The life of Manoocher Deghati is an extraordinary tale of curiosity and courage. It is a journey in relentless pursuit of the truth, starting in his native Iran, but forced into exile for daring to show the outside world the realities of the revolution and the war with Iraq.
He landed in Costa Rica where he organized and built up the fledgling photography of Agence France Presse in the region. Here was a polyglot magician with a camera, a portable darkroom and an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
His images speak for themselves, but behind each one is a cocktail of resourcefulness, patience, trust building, and a dash of cunning.
Take the picture of the triumphant Yasser Arafat returning to the Gaza Strip for the first time in 27 years. All the photographers there – and there were plenty – had the image in their minds, but only Manoocher managed to shoot it in the midst of the tumultuous crowd cheering their leader.
Later he was almost killed in clashes in Ramallah when a bullet fired by an Israeli sniper shattered his leg. Ironically, it was a team of skilled Israeli surgeons who saved both his life and leg, spending hours piecing it back together, fragment by fragment.
He spent an excruciating 18 months in rehabilitation at the Invalides military hospital in Paris. Lesser men might have succumbed to the pain and opiates administered to dull it. Not Manoocher. He used the time to recover his strength, and also to organize his photographic archives. And he put the experience to good use, documenting the lives of French military veterans and their rehabilitation. During this period he was granted French citizenship, presented at the ceremony by President Jacques Chirac.
Working from his new base in Paris, he continued to travel, even returning to Ramallah where he photographed the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, being pelted with stones by protestors. In the ensuing melee an official car ran over him, breaking the same leg and bones.
The ever-resilient Manoocher next went to Afghanistan, after the collapse of Taliban rule, and there, with his fellow photographer, his brother Reza, founded the Aina school of journalism in Kabul, initiating the vitally important work of training Afghan journalists to tell the story of their own country.
Then came Kenya where he worked for the United Nations news agency in Nairobi, overseeing the training of photographers and collecting pictures covering all of Africa. He was packed, ready to start anew in Azerbaijan, when I called wondering if he might be interested in running the Associated Press photo operations in the Middle East. With his usual impeccable timing he began work in Cairo the day before the Egyptian revolution erupted, and spent the next years coordinating AP’s coverage of the revolutions and upheavals in the region.
Manoocher captained the AP team that won a Pulitzer photography prize for their coverage of the civil war in Syria, showing yet again his ability to uncover and cultivate photographic talent around the world.
In 2014 he decided to devote time to grapes instead of photography, and chose his base in the region of Puglia in Italy where he is now planning the next steps in his extraordinary life.
Over more than 25 years of friendship, dating back to Central America, I have watched Manoocher Deghati at work (and at play) and have marveled at his wealth of experience and generosity of spirit. He is a remarkable person and the world is privileged to have him as one of its storytellers. Santiago Lyon - Vice President & Director of Photography, The Associated Press