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Culture

German photographer offers fresh view of Iran

Photographer and filmmaker Benedikt Fuhrmann has an exhibition in Munich that shows Iran apart from the Ayatollah and its nuclear policy. He hopes his photos will promote international peace and understanding.

Benedikt Fuhrmann set out with a friend and his old VW Polo-turned-camper-van on July 20, 2005, leaving behind his hometown Bad Tölz and knowing where the journey would end: Vietnam. Equipped with audio recorders, film and video cameras, the photographer and filmmaker intended to follow the historic east-west trade route, known as the Silk Route, all the way to Southeast Asia.

These plans changed when the two Germans had to leave Turkey and enter Iran, the first real border they had to cross on their trip.

German photographer and filmmaker Benedikt Fuhrmann

Fuhrmann spent a year in Iran

"The first encounter with the Iranians was with a customs officer at the border, and I was scared that he would confiscate my film equipment," said Fuhrmann.

Intensive exploration

The fear passed 10 minutes later, dissolving, so to speak, in the tea that Fuhrmann and the customs officer drank together. The officer was excited about a German car appearing on the Iranian border. In that moment, it was clear to the 35-year-old that he had to get to know Iran better.

Fuhrmann traveled spent a year in his VW, traveling more than 70,000 kilometers (over 43,000 miles). He dove into the sizzling life of Teheran with its 15 million inhabitants. In the mountains he experienced their hospitality in the nomads' tents, a hospitality he felt again in the small fishing villages on the sea.

Just one thing bothered Fuhrmann. "My Farsi, which I knew from Teheran, wasn't useable at all in some villages," he said.

At the beginning of his stay, the filmmaker had hoped he would be issued a press visa. Three months later, he finally received permission to take photographs and record video, shortly before he was to be expelled. But that doesn't mean that everything went smoothly after that, Fuhrmann explained.

"I was in prison off and on because I worked as a journalist in areas where journalists are less common. They didn't know at all what press accreditation is. Then they took me to jail as a precaution," he said. But as soon as he arrived, he "walked right back out."

Ordinary Iranians never treated him with distrust, unlike some officials, he said.

"When you're in Iran and say you're German, you don't hear one negative word," said Fuhrmann, adding that Germany made them think of football, engineering, and high-quality products.

An Iranian knealing in a desert next to his motorcycle

Fuhrmann gained a new understanding of the country

Suspicious response

Back at home, Fuhrmann wanted to present his impressions of Iran, the country und its people in a multimedia exhibition called "Say Servus and Salam." Servus means hello in the Bavarian and Austrian German dialects, while salam means the same in Farsi.

The search for sponsors and a space proved to be difficult. As soon as he mentioned his project to people, he felt an ambivalent fear from them, he said, "of some nuclear bomb or another, some terrorist, of Ahmadinejad, but also simply of Islam." The numerous rejections only encouraged Fuhrmann.

In the end, he found support through Rainer Maria Schiessler, a Catholic priest from the Maximilian Church in Munich. The priest offered the church's rooms for the exhibition and on opening night he held a prayer of peace with representatives from various religious groups.

The fact that some of his colleagues didn't like the situation was "actually the confirmation that I did everything right," said Schiessler.

Houses set into a hill, photo by Benedikt Fuhrmann in Iran

Fuhrmann was greeted with hospitality all over the country

'You gave me back my country'

So far, Fuhrmann has been able to raise funds of over 50,000 euros (over $61,000) on the Internet and through social networks from donors around the world. As expected, large crowds of visitors - including Iranians - attended the opening of the exhibition, which runs through August 12 in the Maximilian Church.

"It was deeply touching when a woman came up to me and said, 'You have given me my country back'," he said.

Fuhrmann intends to show his pictures from Iran at other locations, too, including Tel Aviv. He has already won over a well-known Israeli to help him: Ronny Edry, the founder of the Facebook campaign "Israel loves Iran."

Author: Hans Spross / kms
Editor: Kate Bowen

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