In August and September 2019, I spent four weeks traveling around Iran, a fascinating and truly diverse country. At that time, the country was under immense political and social pressure. The United States had re-introduced harsh economic sanctions. The economy was in free-fall and the potential for war loomed on the horizon.
A palpable sense of desperation filled the streets as Iranians wondered what the future held. Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb rang out on stereos across the country. A taxi driver told me, “young Iranians are old inside.”
During my time in the country, I shot over 1000 frames of black and white 35mm film. My aim was to capture everyday life for ordinary Iranian people. This project would result in a collection of around 150 photos titled Analog Iran, which I am currently featuring on Instagram. During my time in the country, I shot over 1,000 frames of black and white 35mm film. My aim was to capture everyday life for ordinary Iranian people. This project would result in a collection of around 150 photos titled Analog Iran, which I am currently featuring on Instagram.
The photos show the diversity of Iranian life, from the hustling capital Tehran, to the outskirts of Zahedan near the Afghan border; from the metropolis of Tabriz to the Kurdish mountains that straddle Iraq. The small selection I share here represents my aim to capture, in part, the mood of a nation under a cloud of uncertainty, the darkness and the collective depression.
Since my trip, the Iranian government has shot down a passenger plane, the US has assassinated a top Iranian military general, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has swept through. Sadly, tourism has all but ceased, and the friendly and generous hostel I was warmly welcomed at, See You In Iran, has shut down. Despite these pressures, Iranian people remain some of the friendliest, most generous people I have ever had the good fortune to meet in 20 years of travel.
There were many challenges in taking these photos. The first was ensuring that my images represented more than just the stereotypical. Many images of Iran commonly focus on the ubiquitous and state-mandated hijab and chador, life in the many bazaars, or the exquisite mosques. Due to Islamic adherences of dress and behavior, life on the streets — in the public arena — is very different to life behind closed doors. I wanted to delve a little deeper, and capture life behind closed doors, candid moments and the mood of the people.
Another challenge was to capture the diversity of such a geographically large population. The cities, villages and different regions are host to numerous ethnic and language groups that are all part of modern day Iran. This meant extensive travel, and a willingness to head to regions such as Beluchistan (near the Afghan border) and Kurdistan (near Iraq) which seldom receive tourists.
Aside from this, Iranian people proved generous and willing to indulge an Australian with an analogue camera. In fact, that I was using film was a source of interest to the people I met, and I even stayed with other analogue enthusiasts in my travels.
Film photography is still popular in Iran, with second-hand camera stores in Tehran, and new film development shops starting up. There are also numerous photography galleries that host a range of exhibitions, especially in the capital Tehran.
Analog Iran was shot with a Voigtlander Bessa R2A, with a USSR-made Jupiter 9 lens from 1963. You can see the rest of the collection on Instagram (@alimcphotos). I will also be holding a presentation on the project (and speaking about my previous work) in late August on Zoom. To register, just go to my website and subscribe for more details.