Newsha Tavakolian (born 1981 in Tehran) is an Iranian photojournalist and documentary photographer. She has worked for Time Magazine, The New York Times, Le Figaro, and National Geographic. She is particularly known for focusing on women’s issues in her work, and has been a member of the Rawiya women’s photography collective, she co-established in 2011. She lives and works in Tehran.
Born and brought up in Tehran, Tavakolian is a self-taught photographer. She began working professionally in the Iranian press at age of 16, at women’s daily newspaper ‘Zan’, after a 6-month photography course. At the age of 18, she was the youngest photographer to cover the 1999 student uprising, using her Minolta with 50mm lens, her photographs were published in several publications.
She got her international break in 2001 at age 21, when she met J.P. Pappis, founder Polaris Images, New York at photography festival in Perpignan, France. Thereafter, she began covering Iran for Polaris Images, in the same year, and started working as a freelancer for The Times in 2004.
In 2002 she started working internationally, covering the war in Iraq for several months. She has since covered regional conflicts, natural disasters and made social documentary stories in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen. Her work is published in international magazines and newspapers such as Time Magazine, Newsweek, Stern, Le Figaro, Colors, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, NRC Handelsblad and The New York Times Magazine.
Countering the predominantly male western dominance on photojurnalism in her region, she brought together a group of six Middle Eastern women photographers, uniting them in the RAWIYAH collective.
A common theme in her work is photo stories of women, friends and neighbours in Iran, evolving role of women in overcoming gender-based restrictions, and contrasts the stereotypes in western media. Her photo projects include Mother of Martyrs (2006), Women in the Axis of Evil (2006), The Day I Became a Woman (2010) and Look (2013), which opened at Thomas Erben Gallery, New York City.
She was part of the 2006 Joop Swart Masterclass organized by World Press Photo. In 2007 she was a finalist for the Inge Morath Award. Her work has been exhibited and collected at institutions such as the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Somerset House, London (April 2014), where she was one of eight Iranian photographers featured in the critically acclaimed “Burnt Generation” exhibition.
In 2012, her first book “The Fifth Pillar” was published by Gilgamesh publishers in London, covering her personal take on the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the Hajj. More recently, Newsha was commissioned by the Qatar Foundation to travel around the world for 3 months taking photographs for a book about education to be published in March 2014. Also in 2014 Newsha was a member of the 2014 World Press Photo competition jury. Her work will be exhibited in Paris in November 2014, where also her new book will be launched. After Paris the work will go on a tour to London, Frankfurt and Milan.
2014 Fifth laureate of the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award.
2009 Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize Finalist, United Kingdom
2007 Inge Morath Award, Finalist, Magnum Photo Agency, New York, United States
2006 Joop Swart Masterclass, World Press Photo, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2006 Still Photography Award from the All Roads Film Project, National Geographic, Washington, D.C, USA
2003 Runner-up in Picture of the Year International Competition, Magazine Feature Category, National Press Photographers Association and Missouri School of Journalism, USA
She Who Tells a Story – Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World, Kristen Gresh with a foreword by Michket Krifa. MFA Publications, 164 pages, 110 color illustrations
2012 Fifth Pillar, Hajj Pilgrimage, by Newsha Tavakolian, Gilgamesh Publishing House
2010 A History of Women’s Photographers, by Naomi Rosenblum, Abbeville Press.
2008 Iranian Photography Now, by Rose Issa, Hatje Cantz Verlag
2009 Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations, by Malu Halasa and Maziar Bahari, Garnet Publishing