Somewhere in the world on any given day of the year, there is a festival or ceremony taking place – either sacred, secular or spiritual. Although each of these is visually very different, the linking commonality for them all is that they provide an annual opportunity for the participants to demonstrate and express their indigeneous beliefs, customs and heritage. These extraordinary rituals and celebrations often take place against a backdrop of some of the world’s most stunning landscapes. The festivals are always spectacular; the fantastic imagery is created by the participants themselves – not by Disney or Hollywood.
In the early part of 1975 Britain was in chaos, and industry had ceased to function due to the Miners coming out on strike. The country was on a three-day week and most businesses were making massive redundancies. I had been a ‘creative’ in advertising for the previous ten years, producing television commercials for many of Britain’s leading Brands – and was also made redundant. There appeared to be few creative opportunities left for me at that time in the UK and I was therefore very fortunate to see in a broadsheet newspaper a position advertised with NIRTV (the national TV station of Iran) for a TV Reporter/Producer to be based in Tehran. But I was an advertising creative; I had never reported for television in my life. But I got the job and a month later arrived in Tehran where I was to replace the incumbent Reporter/Producer, also English, who had just returned from Vietnam where he had been covering the Fall of Saigon, and had decided whilst there that his ambition to become a Television Darts Commentator rather than a Foreigh Correspondent would provide a more secure, and certainly, safer career.
So after two weeks, I was given my first assignment. “Prepare yourself to go to the North Pole – tonight – and then when you’ve been there, you can go to the South Pole”.
“Why?” I asked. “We will be the first Iranian TV team to go there” I was told.
A couple of hours later, after I had worked out how we might possibly get from Tehran to the North Pole that evening, my boss, the Iranian Executive Producer, told me that he’d changed his mind and that I could go to the North Pole the following week. I was to go immediately to Australia “to get Malcolm Fraser, the Prime Minister”. So I informed my Iranian crew about this decision, which made them a lot happier, and we got our gear together for the southern hemisphere. However, a further two hours later I was handed the air tickets for this trip. But they were to Delhi, not Melbourne or Canberra. “You’ll go to Delhi tonight – make sure you get the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, or I’ll fine you” the Exec. Prod ordered me.
So off I went to India to interview the most powerful woman in the world. It was a terrifying experience for an ex-advertising creative. But somehow I got through it, and life then became a roller-coaster of weekly trips around the world interviewing world leaders and dodging bullets in an increasing number of dangerous war zones.
The Shah (who I ultimately worked for) believed that a coup was imminent and that the country would be overrun from the north (Soviet Union) by the Communists. So a number of reportages that I carried out were related to the rise in influence of Communist groups and sympathizers, particularly in Europe.
It was impractical to make a thirty minute programme simply by stringing together endless interviews of ‘talking-heads’ so I began to look for interesting visual imagery that I could use as a ‘peg’ to hang these discussions on. It happened, mostly by luck, that I found festivals and ceremonies taking place in the filmic vicinity of my reportages so as I journeyed around the world, I began specifically to look for these. I not only filmed them for my weekly television programme, but I also began to shoot many photographs for my own archives. As my library began to expand, I became more passionate (and knowledgeable) about the subject.
LET’S CELEBRATE 365 therefore is the result of thirty-five years of amazing journeys around the globe. It’s taken a great deal of time as so many of the festivals happen concurrently due to the religious date, the new year, the phases of the moon and other annual patterns within the calendar.The festivals that are featured in the Exhibition are representative of global festival activity mostly in the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish and Pagan worlds, but there are thousands more that I still have been unable to witness yet. Some countries have festivals almost daily. I have a calendar of festivals in Bali numbering around two hundred – a month. Every weekend during the summer months is fiesta time in Spain and Portugal, and India is said to have more festivals than days in the year.
But LET’S CELEBRATE 365 also has an important historic and archival value, for acculturation is so rapid that it is probable that some of the images here will never be repeated due to changes in life-styles of the ethnic groups involved – not least the spread of mobile telephony. Global technological advances will surely impact on indigeneous populations and inevitably cause change.
Jeremy Hunter will be holding a talk to discuss his exhibition and work on Mon 14 Mar, 6.30pm, click here for more information and to book tickets.