An Iranian Journey

PhotographerHossein Fatemi
PrizeHonorable Mention
City/CountryChicago, United States
Photo Date2013
Entry Description

Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran under the Shah had close relations with the United States which saw it as a reliable ally in a volatile region and an important bulwark against the neighbouring Soviet Union. With its vast oil reserves, Iran was a pivotal power in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and the Shah's drive to secularise the country aligned with Western intentions for the region. All this changed, however, with the revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeni to power and inaugurated decades of virulent anti-Americanism. For over twenty years, the news and imagery coming out of Iran have been dominated by chador-clad women, flag burning demonstrations and the reports of nuclear skulduggery. The reality of daily life in this ancient country, however, is much more complex and diverse. Hossein Fatemi, born and raised in Iran, has been photographing his native country for over 15 years since he started his photographic career. What emerges is a very different picture of a country that has been demonised, sanctioned and isolated for many years. Over 60 % of Iran's 73 million people are under the age of 30 and have little, if any, knowledge of their country before its transformation into a theocratic state. Despite this, however, Iran's younger generations are champing at the bit to break free from the paternalistic oppression of the Mullahs' republic and experience all the usual trappings of youth and modernity that are increasingly being beamed into homes via the internet and (as yet still illegal) satellite TV stations being picked up by the tens of thousands of dishes mounted on buildings across the country. Iran's Basiji volunteer militia prowls the streets looking for women whose headscarves reveal too much hair or young couples inappropriately holding hands but behind closed doors, in the privacy of many a home, Iran's largely secular majority tries to live life as undisturbed as possible. The country has increasingly become a nation of two halves with public office largelyheld by vetted individuals of spotless Islamic credentials and a large majority navigating a precarious path through the thicket of religious legislation and custom. Mixed parties where alcohol flows liberally, DJs playing Western music to dancing audiences, increased access to officially banned websites, organised prostitution and a worrying proliferation of hard drug use, especially heroin, are all signs of a slow but pronounced divergence between what Iran's Islamic government perceives to be the rightful state of society and the realities lived by the majority of citizens. While the state tries to contain certain practices such as prostitution and pre-marital sex with work-arounds such as nikah al-mut'ah, or temporary marriage, where two people enter a marriage agreement that can last for as little as an hour, it has proved impossible to curtail liberal, western influences with the spread of internet use in Iran. Daily, millions of young people engage in activities that are officially illegal and can carry severe penalties. While the government likes to think of Iranian society as a monolithic unit occupying the moral high-ground in stark contrast with a degenerate, immoral West,the reality of daily life in the Islamic Republic is one which bears all the hallmarks of a modern hybrid with all the usual problems and vice Over the years, Hossein has tried to document all parts of Iran's complex society, lifting the veil on some of the less observed areas of daily life, showing the conflicts that arise between the official version of Iranian life promoted by the authorities and the reality of daily life for Iran's youth which is struggling to find an identity in a fast moving, ever changing world. Travelling across Iran for over a decade, meeting and convincing hundreds of individuals to allow him into their lives, observing the interaction between different type of people in their daily lives, Hossein shows a complex and changing society from the inside. The deal recently reached between Western governments and Iran which is meant to ensure that the country's nuclear programme remains exclusively civilian is now promising a loosening of the sanctions regime that has throttled the Iranian economy and may yet lead to a political opening in its wake.

About Photographer

Hossein Fatemi, b.1980 in Iran, started his career as a photographer in 1997. He has worked in Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Russia, India, Somalia, Kenya , Afghanistan and Bangladesh. His work has been published in numerous national and international publications including The Times, Newsweek,Time, Paris Match, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post.