I took this shot in Tehran last year, after the presidential elections. It was part of a story I did about all the rooftop protests: every night at 10pm, people would go up to their roofs and shout slogans against the regime. Thirty years previously, just before the revolution, people had gone up on to those same rooftops and done the same thing.
Through a contact, I met a doctor who had returned to Iran after living in Italy. He invited me to dinner with his friends, and, after the meal, we all went together up to the roof to join the protests. It was an amazing atmosphere. The doctor cried and told me that I was lucky because we were right there, living though a historical moment.
I decided to climb to the highest part of the roof; when I was halfway up, I turned and saw that the doctor and his sister were hugging each other. She lived in Canada and had not been to Iran for many years, but she had come back for the election. It was a wonderful moment – I had to move fast to get a picture of it.
The image is blurry because I had to use a very long exposure. It was night-time and I couldn’t use a tripod or flash – the protesters were very nervous about being seen in the company of someone with a camera. It was also vital that their faces were not recognisable: in fact, it was difficult to convince them to let me take their picture at all, but I explained that no one would see who they were.
I particularly like this picture because I loved that night on the rooftops. There was so much emotion, and for me the photograph is almost a synthesis of the historical moment the people were living through. I have since received many emails from Iranians, thanking me for showing their protests to the world. I am still in touch with the people in the picture. I know they are safe.
Interview by Andrew Pulver
“Ignore the voices saying photojournalism is dead – it’s just changing.”