Since 2019, Sia Yazdanfar, an expat photographer who has lived most of his adult life in the U.S. — including more than a decade in Hillsborough — has returned to his homeland of Iran to document the countryside. As much as one with connections to the U.S. can spontaneously travel about in Iran, Yazdanfar set his flights and destinations, but often let friendly villagers, fishermen, farmers, and so on, guide his photography and experiences.

In August of 2021, Yazdanfar again returned to Iran with intentions to go to the Azerbaijan Province, to photograph in Tabriz, a huge city close to the border of Iraq.

“But every time I thought about it, it just seemed like it was going be too cold and too forbidding for me,” he said. “Even in the fall it gets chilly there.”

So, instead of going to the northwestern part of Iran, he went to the Persian Gulf Coast on the southern fringes of the country, a place he had never seen. The photos from Yazdanfar’s 2021 trip and a previous one, are collected in his show “The Accidental Traveller,” which is now exhibiting at Alamance Arts in Graham. 

Yazdanfar clearly has a knack for photography, but he also has a talent for putting people at ease and earning their trust to help tell their stories in a way that is intimate and unexpected. Whether you’re familiar with Iran’s rich history and culture, or you just now Google Mapped the whereabouts of the Persian Gulf, it’s almost impossible to not gain an appreciation for the lives of the everyday people Yazdanfar encounters. 

“Through my photography, I seek to share with the viewer the many layers that comprise this ancient civilization, where despite the influx of modernization, certain ways of life continue as they have for centuries, if not longer,” Yazdanfar said in his official bio. “Travelling to distant places and exploring ways of life different than our own informs our worldview. We all seek familiarity, and I use the medium of photographic storytelling to deliver that.”

The colors he captures are almost unreal.

One of the most strategic waterways on Earth is the Strait of Hormuz. Much of the world’s oil passes through the it, and there are a number of islands in the strait, including Hormuz Island, which is also known as “Rainbow Island.”

“Some friends of mine who knew of my travels were telling me to ‘go to Rainbow Island,’” he said. “They were looking up the island online and sending me all these crazy photos of multicolored mountains and rainbow-colored soils. Once I realized some of them had been Photoshopped, I started looking deeper into it. It was somewhere intriguing.” 

His plan to devote about a day to the region of the island turned into eight to 10 days and nights. Yazdanfar would return to Tehran and purchased a plane ticket to Tabriz, his original destination. Unable to shake the otherworldly attraction of the islands, he cancelled his ticket and purchased one to the Persian Gulf. 

“I probably spent a total of about a month and a half to two months there,” he said. “I got to know a lot of the locals. It is possibly the most unique landscape, and flora and fauna that I've seen anywhere throughout my travels, not just in Iran, but anywhere else.”

“Accidental Traveller: An Exploration of Persian Gulf Islands and Coasts With New Eyes” will be on exhibit at Alamance Arts until March 19. The gallery is at 213 S. Main St. in Graham. For more information about Sia Yazdanfar, and more examples of his photography, go to: