Dr. Morteza Nouraei presented in the »Oral history and Photography« workshop

A Reconstruction of the Centrality of the Silent Message of the Photograph, with Oral History

Compiled by: Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: The workshop "Oral History and Photography" was held with the speech of Dr. Morteza Nouraei, professor of the history department of Isfahan University, on Sunday, the 7th of January 2024, under the auspices of the Astan Quds Razavi Library, Museums and Document Center, in the central library of the Holy Shrine and at the same time, it was held virtually. The following report, after compilation, has been modified and adjusted by Dr. Nouraei.


Dr. Nouraei started the workshop as follows: "As an introduction, first of all, a few points should be mentioned: in the speed and expansion and diversity of the type of news, especially from the middle of the 20th century, the mechanisms of modern historiography meet the needs, including recording and production. The plural narratives were not based on the modern style. Therefore, on the one hand, you want the variety of demands and on the other hand, the colorful perspectives of multidisciplinary and constructionist procedures, which, in our term, the subject of history, in addition to these needs, could be answered. During one or two decades after the Second World War, we witnessed a great diversity both in the subject and fields and in the interdisciplinary mechanisms in the field of historiography: local history, oral history, women, war, migration, economy, religion, ethnic groups, and...Oral history is of this kind: for this purpose, in this position and topic, it is actually a problem statement with the mechanisms and foundations of a discipline.

Oral history of photography or photographs; It is a procedure whose extracts are family, cultural, local histories and civil institutions. Although it can be applied in a wider geography in the generalized stage. The aspect of its technical issues can be used in the history of architecture and urban planning, industries and inventions, and consequently, factories and guilds and workers.

Dr. Nouraei also stated in the continuation of his introduction about this workshop: "Oral history and photographs is a specialized topic in the field of oral and interdisciplinary history, and I have presented this topic once in Mazandaran province, but it was edited with another edition and I will present a different reading in a more technical and operational way in this workshop. First, I'd rather show you some photos from the 60s and get into the discussion. Because our topic is social-news photos, for example, the type of coverage, architecture and scenery, the social class of the people in the photo can be investigated. In fact, the photo reflects a moment, while the oral history historian is supposed to connect these moments in the body of a narrative and turn it into a work. It should be said here that we do not have a discussion on artistic photos, because a more technical discussion is needed, but the photos that are supposed to be the subject of oral history are the existing social and personal photos. The entrepreneurial side of the photo and its oral history is still intact. Sporadic work has been done, but there are a lot of photo collections even in family archives that need to enter the field of oral history or oral history should enter it. This commuting is possible and available.

In the oral history of photography, we want to turn the life or the life, which was photographed for a moment and stopped, into a flow. Of course, this flow of life was before, it was after, and it stood in the picture for a moment. The task of the oral historian is to find the lost moments before and after it and even in that moment when the centrality of the silent message is and rewrite its narrative. Regardless of these general topics that I presented to you, the other topic is to see how this silent and hidden message in photography, as a verb and a photo as a work, is simultaneously affected by the world around us and influenced by it; Camera, record it and extract its oral history. What I will present to you today will also be more or less based on parts of the text "Oral History and Photography[1]".

From the point of view of validity, photographs are considered in the category of primary sources in the field of historiography and in the category of documents in terms of validation. In fact, the reflection of the past moment in the photos is a "transparent display of the silent reality" that the oral historian tries to illustrate the photos and their surroundings. Our questions in the scope of converting and compiling these documents (photos and their origin) are: a) How to extract collective (historical) experience from such evidences and documents? b) How can the interrupted narrative be transferred or transformed into a sequential textual narrative? c) What is the subject area and its terminology?

Creating content from attractive photos

In the continuation of this meeting, Dr. Nouraei emphasized that the entire philosophy of this book revolves around the act of photographing or photography and oral history and added: "I want to point out a point that I have named "The Terminology of Oral History of Photography" that on the photograph itself, It is concentrated. In other words, the set of proposed terminology can help organize our discussion in the topic of speech. This procedure has actually helped to anatomize the oral history of photography and define and explain its angles. Here, I prefer to read you two strategic paragraphs that I have selected from this book: "... But pictures cannot tell a story. They can only provide anecdotal evidence, and show silent evidence that needs to be illustrated and interpreted. In this way; a photograph can best serve as a proof or document of something beyond itself, not as an answer or an end to research, but as an invitation to look more closely and as a starting point for asking questions...

Sometimes these questions can give us the necessary answers. "...we have all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, if this statement is true, why should it not be self-explanatory? Because a picture is worth a thousand words, only in certain circumstances - which usually includes the content in which the silent words of the picture were formed in a limited (moment). In this way, the field of history has progressed towards landscape rotation, visual rotation, semiotic rotation, and concentratedly towards photography.

