David Burnett (Jiang Rong)

David Burnett (Jiang Rong)

Inside Media: Photographing a Revolution

November 22, 2009

Guest: David Burnett

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

The political unrest brewing in Tehran in December 1978 piqued the interest of one Western photojournalist on assignment in Pakistan. But after arriving in the region, David Burnett realized that the story was not going to fade away. He would later chronicle Iran’s bloody 1979 revolution.

"I thought I would just go for a couple of days. I arrived the day after Christmas, went to  Time magazine’s stringer’s office and minutes later was on [my] way to Esfand Square when shooting broke out," he said.

Burnett noted that antagonism in Iran had been rising for some time, much of it led by the country’s religious factions like the Mullahs as well as the Socialists, Communists and Constitutionalists, who wanted the government to remain, but weren’t pleased with the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

In his book "44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World," the veteran photographer allows readers to relive the moments that changed Iran, including the deadly demonstrations, the fall of the Shah and the triumphant return of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Covering these events proved to be challenging.

"We would get around by hitchhiking and travel with a shortwave radio, listening to the BBC. That was how we knew what was going on in the world. There was no cable or satellite television," Burnett explained.

After shooting his photographs, Burnett would travel to Tehran’s airport and try to figure out whom to give the film to because "it was not like today when you snap a picture and it’s up on Twitter in minutes."

Burnett also said there are frightening similarities between the images he captured in 1979 and recent photos of mass demonstrations in Tehran.

"It’s almost spooky to look at these pictures," he said. "The cars are different. The clothes are different. [But] it looks like some of the images popped out of my camera."

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