One of the challenges of shooting stories about ancient explorers like Marco Polo is in finding modern-day equivalents to the sights a fourteenth- century traveler wrote about. In Iran, on the Persian Gulf, I was on the lookout for the residents Marco Polo described as “black-skinned people,” descendants of African slaves. He described meeting them near the port city of Bandar Abbas, as well as the climate extremes he encountered as he descended from a freezing 2500-meter mountain pass to a “great heat” on the gulf.
I ran into the same extremes when I arrived in the nearby village of Minab, looking to make pictures of a black-skinned resident. In killer heat, I spent the afternoon shooting hundreds of posed portraits — of the women with their unique form of hejab, framed in doorways and windows or backed by the adobe mud walls of their houses. Satisfied with what I had shot, I was packing up and heading back to the Land Cruiser when I spotted a woman washing clothes in a stream. She looked up and turned towards me just as I passed by. The late afternoon light was ideal. I managed to grab just 3 frames before she looked away. In this one serendipitous moment, I captured the perfect portrait with just the right gesture in just the right light. Out of all the other pictures I shot that day, this was the one we used. It wound up on the cover.