“Peace is much more quieter than violence”: Felix Schoeller Photo Award winner Shirin Abedi in an interview
Shirin Abedi was honored at the Felix Schoeller Photo Award 2021 as the best young artist. For her, the award has marked the beginning of a new phase in her creative work. In this interview, the Iranian-born Shirin Abedi talks about the impact winning the Felix Schoeller Photo Award had on her, why photo competitions are very important, especially for young photographers, and what peace means to her.
Ms. Abedi, what does peace mean to you?
For me, peace means the security of being able to develop oneself and live as one wishes without experiencing violence because of it. Forms of this violence are, for example, isolation from society or discrimination. This security can exist in freedom and with tolerance. It feels like peace is a very fragile, artificially created construct for human coexistence – just like fairness. For both, we need to use our reason and be emphatic.
Last year, you won in the “Best Young Talent” category of the Felix Schoeller Photo Award. How has the award affected you and your creative work?
I find the award noble in its preparation. The whole process, the professionalism of the people involved in the award, the exhibition rooms, the award ceremony with an interpreter and the vernissage in the museum gave me a very appreciative feeling. It made me take myself seriously.
I received the award shortly after my graduation and thus entered a new phase of my creative work. Because of my strengthened self-image, I was able to develop myself better. In addition, the prize money gave me a financial buffer to continue working independently. Furthermore, through the prize I reached a new audience, expanded my network and even made new friends.
Why are competitions like the Felix Schoeller Photo Award so important for you as a young photographer?
Such competitions with “good” conditions are super for self-confidence as a photographer. We all have many self-doubts. I often wondered what was the point of it all and who would be interested in my story. Just being on a shortlist makes the doubts carry less weight. I want to reach people with my stories, and awards give me a stage to do just that. Most importantly, I’ve found that contests like this give my name meaning and more people get to know me.
You were born in Tehran and came to Germany at the age of seven. Since then, your life has taken place between two cultures. Does photography help you to come to terms with that?
All my life I felt wrong – not “right” Iranian, not “really” German, too intense. With photography, I’ve come to understand that these very attributes are my strengths. Before, I was often frustrated by my helplessness in the face of bad experiences in life. I had no voice and no hearing either. In trying to tell stories, I became stronger.
I fail very often, it’s important to remember that. But I am working hard to become a better storyteller and to recognize the many nuances in life. Photography gave my sensations a raison d’être, I understood that I am right the way I am.
What topics do you deal with photographically?
The essence of my practice is vulnerability and honesty. Driven by my fascination and frustration, my focus is on issues that I myself feel strongly about: Emancipation, courage, pain, shame and love.
Why did you choose photography as your medium?
I love seeing. I also really like telling stories. I myself have always enjoyed consuming art, especially visual media. They give me a sense of situations and stories. Unlike film, photography lacks the auditory level as well as the time track. Because of this one-dimensionality, one is limited and at the same time very free in the narrative.
As a teenager, I wanted to become a director and draw attention to social ills with my films. I’m quite shy and in my career choice photography turned out to be the perfect medium because I can work there alone and it’s short moments where I have to step out of my comfort zone.
Why is it so important to illustrate critical issues?
All people shape the world. Journalism and art can help people understand complex issues. This influences both the opinions they form and their actions. I think we photograph important issues because we hope to convince more people of our principles.
How can photography give peace a voice?
It is difficult for me to write hopefully in the current times. I wish I could say with a pure heart that peace is waiting to be shown. That it is there, that all we have to do is look. But, honestly, it is an artificial exercise for me to keep hope alive in me and turn it into the certainty that all will be well, that peace is here and we can all enjoy it soon.
It is important to keep war, suffering and conflict in mind. And yet to see the nuances. Peace is much quieter than violence. We humans are less likely to shout when we are in harmony. Probably you have to look for peace more and believe that it exists. Then you can photograph it.
What project are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on the continuation of the story of the dancers in Iran and an investigation of the long-term consequences of bullying in schools in Germany. I am also doing self-portraits and trying to understand love through Persian poetry by Ahmad Ghazali and Rumi.
What does peace look like to you in a picture?
My peace in a picture is my family, because for me it embodies tolerance, democracy and love. We are different personalities and manage to remain very close to each other with a healthy culture of conflict. In fact, this image shapes my work very much, as my values and ideals spring from this group of people.
About the photographer:
Shirin Abedi was born in Tehran in 1996. At the age of seven, she emigrated to Germany. Since then, she has lived a parallel existence between two cultures. Her interest in photojournalism ignited in her early teens – especially after she took her first photography course in 2011. In 2016, she moved to Tehran for a year to understand her country of origin. She worked as a freelancer for BORNA news agency in Tehran, exploring the country with her camera and her heart.
Since 2018, Shirin Abedi has been working as a freelance photojournalist. She is mainly interested in topics related to women’s rights, xenophobia, love and shame. Her work has already been published in various national and international media such as Stern Magazine, on Zeit and brandeins as well as in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. Shirin Abedi has been a jury member of the German Youth Photography Award since this year. The photographer lives in Hanover and is available for commissions and collaborations worldwide.
About the Felix Schoeller Photo Award:
For the sixth time since 2013, the Felix Schoeller Group is inviting all professional photographers worldwide to apply in three categories for the Felix Schoeller Photo Award 2023, the prize for the best work by young talent and the German Peace Prize for Photography. For the Felix Schoeller Photo Award 2023, professional photographers are invited to apply in the three categories “Portrait”, “Photojournalism” and “Sustainability”. A total of 30,000 euros in prize money will be awarded. The deadline for entries is January 15, 2023. All information, including uploads, is available at