The book has several points about how historians should pay attention to the role of photographs in oral history. But before that, two points should be mentioned: The first point is that we are not talking about artistic photos here. The second point is that in the discussion of the oral history of photography, they believe that photography has been socialized since the 1940s, but in my opinion, it was socialized a little before that, from the 1930s.

Let me give an example about landscape rotation. A few days ago, I saw a photo about the travelogue in the newspapers. A collection of photos of a person who traveled with his personal car and took photos: "Spectacular photos of a tourist from a trip to Iran in the 1970s. The driver went from Iran to Afghanistan and Tibet with this car."

In his photos, this tourist shows us from which angle to look? Where is the angle of his sense? What density lies in it? The variety of his view is actually a visual rotation. Also, some time ago, the snow photos of Tehran in 1954 were published in Ferraro, that the snow-covered streets of Shemiran and the cars have a semiotic turn and can give us oral historians and idea in the beginning and continuation of the interview. Note that content should be created from the attractive ideas of the photographer. As we do not go towards ideas that are not attractive to the audience. This attraction is actually the same questions about the past that every generation needs to know continuously.

The first statement: photos are the best stimulus and address to recall forgotten memories

Dr. Nouraei added: "five questions are raised about both the document and the photo; Photo as a document. Who did this document belong to? When, where, why and how was it formed? These are the five basic questions in document analysis, which we know as "external questions". We can say about the photo:

1. Who/who? "The photo is an explanation of the role of agents"

2. When? "When is the photo taken?"

3. Where? "The photograph is a natural/artificial situation"

4. Why? "Photo is the result of selection: frame"

5. How? "A photograph is a landscape product".

What I would like you to do more carefully for the analysis tool and oral history is to consider every photo that is included in your interview as a text and in the interview, go back and forth between the photo and the narrator. This is where you turn a moment of constant silence into external questions; in a frame frame is actually a situation full of words and hadiths that was selected from among all the photographers/agents and recorded it. The content of the frame in the interview is a kind of content that should be read both by the narrator and the interviewer. In the subject of entry into the text, the confluence of the scene in the frame is where the interviewer enters from the stage of external questions to internal questions.

It is worth mentioning here that the position of oral history and photography can have two modes:

1) The topic and articulation of the basic narrative is based on the collection of photos. In this case, the centrality of the project and content is the interpretation and reconstruction of the memory of the narrator or narrators, based on the data extracted from the photos.

2) While in the second situation, the basic narrative has its form based on the content taken from memory, but they use the photo as auxiliary content. In the first situation with the center of the photo, it is actually photo research and the ideas are mainly from the images. While in the second case, the project is independent and the photos are placed in an angle and are used as auxiliary documents in documenting the interview.

Dr. Morteza Nouraei, then referring to the titles in the list of the book "Oral History and Photography" said: "In this book, a collection of articles can be seen that emphasize the fact that you can remember through photos, and all of them contain good ideas. It means we take the photo and put it next to the memory or vice versa. For example, when we look at photos related to our trip or marriage, these images remind us of hidden memories. Interviewers know that they need to document when interviewing. That is, in the context of the topic, they find documents such as photographs of life and life-giving, souvenirs of the days. Photos, more than anything else, can revive memories. In the list of the book, the first title: "Pictures of the wedding of a couple named Brockmeyer; Exploring the Intersection of Photographs and Oral History Interviews". In addition to family affairs, a wedding is a collection of customs and social culture that are recorded in a collection of photos at various moments. In fact, it is a bundle of silent awareness’s of moments; from a long time ago to the time of the interview. The title of the next article is "When I was a girl" in which women talk about their own childhood photos. This issue is also important for our girls. How did you spend your teenage years in the culture of your family, schools and friends? The next title is "Images of my mother's family memories, her photos, and our memories". That is, to remember the forgotten and the feelings associated with the dense moment of family photos, happy days and family concerns; A future in colorful dreams. The next title, "Photos and consolidation and cultural relationship between young people and white elders", is actually words to restore and connect generations in the transmission of experiences. This story and proposition shows that the function of the oral history of the photo is what has been discussed by cultural policymakers now and forever. So that there is no generation gap and one generation does not appreciate the previous generation or makes mistakes, does not know what they have done and does not appreciate their efforts. The collection of these photos can create a connection between young people and white-bearded people, and this connection is what the missing link in our society is today. Will the collection of photos taken with digital phone cameras and often not printed provide something to the next generation? We take more than 500 photos but they don't print and get lost or deleted. Maybe it's a generational shortcoming, but are the photos you take with your cell phone saved somewhere? And then how is it available? In the old days, albums were good. The album means the stop and the station of memories, it means periodic reflection, it means the target of the index finger! I am not saying to go back to the past. It means that the accessible past has various functions; including the moment of reflection and review of days; the days we are now in the future. I say that the past can be somehow revived in the present and future. The past, which has been continuously questioned in the eyes of the next generation, and the answer has been hidden in the summaries and lack of work on both sides!

