Let’s meet up with… Parisa Taghizadeh!

BOY © Parisa Taghizadeh
First of all, congratulations! You are the winner of the 2014 Pride Photo Award with a photo from your series ‘Boy’, which depicts a young boy, your son, wearing a mask adorned with colourful feathers. The photo was also awarded first place in the ‘Gender’ theme category. Can you tell me how your photo series came about?
The work I generally make is based around notions of cultural and personal identity. I’m a person who has lived in many countries. I was born in Iran and was raised there until I was ten. My family and I moved to the United Kingdom after the revolution of 1979. I received my cultural upbringing in London, where I would later meet my husband, a New Zealander. We moved to Los Angeles, had both our kids there, and then moved to New Zealand. That’s where I live now. So, my sense of cultural and personal identity is quite fragmented. In a way, the project with my son is an extension of that.
When I told one of my friends – she’s a documentary filmmaker – that my son likes all things that are traditionally associated with girls, such as the colour pink and dressing up in fairy costumes, she told me that it would make an interesting photo project. I thought: I should start documenting him right now. And I’m really glad I did, because he doesn’t want to dress up like a girl anymore. When he started going to school, I knew things would change. Nowadays he comes in and says: ‘I want to play with guns.’ He makes such an obvious, over the top point about it that I almost know that it’s not true. (laughs)
His best friends are girls. That’s just the person he is. To me it has nothing to do with a notion of gender or sexuality, or whether he is going to be straight or gay. That is all irrelevant. The point is that he just needs to be himself. As parents we try to celebrate that. People will make you feel ashamed when you’re a boy wearing a dress. I tell him: ‘If anybody ever makes fun of you wearing a dress, just remember it is because they don’t have much imagination.’ It is not his limitation, it is theirs. It is difficult for a child to understand that, but I’ve been telling him that from a very young age. It is a very important message. He should never feel ashamed about who he is.
Was your son a willing subject for your camera?
Extremely. He loves the camera and likes to strike a pose. Sometimes it was a bit of a struggle, when I asked him to re-enact certain poses, but in general he was very easy to work with. I use my camera so much that my kids always see me with my camera. The camera is not an alien, invasive thing for them. I’ve always liked to photograph people in a close way. There shouldn’t be a wall between my subjects and me.
Can you tell me more about the award-winning photo of your son wearing the feather mask?
I bought the mask for my son because I liked its vibrant theatricality. My son wasn’t particularly in love with it the first time I showed it to him, but when he put it on and took a look in the mirror, he loved what he saw. I took several pictures of him wearing the mask, but this one definitely worked strongest for me. Even though it is a playful photo, it feels quite serious: my son’s expression is almost a bit severe. Usually masks are associated with something hidden, they have something dark and sinister about them. In this instance, it’s the other way around. It’s about a child being himself. It is about revealing rather than hiding.
Why did you decide to participate in the Pride Photo Award contest?
I was approached by one of the Pride Photo Award photo scouts. She asked me if my photo series could be published on the Pride Photo Award Facebook page. My husband and I talked quite a bit about it, because it brought up some ethical questions. I had never thought of ‘Boy’ in the context of pride at all. I didn’t want to label or define my son. I didn’t want him to turn around later in the years and question my decisions.
But then, when my husband and I discussed it, we both decided it is organizations like Pride Photo Award that make a real difference to the lives of the LGBT community. I think it is important for us to teach our children the relevance of such organizations. My kids are growing up in a time in which same-sex marriage is acceptable and will become even more acceptable. Whether my son grows up gay or straight doesn’t matter. We then finally decided that the photo series could be published. It felt like contributing to a good cause. The photo scout also suggested that I would send in ‘Boy’ for Pride Photo Award contest. So I just did.
Did you already tell your son you won the 2014 Pride Photo Award?
I told him tonight, while he was playing a game on an iPad. I told him my photo of him won an important award. He turned around, looked at me and replied: wow! And then he went straight back to his game. (laughs)
Interview by Niels van Maanen, art historian and critic, Amsterdam

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.


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