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  • Melissa Olson

Friend's photos give a new view of Iran

It took several months for me to talk my dear friend Sally Bjork into being featured on this blog. Like many photographers, she doesn’t like her picture taken, or drawing attention to herself. The reason I was so persistent is that Sally has created an incredible body of work titled, “This, too, is Iran,” which has been on exhibition for much of the past two years.

A photographer and digital imaging specialist for U of M, Sally works in departmental and cultural heritage photography. She’s also a contributing photographer and writer to the Ann Arbor Observer and, in 1999, created the photo feature "I Spy" which is published monthly.

“This, too, is Iran” features photographs of the incredible, vibrant Iranian tile-work, but I was particularly drawn to Sally’s portraits of the people she met on her journey in May, 2015. In 16 days, traveling through cities and the countryside, Sally took more than 8,000 images.

Her portraits feature Iranians of all ages – many smiling and open, while others contemplative. Sally has captured the beautiful humanity of the men, women and children who welcomed her into their homeland.

I think this work is particularly poignant now, as our president continues to antagonize those he considers our enemies, making false accusations that Iran violated our two-year-old nuclear accord.

Trump’s bluster makes me think of a line in one of my favorite songs: “Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves.” Those were the words spoken by Harry Patch, the last surviving WWI combat soldier in the world when he passed. Radiohead took pieces of his interviews and wrote the beautiful, haunting song “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”.

During college, I studied Arabic and Middle Eastern culture for two years, in the very place Sally’s work is currently on display - UM’s Language Resource Center in North Quad. I had met friends who had immigrated from the Middle East and I fell in love with their language and families.

Sally’s photographs reflect the kindness, intelligence and generosity I found in them. Her work is a wonderful reminder of the dreams most of us share - of living a life of peace and freedom, of creating a better world for our children.

“This, too, is Iran” was funded by the Freer Fund and various U-M departments. Congratulations, Sally, on this incredible body of work!

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