Sia Yazdanfar didn’t know that a return trip to his home country would ignite a brand new vocation.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Yazdanfar came to America as a teenager. It would be three decades until he returned again.
Uprooting his life in Hillsborough, Yazdanfar sought to reconnect with his family, culture, and his native lands. As the eldest of ten grandchildren, he wanted to see his grandparents who are in their mid-90s.
This return to the Middle East in late 2017 was intended as a short trip, but turned into a year and a half long voyage of rediscovery and adventure.
He carried a camera, a device that captured the moments of awe experiencing the beauty of Iranian landscapes and vibrant Persian art. Yazdanfar snapped tens of thousands of images, digitizing over 47,000 of them.
Now, after a year and a half of travels to Yazd, Kashan, Isfahan, and other cities in Iran, Yazdanfar has returned for just a few weeks to Hillsborough, the town he called home before returning to the Middle East. His photography will be featured during Last Fridays Art Walk at the Thomas Stevens Gallery, a show titled “Persia Sublime.”
“I know it’s worlds apart from here,” Yazdanfar said of Iran. “There are hardships there, but there are hardships anywhere.
“This was a filler. I thought I was going to go for a few months,” he continued. “Things ended up being entirely different than all the preparedness and readiness I could have garnered.”
These giclèe prints of his travels will be on display alongside limited copies of two companion books of calligraphy and original miniature paintings, commissioned decades ago by his late stepfather, Bahman Parsa, but recently combined and published, thanks to dedicated time and work from Yazdanfar.
The books are selections of poetry by Rumi and Hafiz, two of the most passionate and profound poets in history, alongside paintings depicting their meaning, with inlay script done by Gholam Hossein Amirkhani, the greatest living master of Persian calligraphy.
The production of these books, completing the life work of his stepfather that was cut short by his death, was part of a renewed sense of purpose for Yazdanfar during his travels. It was also a project that led to self-discovery and the creation of his own work.
In 2018, he opened Gallery Parsa in Tehran, named after his stepfather. This gallery features photography by Parsa and collections from renowned artists and calligraphers he once knew. Eventually, after prodding from friends, Yazdanfar began a small exhibition of his own work.
Now, he has returned to the U.S. with the aim of the beauty of Iran to the Western world.
Local photographer Kent Murray has extended his time and resources to help Yazdanfar print these works, as he could only bring them digitally. They will be printed with pigment-based ink on archival paper and lacquered after.
“As my first exhibition in the [United] States, I wanted to give something back to the last place I called home before going to the Middle East,” he said.
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Yazdanfar is Persian, but he is also American. A citizen of both the U.S. and Iran, he is able to approach each with a unique perspective.
“Throughout my photography, I realized that I had a different eye, because I was seeing it as an Iranian – I looked like the people there, I mostly spoke like the people there,” he said. “However, I was also going as a foreigner, because I was raised [in the U.S.]”
Before his return, his concept of the Middle East was derived from faded memories as a young child. He lived in Savannah, New Orleans; Key West; and lastly Hillsborough, all places vastly different from Iran.
His perceptions of Iran were also adopted from tales told by his mother and father, and from looking through books of photography and art produced by his step-father.
Since childhood, he had a deep interest in Persian art and the sceneries of Iran.
“What I was seeing in Iran, was literally like something you think you’d see in ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ or in ‘Aladdin,’ or what you think those stereotypical images the Middle East and far away would look like,” he said. “Not in a bad way. It actually looked like that. It looked mythical, it looked like it wasn’t supposed to be real.”
He traveled to the Saryazd fortress, what was essentially one of the world’s first banks, built in the 7th century on the Silk Road to safeguard gold and jewels.
He hiked on and around Damavand, the tallest volcano in Asia, and visited Towers of Silence, millennia-old Zoroastrian sky burial tombs.
His home base of Tehran is a booming metropolis with an estimated population of 18 million people – skyscrapers touch the clouds and the cuisine is divine.
Many of his photos mirror images once taken by Parsa during his own travels in Iran. This reflection was happenstance, a coincidence of harmonious vocations.
Parsa, a man who was dedicated to collecting and capturing Persian art and life, published over 20 books of his own works, and a voluminous body of work of other artists – his family are still going through archives of these collections.
He is the author and photographer behind the renowned book “Iran Black and White,” and was a catalyst for Yazdanfar’s work.
One image to be displayed at Friday’s exhibit is particularly moving.
Yazdanfar snapped an image of a fisherman in a wooden boat in Ziba Kenar along the Caspian coast, in the Gilan Province of Iran.
This wooden boat filled with a few men sails out into the sea with a net connected to another speed boat that travels out about three kilometers. The wooden boat comes back to shore, and nearly 40 people on shore help drag the net in by hand. This fishing method is done in storms and at night – 24 hours a day.
When looking back through Parsa’s work, an almost identical image, taken decades prior, is included.
Perhaps the true awe of photography is the eye of the one behind the camera.
“Persia Sublime” will be shown at Thomas Stevens Art Gallery at 126 W. King St. in Hillsborough during the Last Fridays Art Walk. For more information or to purchase creative works by Yazdanfar, email email@example.com or visit www.galleryparsa.com.