Iranian photographer saves cultural heritage after Bam earthquake

februari 2006 -

After the destructive earthquake that struck Bam, photographer Parisa Damandan was able to save thousands of negatives from the rubble. Two years after the earthquake, the Iranian is still busy completing the project. On 26 December 2003, in a matter of seconds an earthquake destroyed the Iranian city of Bam. International humanitarian aid was pouring in. While the rescue workers were removing the bodies of the dead, art historian and photographer Parisa Damandan did everything she could to free at least some of the city’s cultural heritage from the destruction: photographs. She was able to save thousands of negatives: memories of life in Bam before the natural disaster struck. Parisa Damandan: "With my bare hands I started digging at spots where photo shops had been located before the earthquake. It was difficult to find digging tools in the destroyed city. I stopped after three days: fatigued and depressed. I went home to rest. After one week I went back to Bam and dug for ten straight days. I traveled back and forth between Bam and Teheran this way a number of times."


One of the images

The photographer brought the tens of thousands of negatives that she dug up to a safe building in the city of Keram. It took her many more days to bring order to the collection stored in twenty-eight plastic bags and cardboard boxes. At night, she slept in one of the building's cellars: she had no time to travel. Despite the fact that she, too, bore the grief of the survivors, she wanted to continue the project as quickly as possible. It is her hope that the photos will comfort other survivors. She believes that her task is to give the images she dug up back to the people. Ultimately, Parisa compiled an archive of thirty body bags filled with negatives.

More than two years after the earthquake she is still working hard on the completion of the project. She hopes to finish the collection with the files from three more half-ruined photo shops in Bam. The photographer wants to clean the negatives, put them in order and store them digitally. She also hopes to make a documentary and wants the collection to be accessible for the public.