(TIME) — The first time Abbas Hajimohammadi Saniabadi visited a hospital in Tehran, where patients suffer from mental disorders like schizophrenia, he had one question for the head doctor: Can I come back?
It was mid-2012 and he wanted to document what life was like there for the hundreds of men and women being treated. The doctor eventually agreed. Hajimohammadi Saniabadi, now 30, traded in his old-model Nikon and sold his car, a Hyundai, to buy a Nikon D700 and get started on what would become his first story. He and the doctor set up four quick visits — but by year’s end, he would make nearly a dozen more.
“When you go inside there, you think you have walked into another world because the patients don’t think the way you do, they don’t behave the way others behave,” he said over Skype. “You don’t feel that they have a bad life because they don’t know what is happening. They think this is life and they kind of like it.”
Advertisement - story continues below