PhD Lockdown Story: Sama

Sama, PhD student, photography


Iranian-born Sama is a documentary photographer whose postgraduate research explores the lives of Iranian women living in exile in the UK.


"Lockdown has been strange. We Iranians are used to living under limitations and restrictions, but even so, the pandemic and the resulting lockdown has taken its toll on me.


"Being separated from my parents, who are still in Iran, has been very hard. The fear of losing them has always been with me, but social media has been a lifeline. Every day, I receive photos and updates from my family to reassure me that they are well. The pictures are healing my mental health.


While the travel ban has restricted my research, it’s also meant I’ve had to look for creative solutions to data collection. Instead of doing face to face interviews, I have asked my participants (and other extended family members and friends) to send me pictures of themselves living under lockdown and share their stories with me. 


Sama, PhD student,  photographs of participants


Picture shows Zara: "I live in the UK far from my family who are in Iran. I miss them so much and I always think how I can fill up my parents' places for my three-year-old daughter. I’m seeing how the little kids are staying with their grandparents in the UK and learn many things from them."



"This aspect of my research is not just limited to the UK-residing Iranian women, I have extended the scope of my research to those living in Iran as well. So far, I have received many accounts from women in lockdown situations, both in Iran and the UK, doing their daily activities under the restrictions imposed on them. I plan to assign one chapter of my PhD thesis to this peculiar experience.


"My PhD investigates the experiences of Iranian women living in exile in the UK who have left their homeland, their families and their culture. Participants will be interviewed and their stories will be interpreted through psychoanalytic theories. 


"The faces of my participants are not visualised, except their eyes, something that makes viewers curious about the character behind the anonymity. The anonymity represents no one but at the same time everyone who is living in exile all around the world.


Sama, PhD student,  photographs of participants


Picture shows Hasti: "I am a singer living in Iran. Quarantine was a chance for me to focus and practice more on my music at home. I’m living in a country in which women are not allowed to perform solo or produce their own CDs due to regulations. Before the lockdown, I used to go to mountain and sang for the nature."



"At the moment, my focus is on writing the piece that I need to submit for my transfer from MPhil to PhD. My supervisors, especially Professor Mark Durden, have helped and supported me a lot in this very important phase of my research.


"The University librarians have been amazing too, but I can’t wait to be able to return to the library. There are so many books I want to borrow!"