Iranian-born photojournalist Majid Saeedi is a master storyteller who documents the resilience of the human spirit in the face of hardship. He first became well-known for his stunning reportage of conflicts in the Middle East. Saeedi was just 18 years old when he first traveled to the front lines of Iran and Afghanistan. He was subsequently named “Photographer of the Year” in his home country eight times and won many international photography awards. Nevertheless, he was jailed in 2009 while covering the contentious elections in Tehran.

After being released from jail, Saeedi left Iran and continued working in Afghanistan, where he was one of the only foreign photojournalists to embed with the Afghan troops. A heartbreaking collection of images he made there was released as a book titled Life in War (which won the FotoEvidence Book Award in 2014).

In more recent years, Saeedi has taken his skills in a different direction, stepping outside the war zone to photograph the everyday lives of people carrying on in extreme circumstances. “Today I prefer the opposite of what I preferred in my youth,” he said. “I want to share what others don’t see and maybe don’t appreciate.”

Take a journey through Saeedi’s active Instagram page and you will see beautiful and important images of people for whom life goes on despite the surrounding chaos: a boy flying a kite from a rooftop in northeast Afghanistan; an Iranian tourist slathering himself with black mud on the shore of Lake Urmia; an Afghan bodybuilder flexing in Kabul.

Indeed, the mobile phone has increasingly become one of Saeedi’s primary outlets. But despite the ease and immediacy of this new tool, Saeedi advises us, “Less is more.” For example, when Saeedi arrives at a location, he said he does not immediately take out his camera. “The first thing I do is not shoot for a while,” he said. “I could be in Kabul for a month and shoot only one photo on the streets in that time.” Instead, Saeedi says the best photographs come to those who wait.

“Street photography is like painting, sculpture and other fine arts,” he said. “A good photograph doesn’t suddenly come out…an artist is not simply a machine for producing good pictures.”

—Gina Williams

Learn more about Gina Williams, her writing and art on her personal website or her blog, Accents & Apertures.