggression and cruelty.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “She wasn’t really interested in this mundane world, but she didn’t ignore the things she found around her. She always tried to get to the bottom of everything. She took many pictures here. She was different from all the others. She was also very kind.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “After 15 hours of driving, I finally reached the Uramanat village. I came here a couple of years ago, and I got to know a family. I even made a documentary about them. I’m really eager to see them again. I’m waiting for their arrival. Asra? Hello!”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “Hello.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Hello! Hello! Hello, there!”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “How are you?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Arshia! You’ve grown up! Come here, honey! Mom is waiting for me, isn’t she?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “The car is a bit cluttered. There are many picture frames. She called my cell phone several times, but my answering machine picked them up. I was abroad.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “I’m always worried as a father, especially since I’ve raised my children with difficulty. Their mother died when they were very young, so I was both their father and their mother. It was really difficult for me.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “This is Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “But I’ve put my trust in the Prophet’s household, especially Zaynab (AS) who was a true hero in Karbala. She is always a source of calmness for me. I always say, “Zaynab, watch over my daughter.””

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “This is Nairobi’s airport. No, sorry, it’s Mogadishu’s airport. Hello.”

TIME CODE: 09:38_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “When I decided to go, I went to Kenya first, because I knew that Dadaab, which is situated on the border between Somalia and Kenya, is the world’s biggest refugee camp. I flew to Nairobi and then from there to Dadaab. Afterwards, I went back to Nairobi and bought a plane ticket to Somalia. I wanted to go by car, but they said it was too dangerous. So I bought a plane ticket in Nairobi and went to Mogadishu. There was a city near Dadaab called Garissa in which there were hotels. I went there when I wanted to rest or take care of other things. I stayed in Garissa, but when I tried to go to Dadaab the next day, there was no car to take me. Since that area was very dangerous, I either had to go by car or bus. There were no buses running at that time, the last one had left at 8 a.m. and I was left behind. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon when I found a car that agreed to take me to Dadaab. But while we were crossing the desert area, the car stopped. It could not tackle the desert. The driver wanted to turn back, but I disagreed, telling him that I had to go. There was a girl called Baby who ran a café for people who worked at that area. She was waiting for me, that’s why I insisted on finishing my journey. He dropped me off in the middle of the desert. I sat there with my luggage, resigned to my fate. I had no idea what would happen to me.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “It was really disconcerting. While I was there, I really started to appreciate the things I had.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Yes. Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “And I started to wonder about the life I would have led if I had been born there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Yes. Yes. That’s why the Quran says (In Arabic), “Most people are not thankful”.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “What is this place?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Look here. You should press this one. Yes. Do you see anything? Take a look at the people around you.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Here, hungry people are waiting for food. I spent about 3 weeks in Mogadishu. They’re running to get the food. They’re waiting for food. They’re hungry. They receive only one meal every day, as I told you. Yes. Ladan, this camp is called Badbadu. People’s food is those guts and fat. Look at the flies sitting on them! It’s terrible. You can’t? It’s really hard. This is the baby that couldn’t breathe when she was born. You see? This is her mother. They are starving, undernourished. You see? Just look at their ribs!”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “I’ve brought some pictures that I want to display for people, the people who live here.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Where is the best place to put the pictures on display?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: How about Genirator?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: Genirator.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes. Do you have a kind of bazaar here?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: “There’s only Genirator’s bazaar. There’s no official bazaar here.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Does it have walls?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: “Yes. Genirator’s bazaar.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Will you help me put the pictures on display tomorrow?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: “Tomorrow morning?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: “Yes, I will.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “All right. You think that place is suitable?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Village Woman: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Ok.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Then a bus came along and picked me up. It was really interesting. While I was sitting on one of the seats, a father and his children got on the bus and his daughter sat under my feet. She was really cute. She leaned her head and hand on my feet and went to sleep. Her father wanted to wake her up, but I asked him to let her sleep. She had a 10 guinea bill that she was crumbling in her hand. She probably wanted to buy some treats with it; a soda or a juice. When she woke up, she had lost her money and started to cry and scream. I took pity on her and gave her 20 guineas, trying to calm her down. She took the money. As she was getting off the bus, her crumbled bill, which had gotten entangled in her clothes, fell under my foot. I picked it up, and I’ve kept it as a souvenir. She was holding it so tightly in her hand, intending to buy something with it. It was really interesting.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes. Give me a smile. Good. Are you ready?

