PROFILE

Mashid Mohadjerin

Children in a makeshift tent in a village near Léogâne, a coastal community destroyed by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Photo by Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin.
A fishing village near Léogâne, the town at the epicentre of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, photographed by Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin. The devastating quake killed thousands of people in Léogâne and destroyed most of its buildings. These villagers were forced to camp out in makeshift tents made from sticks and bedsheets. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO400. © Mashid Mohadjerin

The award-winning photojournalist and visual artist Mashid Mohadjerin has travelled the world documenting social injustice, activism and misrepresentation in image making.

Born in Tehran in Iran, Canon Ambassador Mashid trained as a visual artist and her photography explores the boundaries between art and documentary image making. Her projects and assignments, focusing on cultural identity and the human condition, and the signs and symbols of resistance and protest, have taken her to central Asia, West Africa, Europe and the United States. She has spent the past decade covering subjects such as displacement, social and physical alienation and, more recently, revolts against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin with her camera.


Location: Belgium
Specialist areas: Documentary, portrait, art
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM

Mashid says her projects are her way of visualising the issues that concern her most. What's more, the subjects and themes she explores with her camera tend to have universal appeal and stand the test of time. Investing time – and money – in projects is a big commitment, though, so she reads and researches her subjects meticulously to help her visualise a body of work. Even if the eventual portfolio looks different, Mashid believes this step is important.

For her, any story she wants to tell has to be one that holds her interest for a long time, because sometimes it can take years to finish a story. When a project does reach its natural conclusion, one of the big challenges Mashid faces is editing that large body of work into a more manageable set of images that fits a narrative.

An Iranian girl with a headscarf draped loosely over her head stands by the side of the road in an uptown area of Tehran. Photo by Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin.
A young girl in an uptown area of Tehran, Iran, wearing her mandatory headscarf draped loosely over her head. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/8 and ISO400. © Mashid Mohadjerin
A Russian man who claims to have been the victim of police brutality outside his apartment in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Photo by Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin.
Dmitriy, who claims to have been a victim of police violence in Russia, standing in front of his apartment in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. His was one of a series of stories Mashid told about people who defended the Soviet system despite having suffered at its hands. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/200 sec, f/5.6 and ISO640. © Mashid Mohadjerin

It's a process that requires several takes, but the key is being able to take a step away beforehand. Even just a week away can give Mashid the emotional distance she needs to view her work with fresh eyes. Vetting work too soon, she believes, can mean getting overly attached to an image, even though it doesn't necessarily fit the narrative, because you remember how hard you had to work to get it.

Mashid won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category at the World Press Photo Awards 2009, and has IPA and Prix de la Photo awards. Her photography has been exhibited all over the world, including at prestigious photo festivals in Italy, the Netherlands and Asia, and appeared in titles such as The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, La Domenica di Repubblica, The Globe and Mail, and BBC online.

Her book Lipstick and Gas Masks – about the women involved in the Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread to other parts of the Middle East – was published in 2016. She is working on a PhD in the Arts at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.

An Israeli soldier training in Area C, an administrative division controlled by Israel in the West Bank. Photo by Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin.
An Israeli soldier training in Area C, an administrative division controlled by Israel which makes up about 60% of the disputed territory of the West Bank. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO320. © Mashid Mohadjerin

How do you know when a story is finished?

"I don't think a story is ever finished, but you do need to know when to stop. It could always continue, but you need to feel like you've exhausted the story (meaning you've done the most you can) and have something you can bring to the world."

How do you encourage people to act naturally in front of the camera?

"Some people are always natural but with others you need to spend time making them comfortable with someone standing in front of them with a big camera. I sometimes try to explain what I'm trying to achieve. Many times just explaining your intentions and who you are will break the ice. I also ask what makes them more comfortable, or where they want to be photographed. But most of the time saying what you would like to do works best."

What is the most challenging aspect of a documentary project that most people might not realise?

"The most challenging thing is getting permission and access to certain topics. For example, when I went to Libya in 2010 it took me more than a year to get a visa. Some places are really difficult to access with a camera, such as prisons and detention centres. You need a lot of patience and persistence."

Have people ever been upset after consenting to being photographed, and how do you handle those situations?

"Sometimes I take a photograph first because I know I won't get a chance to capture that moment again. But I always ask afterwards if it's OK. I'll show someone the image if they ask, and if they aren't happy I'll delete it. Yes, sometimes people aren't happy with the way they look but I haven't had any serious issues. It's more about aesthetics and people's expectations. I try to explain that reality is more important than keeping up appearances. If only we could be more truthful and transparent in general, life might be more pleasant."

Instagram:@mashidmoh

Website: www.mashid.com

One thing I know
Mashid Mohadjerin

"Choose a subject that is close to you. Choose something that really fires you up – it should be something that moves you. What has been really important for me with my personal projects is reading. I read a lot about what I'm about to photograph. It's important for me to imagine something before I shoot it, even if it ends up being completely different. I need that to drive me. No matter what subject you plan to shoot or story you want to tell, there are books about it and journalists who have written about it. Reading before a shoot stimulates my imagination, and imagination is everything."

Mashid Mohadjerin's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Mashid Mohadjerin's kitbag, containing Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EOS M50 cameras, lenses, headphones and sunglasses.

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Trusted by the pros, tough and yet relatively light, the EOS 5D Mark IV is ideal for stills or video – making it great for reportage. "I like the EOS 5D Mark IV because of the touchscreen, the higher resolution, the speed and the video quality," says Mashid.

Canon EOS M50

Small and amazingly light, this modern classic packs the latest photo and video technology into a stylish design that fits in your hand. "I'm still testing it but love the weight and the low-key effect," says Mashid. "No-one seems bothered or threatened when you are taking pictures with this camera in high security situations."

Lenses

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

A high-performance full-frame macro lens with f/2.8 aperture, also great for portraits. "It's great for detail shots which give an extra dimension to my documentary stories," says Mashid. "I often photograph artefacts and objects related to the people I am working with in my projects."

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM

A professional everyday L-series zoom that delivers high image quality with a constant f/2.8 aperture. "I use this lens when there is a lot of movement (people) and unpredictable circumstances, when I have to work fast," says Mashid. "It's a really great lens and it gives me a lot of freedom in tight places."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, this is a consummate low-light performer. "This is one of my favourite lenses and I use it for portrait photography. It works great in low-light situations and it's also my preferred lens for documentary photography, when I have the time to move around the subject."

Accessories

Headphones and sunglasses

"I love to have my headphones with me in my kitbag, especially when travelling," says Mashid. "I use them to check the sound of the recordings and, of course, to listen to music on the road."

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