Inside Iran: An Interview with Fine Art Photographer Mark Edward Harris

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Fine Art Photographer Mark Edward Harris travelled to Iran to shoot his latest book. He talks about his experiences in the Middle Eastern country.

Photographer Mark Edward Harris first caught my eye with his beautiful black and white photos of Japanese baths. The photos bought to my attention to a part of Japanese culture that previously I’d known nothing about. I liked the intimacy of the photos and wanted to learn more about the photographer who took them.

Mark recently travelled to Iran and published his photos from the country in his latest book Inside Iran. His photos provide a fascinating insight into a culture that I know very little about. I was curious about how he got involved in the project and his approach to documenting the country. Here’s the interview:


How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look/atmosphere/feel do you try and create in your photos?

I don’t really try and create anything with my photos…rather I try and capture what interests my eye. That said, I am very inspired by the Bauhaus and the incredible sense of design that came out of there. My photo essays such as Inside Iran and Inside North Korea are driven by a fascination with history and international politics.

Name three photographers you like and why. Who inspires you?

There are so many photographers that I admire.  On top of the list are W. Gene Smith, Sebastiao Salgado, and Horace Bristol. Each was and in the case of Salgado is incredibly focused on telling important stories with their photos.

In 1986 you spent 4 months trekking across the Pacific and through Southeast Asia, China and Japan.  How did this trip affect your life and photography career?

It gave me a working portfolio of the type of images I wanted to create and be hired to produce. I fell in love with everything Asian at that time and that part of the world has continued to be where I focus much of my photographic efforts.

What attracts you to books as a vehicle for publishing your work, and how did you get your first book, ‘Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work’, published?

The book form is an incredible way to tell a story in photos. There is also longevity to the medium. A newspaper is for 24 hours, a magazine for a month, a book lasts for years if not centuries.

My first book came out of a series of interviews I did with master photographers around the globe. The success of that book and the experience of putting it together with an editor and art director got me hooked into doing book projects. I’ve done five books since then.

You won the ‘Celebration’ category in the 2004 Travel Photographer of the Year Competition. What did winning mean to you and how has it helped your photography career?

I’ve been fortunate to win a number of prestigious awards including a CLIO for an advertising campaign I did for Mexicana Airlines and the Black and White Spider Awards Photographer of the Year. I’ve also won a number of awards for my books. These award competitions are very important because they get your work in front of all sorts of people in the photography industry and opens the door to new opportunities.

Inside Iran

How did you become involved in the project? Did you suggest the idea yourself or did it originate from your publisher?

The book came out of the success of its predecessor Inside North Korea. Both are published by Chronicle Books. I was very disturbed by President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union “Axis of Evil” speech, I thought it was off target.

We have serious issues with the countries named to the Axis – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea – but the speech did nothing to bring us closer to resolving those issues.

I have been very impressed with our recent adjustment in strategy with North Korea. Things can change in a hurry but overall in regards to North Korea, it looks like we’re moving in a positive direction. The same can’t be said for U.S./Iran relations at this time.

How do you work on a story like this? How much help do did you need in Iran from your publisher, NGOs, and other contacts or organizations?

I do most of the work on my own. I enjoy the research end of things so I was able to put the itineraries I wanted to do together on my own and hire a translator through some Iranian contacts.

What hardships, difficulties and dangers did you face in Iran? What were the Iranian people like – did you encounter any hostility because of the current tensions with Israel and the West?

Great hospitality was shown to me throughout the thousands of miles I traveled throughout the country. I was surprised by just how open the people I encountered were to frank discussions.  There are serious issues between the governments of the U.S. and Iran, but the people I talked with see it as just that, issues between governments.

There were some moments on the trip that things got a little dicey especially when I ventured out to do photography in the border regions between Afghanistan and Iran and Iran and Iraq. Fortunately things worked out.

Many people in Iran, especially in the cities expressed their frustration with their own government on a wide range of issues ranging from Ahmadinejad questioning the Holocaust and supporting Hezbollah to women needing to wear hijabs to cover their heads.

What preconceptions did you have about Iran before you visited and how did they compare to the reality of what you found?

I didn’t realize just how important the Shia – Sunni issue is and how the Iran-Iraq war that took place between 1980-1988 shapes the attitudes and policies of Iran.

How much did you get involved with the lives of the people that you met? What are the personal rewards that you gain from an assignment like this?

I find it incredibly fulfilling to do projects such as the ones that resulted in my books Inside Iran and Inside North Korea. I consider myself a student of history and incredibly fortunate to get up close and personal to the places that are in the news today and the history books tomorrow.


External links open in a new window.



Photo Gallery

The Way of the Japanese Bath

Inside Iran

All photos Copyright © Mark Edward Harris. Please contact the author for permission to use in any way.

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3 Responses to “Inside Iran: An Interview with Fine Art Photographer Mark Edward Harris”

  1. kombizz says:

    It is nice that many photographers love to visit Iran far from any propaganda and discover.

  2. Great images and a great interview. Both help to try and understand a world so different from our own. And that really is the beauty of photography. Thanks.

  3. Shakil Hassan says:

    i love ur works………….i am a photographer in Bangladesh, its a south asian country.. u r welcome here

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