After I finished my job here and took all your pictures and made that documentary, I went to Afghanistan. I was there for three months and then returned to Iran. I went to India after a while, and my last trip was to Somalia, where I took picture of the war and the famine. I’ve brought some of the pictures with me and I need your help to put them on display. Are you OK with that?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Villager girl: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Would you like to see them?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Village girl: “Yes, I would love to. Aren’t your trips dangerous?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes, they are. It’s really dangerous. Why do you think I’m here? I’ve come here to see you, and find some peace and quiet. The first time I wanted to take pictures, I came here, remember?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Asra, Village girl: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Take a picture of those windows.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “These pictures are really depressing. This shows the indifference of the whole world to some humans.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Laddan: “I saw the child crying. (Indistinct) I went there and took a picture. (Indistinct) I told him, “Don’t cry. Your parents will come back.” I tool a picture of him. (Indistinct) I told him, “I’ll give it to you.””

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “I can describe Somalia. I can see it. The things that have happened in Mogadishu, in this city, in recent years can be seen clearly in this picture. The things that happened during their internal conflicts, and the damages and the exhaustion… I mean I can see the tiredness of time in this picture.””

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “For what sins were you killed?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Laddan: “To have hope in the future.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “If human beings and all the advocates of human rights have a glimpse of faith in their hearts, they will feel the pain of these people and treat it like their own and uproot poverty, instability, and the hardships of these people who are crying out for help with those beautiful looks in their eyes, and try to solve their problems. These films should be shown to the UN, so that they can be held accountable.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “A show in London interviewed me…”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Yes?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “When I gave them the pictures, they didn’t show the severed heads. They said their photojournalism rules and regulations didn’t let them show it.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “I told them, “Why?” It only shows how wrong their policies are. Why aren’t they allowed to be shown? Why are all these things happening then?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “It will show their true colors. The whole world will see them for what they really are.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Here I’m going to the Somalis’ school.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “It’s in Kenya. The biggest camp for refugees is located there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Most of the refugees who were there had come from Somalia, running away from the food crisis there. There were a few others from other countries.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “They had settled down there?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Almost. They had sought refuge at a relatively safe place. But it’s in the desert, and nothing can be found there, like water or other things. They were given a tent, and they settled down in those tents. While I was there, I worked on a collection called “Dadaab, the Biggest Quarantine in the World”. It was like a quarantine; they bred children there, lived there, and died there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Good grief!”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “They were brought up like that. They were fed like a slave. Anyone who could manage by themselves and found a job could leave that place; otherwise, they had to stay there for the rest of their lives.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “They had to stay there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “This is the suicide attack that happened there. I was right here two minutes before that. I had gone to the Turks’ camp to get some medicine from their Red Cross. When I got out of the car, I heard the explosion, so I quickly got back. 150 people were either killed or injured. 75 of them were students who had received scholarships to pursue their studies in Turkey.”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “Poor people were burned to death. He’s still burning. God damn those who did it. God damn them. Poor people! Weren’t you scared, honey?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Well, I had calmed down by then. I wanted to show everyone the truth.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “To all the Muslims around the world, what do you have to say about all this? We don’t have any expectations from non-Muslims, but the Muslims all around the world should be held accountable for this. If about 1.5 billion Muslims join forces and unite with each other, there will be no poverty in this world.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “When I went there, I had two companions; one was my coordinator and another one had come from Iran. When we went to Dadaab, the conditions were so hard that they went back and left me alone. And they kept calling my family, asking them to talk me out of going there. But I finally managed to go; I went there alone.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “It was really hard for me. We were a religious family, and my daughter wanted to leave her family and go to a strange country in which war was raging, a country that was not safe. It was really difficult for me. But having experienced our 8-year war I had this feeling that she could be considered a soldier that was fighting for the good against evil, conveying the message of our revolution and the innocence of Islam to humans through her pictures.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ladan: “Do you prefer our sea or that of the north?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Both are good, but the sea in the north is really different. Ladan, there was war over there, but when you went across to the other side and watched the sea, the waves were so beautiful. If you listened to the sound of the waves and watched the kids playing and the fishermen catching fish, you would found life so colorful there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father:

“How did you talk to them?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “I spoke to them through the language of the heart and the eyes. They thought I was European, but I told them that I was from Iran, and I was a Muslim. Their whole attitude changed then. They didn’t believe me at first, so I recited some suras of the Quran for them, after which they shouted in joy.

Ladan, I want to talk to some people in Somalia. Teach me how to use the sign language to talk to them. For example, when I’m thirsty, how do I say, “I want water”?”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Water? What’s wrong with you? I want to help you through my pictures. When I think about all the beauties of the world, especially when we’re here, I come to hate all the ugly things I’ve seen. I wonder why people continue war and violence and such things when there are all these beautiful things in the world.

Oh, mountain. That’s mountain. Mountain! Interesting. How do you say “road”? Road! Is that right? I’m smart, right? Thank you.

With you in my life my love grew so much that I decided to share it with the whole world. I’m preparing myself for this trip, which is not without risks. I’ll go on the trip with the hope you gave me and all the love I’ve had in my life.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: I’ve brought the pictures of the Somali people with the help of these children, and we’re going to hold an exhibition here, and watch people’s reaction when they see these people and their suffering in Somalia. We want to see how they react, their attitude towards these pictures.

I don’t know if I should be happy or sad. But this is the first time I'm writing a letter to you. June 6, 2012.

Hello, Dad.

It’s time to go again; it’s time to write another letter. Dad, time flew by, and I grew up. But I feel as if I’m still a child. I don’t know, but I thank you for being worried about me.

This is the Jannat Roudbar village, and Ladan and I have come here to hold an exhibition of Somalia’s pictures. As I look around, I realize how talented these children are, and how interested they are in photography.

These are the pictures Danial has taken.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Girl: “How many people have died?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “According to the data released by the UN, 5 children die every day; 5 children per day.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Boy: “How can they tolerate it?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “They have to. It’s really difficult.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Girl: “May God help them.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “You can say that again.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Girl: “Do you take any food with you when you go there?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “I try to provide it for them, but I mostly take pictures of their situation to show them to other people.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Girl: “Are they happy when they see you?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Very much. Because few people ever go there.

When I’m writing these letters, I'm reminded of the letters you wrote to my mother when you were going to war. And she’s not here anymore.

Do you know where Somalia is? Have you seen the map? Are you familiar with the continents? You know a little? There’s Asia, Africa, Europe, America.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Boy: “Who are they fighting against?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “They’re fighting among themselves. It's an internal war.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Boy: “When will it be over?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “The war? God knows! I don’t know. Just pray that it’ll be over soon. Look at those kids! It’s because of the war that…”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Boy: “Didn’t they have any food?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: No, they didn’t.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Man: “Are they Muslims?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh, Photographer: “Yes, they’re all Muslims.

My dear Ladan, hello,

I usually write letters to my family and friends before starting my journeys, and I’m glad that I’m writing this letter in this trip… or rather before this trip… to someone who shares so many similarities with me.

This sunset is the time of my rebirth. I’m going on another trip and I have to go. I’ve received my visa and I have to go to Mogadishu. I love you very much. I love you very much. You should continue on your path.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mahdiyeh’s father: “What you’re doing is a truly Islamic act, for the whole world to see, especially the world of Islam. It’s really praiseworthy. You've taken the risk upon yourself and, with your pictures and films, have tried to shed a light on the poverty that has spread throughout the world and is the consequence of colonialism.”


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