The next topic is "the use of press photos in retelling the narrative of politicians' lives". In a master's degree research, we saw newspaper advertisements from the 1960s in Keyhan newspaper and investigated the effect of the advertisement on the marketing of that decade. Of course, this research was not based on the philosophy of oral history, but if you bring the television advertisement or newspapers of that time, many points of desire, hopes and passion to buy and consume these goods are raised for us. In the second part of this chapter, it states how these events can be turned into a narrative and a history. Undoubtedly, the election campaigns and the type of programs of the candidates or the pursuit of the life of diplomacy in the mirror, explain the discourses of the past times, but here, the interviewees will be the professional newspaper readers of the decades under investigation. They can explain the days with pictures from newspapers; Wishes, what did we want? And what happened the variety of images of the agents of the 28 August 1954 coup still has the ability to pose questions in the context of the popular oral history of the coup in different regions of the country. Iran at that time was very political and there were many newspaper readers among different classes.

"Advertisements, waves, memory and margins of photography" is the title of the next topic of the book. Remember that oral history does not intend to relive the same event. Because the event itself, more or less, can have recorded itself, but it can help us how and from what perspective to look at those pasts based on the edges. This point is important. So Havashi is one of the main circuits of oral history philosophy that has been proposed since the end of the 20th century. An American proverb says that we are all immigrants. Some came four hundred years ago and some came a few minutes ago, and family photos show how they gradually built a multicultural culture.

"From witness to participant" in the sense that in video documentation, there is a momentary pause that needs to be explained. In the collection of articles "Photographs, Oral Sources and Historical Narrative", he has examined the mechanisms of the attitude of oral historian to speak the silent time, which I will give some examples below. When you come across a collection of photos, consider a few things: First, find its origin. Because you want to analyze it later. It may be a collection of military or labor photos. The conscription department destroyed a lot of photos. These photos were and are very interesting portraits. Maybe in some centers of the older military service, they keep these photos. Perhaps the same faces of people who have taken pictures for the military service, for institutions, newspapers and magazines, have a world of discussion, apprehension, hope and despair. These are the source of production and storage of memories; a momentary moment in the flash of the camera, a noisy silent agreement stop. Even the smiles dried up for all the days before and after?

The second proposition: anatomy or terminology/terms/keywords of oral history of photography

In the second part of the speech, we pay attention to some terms that outline the anatomical geography of the discussion in the oral history of photography:

* Inside and outside the photo: The places seen in the photos contain the memory of our urbanization. Above all, photos are the cultural character and heritage of urbanization. For example, if you find photos of Naqsh Jahan Square and its changes or that were taken in the surrounding photos in the historical geography of the city, they have a lot to say about the settlement and spaces around the shrine, because the photo booths around the shrine gradually disappeared in the 1970s. Interview photographers from that era and see if they have kept the photos and you can access them. It is a good idea to plan the oral history of Margin Bast photography. Or that Isfahan's Naqsh Jahan Square is a topic of conversation from any point of view at any time. Its audience is for all times. The fact that tourism photos are framed in several sets of space, speaks for itself in different times. This square has been a promenade since the distant past and it is the same for me. Most of the time I saturate the field weekly and it always seems like a fresh photo. All this conversation is the historical position of the square and me and all the visitors and other agents of the square: human, natural and artificial for any reason.

* The Range of pictures: it means that it revives the depths of the memory to some extent. Note that when you show a photo of the interviewee, do not go beyond the board. That is, trans-narrative imaginations should not enter the narrative and should not present beyond the content of the photo. Now, what does "density of meaning" mean? It means that for a moment the meaning has condensed and you have taken a picture. For example, you go on a trip and take photos next to historical monuments. The fact that you put yourself next to that historical monument and take pictures is the cost of a good or bad trip for you. When I refer to the photos of the operational areas, I still feel the same time and my soul is inflamed and I am still filled with the memories and dangers of the war days.

* "Photos and sounds" means the exchange between photo and sound, forms the oral history of the photo. That is, the text means the original text of the photo and the concept means that photo is formed in that text. The combination of these two makes a narrative. Photo helps stimulate memory, imagination, logical filling of documentation gaps. Explanation of image concepts is in the discourse umbrella of the moment of photography. That is, the photo in the oral history of the photo not only works like interview documentation, but is an effective supplement in showing the hidden and lost corners of the narrator's memory. Mark Bloch, the famous French historian and the founder of the anal school in historiography, says that in documentation, preference is given to sources that were not produced for the purpose of historiography. It means that they were not supposed to write a history based on these documents and letters. These have more purity for the historical narrative. The photo is the brother of the document. Because they didn't want to take this photo so that later someone wants to write history through it. These image collections contain pure knowledge and are now available to us to have diverse narratives from different decades of our lives, family, neighborhood, and etc.


Oral History and Photography, Edited by Alexander Freund and Alistair Thomson, First published in 2011, Macmillan, US.


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