Men of God
I had always wanted to work on a photo essay about the everyday life of an Islamic cleric, because there is a great distance between their lives and those of the general public. They always speak of “saving humanity”, and this interested me. Clerics throughout Iran’s history have always had a political influence. I wanted to see them in their ordinary lives.
I was introduced to Haj Amjad by a religious friend of mine. Haj Amjad studied Islamic morality and ethics for fifteen years under Ayatollah Ghazi and Ayatollah Behjat, two notable theologians. His is originally from Kermanshah, where he served as the imam for Friday prayers for several years.
When I first travelled to meet Haj Amjad in 1997, I took some of my other photos and reports with me to show him. I explained that I was trying to record contemporary life in Iran. I told him that I usually chose a social group to follow and document over a period of six months to a year. Haji Amjad quickly warmed to the idea and invited me to attend morning prayers the following day at the Imam Khomeini School.
I always tried to be as respectful as possible to the group. I did not want to be an unwelcome guest. I always stayed completely silent, and kept in the background. I wanted them to understand that I had only come to observe their way of life. I was interested in witnessing their lives, not judging them.
The “talebs” (students) were mostly simple people from small villages in rural areas, and many had religious backgrounds. Very often they had been encouraged to take up religious studies by a member of their family or a family friend who was already a cleric.
I have even seen Haj Amjad sleeping. While he sleeps his students gather around him, believing his breath will bring them grace. They even pour their tea into Haji’s cup and drink it, believing it to be blessed.
However, I remember once when Haji Amjad asked everyone to be quiet and to simply think. While everyone sat there, meditating, I moved amongst them taking photos.
The clicks of my shutter echoed through the mosque, breaking the silence. I will never forget that moment, the beautiful sound of my camera's shutter as it recorded the silence of life.
Omid Salehi - 1997
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Sound & Photography
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All images Copyright © Omid Salehi