WASHINGTON – Every photographer has a compelling story to tell. Former Canadian Press photographer Peter Bregg is one of them.
When the world was in a state of shock as a group of Iranian university students besieged the American embassy in Tehran and took 66 U.S. citizens and diplomats hostages 30 years ago,Bregg was in the middle of the unfolding drama of the Iranian Revolution.
In what Bregg deemed “the biggest assignment of my career,” he arrived in Iran in January 1980,roughly 2½ months after the Americans were taken hostage. Fifty-two of the hostages spent 444 days in captivity.
Bregg spoke about his time in Iran at National Press Club on Friday to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. An exhibit of 36 of his photos from that time is on view at the club until Feb. 4. During his career,Bregg covered eight Olympic games,Stanley Cup finals,World Series,presidential trips and the Vietnam war.
“The Iranian people were still euphoric following the revolution because in their minds things were going to be better,” Bregg said. “But gradually the clerics and the revolutionary guards took charge,and nobody really felt safe anymore.”
That included Bregg,who along with colleague Doug Long,was abducted at gunpoint by a group of revolutionary guards from the house they rented in Tehran. Recalling the terrifying incident in an interview,Bregg said it was one of the most vivid images stuck in his mind,even today.
“Four revolutionary guards showed up with pistols and took us away blindfolded. That was a bit scary at first. I wasn’t worried so much for my physical safety. I was worried for the inconvenience of being in jail for six months waiting to be released because I assumed that’s what might happen,” he said.
That,however,wasn’t what happened. Following a few interrogations,Bregg,then in his early 30s,and Long were released the next day and asked to leave the country.
Three weeks after the war broke out with Iraq in September 1980,Bregg received a phone call from the Iranian embassy. He and Long could return to Iran if they wanted to. Bregg went to Tehran for a second time in the same year.
Bregg,62,said that since the Americans were shut out,he and Long shared their coverage with other media outlets. He said it wasn’t easy being the only Westerners in Iran during the volatile period.
“It was very oppressive and very stressful because any day you could feel that something might happen,” Bregg said.
Added to the stress was being away from his wife and family.
“My wife was a hero during that time. When I was away for six months,she was busy taking care of the kids till I came home with my stories,” Bregg said.
“It was difficult. We have two daughters,then aged 10 and 11. I was lucky to be surrounded by family members,” Bregg’s wife,Diane,said in an interview. “Once in a while,I talked to Peter on the phone. I followed the news constantly,and Peter’s boss kept in touch with me.”
It was a major moment for Diane when Peter returned home. “I was relieved that it was over and he was safe,” she said.
The hostages were released Jan. 20,1981,as Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president. No one was more elated than Bregg,who watched as the hostages disembarked from the plane in Algiers. Bregg described it as “the most exhilarating moment” during the stressful time. He had flown to Algiers in advance of the hostages’ flight.
The hostages were flown to Germany,where they spent a few days before returning to the U.S.
“When those Americans came off the plane,I had goosebumps. I was stressed out because I had been in Iran for three months,and the freedom they felt for themselves I was feeling for myself,” he said. “I felt free at last.”