Photographer Ali Hamed Haghdoust
didn't know much about leprosy when he first visited the village of Baba Baghi, in northwest Iran, seven years ago. He was only compelled to go when his friend, a nurse, showed him photos of the people who lived there: "[The] pictures show a part of their life," he explains, and it's for this reason that he went to take his own photos — to give people a glimpse of what life is like in this village, home to Iran's only remaining leprosarium.
More informally known as a leper colony, the leprosarium in the village was founded
in 1933 and 230 patients and their families still call it home. Although Iran has essentially eliminated
new cases of leprosy (less than 100 cases occur in a year), most of the people living in Babi Baghi are beyond middle-aged, in their 70s and 80s, and will live with the disease for the rest of their lives. "The situation for those who live...in [Baba Baghi] is not good," Haghdoust says, adding that their poor quality of life is "usually due to mental health problems and disabilities" that have developed from leprosy.
The patients and their families live in Baba Baghi free of charge, but Haghdoust mentions that many children of the afflicted have grown up to work as nurses and staff there. Suffice it to say, "they care [for their] patients well," Haghdoust adds.
He aims to bring leprosy out of antiquity and back into the public eye with his portraits. While leprosy's large-scale invisibility is a happy sign of how rarely the disease afflicts people anymore, the visibility of those who still live as lepers should not be denied. "The effectiveness of an image...can make changes in people's attitude...about every human event. [This] is [always] a desire of photographers in the genre of social documentary." Haghdoust believes that his photos, work, and writing will "ultimately lead to greater public understanding" of leprosy and thus go toward "helping [these] people."Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.