Newsha Tavakolian, great Iranian photographer who covered many conflicts in Iran, but also a war in Iraq, natural disasters and social issues all over the Middle East, found herself in the midst of a different turmoil last couple of months. She has returned a 50,000 Euro award from a French foundation she says persistently altered her work to reflect a completely negative and stereotypical assessment of Iran and refused to stop when asked.
Here is Tavakolian’s full statement, published on her facebook page
Newsha Tavakolian, Look, 2013.
“In recent months I have been named as the winner of the 2014 Carmignac Gestion photojournalism Award, a 50.000 Euro grant for a photographic project about Iran. My winning this award has been announced twice, in the Financial Times, in two full-page advertisements, I began working on this project in December 2013, completing and delivering the work to the Foundation in July 2014 as scheduled. The news of my winning the grant was announced subsequent to the delivery of the project at a reception during the Arles festival this past summer. Naturally I was extremely happy.Today I am announcing that due to irreconcilable differences over the presentation of my work, I am returning the cash award and stepping down as the winner of the Carmignac Gestion Award for photojournalism 2014, canceling all my cooperation with this foundation and its patron, the French investment banker Edouard Carmignac. My acceptance of the terms of the award from the Carmignac Gestion Foundation was based on the understanding that I would have full artistic freedom as a photographer to create a work that is faithful to my vision as an established photojournalist and art photographer. Unfortunately, however, from the moment I delivered the work, Mr. Carmignac insisted on personally editing my photographs as well as altering the accompanying texts to the photographs. Mr Carmignac’s interference in the project culminated in choosing an entirely unacceptable title for my work that would undermine my project irredeemably .Mr Carmignac’s insistence on changing essential aspects of my work would have resulted in completely changing the nature of my project from a subtle attempt to bring across the realities of life of my generation in Iran to a coarse and horrible clichéd view about Iran. His insistence on changing the name of the project from”Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album” to the overused and loaded title, “The Lost Generation” was simply not acceptable to me. Over the past months I have been engaged in a number of discussions with him directly, about the nature of this grant. I tried to convince him that as the creator of this project, I am entitled to my artistic freedom. Whilst I absolutely welcome other points of view, I cannot accept that anyone other than myself should have the final say about my work. But at no point would he accept this as my right. Recently I sent him a private email, in a last-ditch attempt to explain another reason why he should let me have control over my work. I explained that living in Iran as I do and where photographers can be arrested for what the government may deem offensive, he should refrain from changing the title of my work, making it unnecessarily controversial.
Girls smoking, Newsha Tavakolian
During my 15 year career I have taken many risks as a photographer, covering protests, wars and other events, but those risks have always been based on my own judgment and decision. In reply to my email, Mr Carmignac and his foundation have chosen to maliciously interpret my attempt to dissuade them from changing the name of my project to a title that I deem unsuitable to the spirit of my work, by declaring that I have pulled out of the award because of pressure by the Iranian Government in the following statement:
“Newsha Tavakolian, the 33 year old Laureate of the 5th edition of the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award has pictured the Lost Generation in Iran during a 5 month work. Once the award has been announced, the Government has put the Laureate and her family under severe pressure. In order to protect Newsha Tavakolian and her family, the Carmignac Foundation has decided to adjourn the exhibition, initially planned for November in Paris and thereafter in Italy, Germany and the UK.”
As far as I can see, this statement is a natural continuation of the persistent attitude I have encountered at the Carmignac Foundation, namely to err on the side of controversy. All presumptions in this statement are absolutely false, and laughable. I am not in any way under threat at least no more than other journalists who are in Iran. I believe the real reason for the cancellation of my project is the simple fact that Mr. Carmignac did not get what he wanted, namely, full control over my work according to his own established idea of how Iran should be represented.The statement above is a desperate effort to try to force me into accepting his version of my project, by hoping that I would fear the Iranian authorities more than I would fear him. It is tantamount to a threat. All my life I have faced censorship and pressures from the mighty and powerful here in Iran. The Carmigniac Award , to use the Foundation’s own description of the prize, is supposed to be “committed to champion the personal and, by definition, minority view”. In my case at least, this has turned into a laughable opposite. As a response to my refusal to have my work editorialized, Mr Carmignac has now “adjourned” the exhibitions I was promised under contract and has indefinitely postponed the publication of a book which was ready to go to print.
Taxi driver (A taxi driver in his car on a rainy day. Behind him a poster of an upcoming performance of Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’), Newsha Tavakolian
As a professional, I honoured my part in conceiving, realizing and delivering the work that I had promised to produce. Mr Carmiggnac and by extension the Carmignac Gestion Foundation have failed to fulfill their part of our collaboration. I am disgusted by Mr Carmignac’s behaviour, and highly disappointed over his lack of professional integrity as a self styled patron of independent photojournalism, a profession that according to his Foundations’s mission statement is undervalued and fraught with danger. To encounter unscrupulous behavior from mighty patrons was the last thing I expected when I joyously accepted this award.I am now left with little choice but to pull out of this award because of the insistence of the Carmignac Gestion Foundation to compromise my artistic integrity and independence. I hereby return and officially step down as the 2014 laureate of the Carmignac Gestion Award for photojournalism. My artistic freedom and my integrity cannot be bought.”