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Hoda captures national prize

16 Apr 2015

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Special feature by Sean Car

Photography Studies College teacher Hoda Afshar’s stirring image of a young Iranian boy was judged best entry at this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize.

The 31-year-old took the image during a recent journey home to her native Iran, which beat 43 other finalists chosen from a record 2500 entries across Australia.

Having migrated to Australia eight years ago, Hoda said she had returned to Iran with the intention of recapturing her own nostalgic and romanticised vision of her homeland in order to showcase the true essence of the country.  

“My intention was to travel as much as I can and capture the Iran that to me has always been hidden behind a curtain or misrepresented in most cases not always, but often,” she said.

“I was focused on individuals’ narratives and showing the heterogeneous nature of Iranian people and their life by capturing things which haven’t been captured before.”

Born, raised and educated in the Iranian capital of Tehran, Hoda can still remember the moment when she produced her first photograph of a “little fountain” in a dark room at school.

From that very moment, she said photography immediately became a passion that she knew she wanted to pursue for the rest of her life.

With a background in documentary photography, Hoda’s recent journey took her deep into Iran, which included a trip to the north Iranian village of Soobatan – the location where she captured her prize-winning image.

Describing it as a “forgotten place,” Hoda said the journey to Soobatan took her two and a half hours up a mountain to an unknown village above the clouds.

“No electricity, no technology, nothing – it was a simple life,” she said.

“I used to wake up in the morning and see the clouds coming towards me and touching my face and I’d have little drips of water on my eyelashes. It was like living in a dream.”

Providing the ideal landscape for her to realise her vision, she said it was during one of her many days wandering the mountain with her camera when she stumbled upon a young boy named Ali.

“I heard the sound of a flock of sheep and I started walking towards the sound and I saw little Ali standing on the road right in that pose with his hands in his pocket,” she said.

“I was shocked when I saw him, especially because of the way that he was staring at me he had that mysterious look on his face and from a distance he looked like an old man because of the clothing that he’s wearing.”

“I asked him if I could take his picture and he didn’t reply and I realised it was because he spoke a different dialect but he didn’t move.”

After taking a couple of shots, Ali instead responded to Hoda by holding out his hand with berries.

“He kept saying ‘Alooche! Alooche!’ which means little berries and that’s all he said.” “Then he started jumping and swinging off the trees and picking more berries.”

Hoda later discovered through a local guide that in the village, the cleverest children were sent to the city to attend school, while those such as Ali were made to stay and become shepherds.

She said it was this fact, which added another dimension to the boy’s mysterious gaze.

“That really broke my heart when I heard this story because then suddenly that heavy look on his face and in his eyes made so much sense. It’s about stories and now his story is travelling.”

Hoda said she was looking forward to using her prestigious award to begin her next chapter and accredited much of her success on the support of her “second family” at the Photography Studies College in Southbank.

“I’m still flying up high and trying to digest the excitement but it feels really beautiful I have to say,” she said.

“I feel a little bit embarrassed I see my photos up everywhere and everyone’s really excited for me, which is great because at PSC I feel that we’re all like family and there’s this really friendly environment that you enjoying working in.”

To view more of Hoda’s work visit

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