When Naveed Nour took up photography, his start was truly a trial by fire. As a college student learning photography in Tehran in 1983, he documented the ravages of the Iran-Iraq war. But soon his anti war artwork would force him to flee and eventually give up his craft.
Now, after nearly two decades, Nour, 44, of Watertown, has dusted off his camera. Exhibitions in London and Boston have followed, and more are planned for Turkey and Dubai. Meanwhile, the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown has extended his solo show, "Movements in Adagio," through July 29.
The retrospective spans 25 years of work, starting with the stark, black-and-white war scenes from his youth and skipping forward to lively shots of Europe's city life and on to his most recent work: striking, richly hued, blurred color photographs that so strongly recall the Impressionist paintings that some gallery visitors have asked what kind of brush he uses. (View his work at naveednour.com. )
"I've been interested in photography since I was 5, but it really picked up when I was in high school. It was during the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, and the time was ripe for ideas and documenting," said Nour.
While still a teen, Nour roamed Tehran's streets with an 8mm movie camera pointed at the tumultuous scenes of the revolution. Once enrolled in college, he grew increasingly pained by the war and took another risk.
"I had a need to see what was going on. I needed to see what devastation looked like. So, I went to places like the city of Khorramshahr, which translates to Happy City. During the war, though, people called it Khooninshahr, which means Bloody City. I tried to capture as much as I possibly could," he said.
But his photographs were not only dangerous to shoot. Because they cast a disapproving eye on the conflict, they were also dangerous to have.
"When I started to get into real trouble for the work I was doing, I fled," he said. "I escaped via a two-day horseback ride through the mountains into Turkey. . . . But when I tried to fly from there with a fake passport, I was caught and spent two months in a Turkish prison."
His two souvenirs of the ordeal? A lingering case of claustrophobia because of the days he spent in solitary confinement with no idea of his fate, and his mug shot, which was snuck to him by another prisoner.
"I keep it as a reminder of the price I paid for my freedom," he said.
"It was funny in the past few weeks hearing about Paris Hilton and her experience and how she claims to have changed now -- which remains to be seen," he said in an e-mail. "In my case it was a bit different."
Upon his release, Nour applied for political asylum and eventually landed in Canada, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography. When the field proved a tough career, he set his camera aside and took up work in information technology. It took a faculty and staff show two years ago at Northeastern University, where he is now employed, to inspire him again.
"When they took my work something clicked. Suddenly I saw myself as an artist again," he said. Then the real break through came in Paris.
"I was standing in the Louvre looking at all these photographs . . . and I thought, 'Why am I spending my time here at the museum looking at artwork when I could go out there and do my own?' " he said. "The instant I thought about it, I left the exhibit, picked up my camera, and started shooting again."
A flurry of black-and-white street scenes that recall the work of French photographer Robert Doisneau were easily caught by his lens.
"I'm mesmerized by people and what they do," said Nour. "And what I realized in Paris that day is that being an artist is not just about the technique and the passion about the work. It's also about how you mature as a person and learn to look at things. That was building itself inside me and I was nurturing it in a way. So when I came to Paris, everything was ready. I just had to unleash it."
And he has. With the support of his wife and manager, Zohreh Firouzabadian, Nour mounted "History Recalls, and Nothing Has Changed" at Northeastern University this year. In it, he set his war photographs alongside more recent images of war by other artists.
"If you put these pictures side by side and don't give them any captions, no one would know where they were from. So, 20 years later, we're still repeating the things we were doing in the past and not learning from it," he said. The project is ongoing, as Nour plans a larger, higher-profile version of the show.
But Nour is not stuck in the past. His new work moves into an entirely new realm for him: color and dreamlike tableaus.
"What we see in the day during our lives is not a clear image. When you close your eyes and walk away from an experience, what remains begins to blur, and these blurs that you collect become the memory of your day, and these memories of your days . . . become the history of your life," he said. "This series is about these moments. It's about the parts we take away with us."
"Movements in Adagio" through July 29 at the Armenian Library and Museum of America, 65 Main St., Watertown. Hours vary. Admission $5; under 12 free. Call 617-926-2562, or visit naveednour.com or almainc.com.
JAZZIN' UP MA'S: What could be a better match for Ma Glockner's legendary "berched chicken dinner" (served since 1937) than a night of sizzling, old-time jazz courtesy of local legend Stan McDonald and his Blue Horizon Five ?
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New England Traditional Jazz online reports that at the first show "the band was on fire. Fans could not sit still," and McDonald "resurrected the soul" of the legendary sax player Sydney Bechet. Translation: Bring your dancing shoes.
Stan McDonald's Blue Horizon Five 7 p.m. tonight and every first Thursday of the month at Ma Glockner's, 151 Maple St., Bellingham. $10 cover. Call 508-966-1085 or visit maglockners.com.
BACK TO SCHOOL: If only school were really this fun. In MetroWest Family Theater's production of Disney's "High School Musical" they'll be dancing on spinning tables, keeping the rhythm of hip-hop tunes with basketballs, and belting their way through pop, rock, and Broadway-style tunes, all before the final bell rings.
Thirty-one area teens and adults, including Jen Wood of Southborough, 17, and Christopher Jordan, 19, of Hudson, will take the stage in this rollicking "Grease" meets "Mean Girls" story.
Meanwhile, director Samantha Hammel deserves congratulations for recently and single-handedly opening her new 9,000-square-foot dance and theater studio, the Performing Arts Connection in Sudbury, which starts a full schedule of classes for children and adults this fall.
"High School Musical" tonight through Sunday at Ephraim Curtis Middle School, 22 Pratts Mill Road, Sudbury. Tickets $10 to $15. Call 978-443-2400 or visit mftsudbury.org.
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