In 2016, a chance meeting with a young Iranian couple led Youness Miloudi to make his first visit to Tehran. The encounter had, evidently, made a big impression. “To be honest, I didn’t know much about the country, especially about the daily life of Iranians,” he says.
A French photographer based in Paris, Miloudi found the trip a huge learning experience. “This first visit was enough to make me realise how much I did not know this culture, and that I had, like many people, prejudices about Iran.”
With the aim of challenging his own preconceptions, and of coming closer to understanding the country, he embarked on several more trips throughout 2017 and 2018, documenting the people and places he visited. PerseFornia is one part of the resulting project, The Iranians, and consists of documentary portraits of the youth of Tehran.
From the bustling cities in the work of Eamonn Doyle and Guy Tillim, to Mark Power’s survey of decaying American landscapes, and a collaboration between Clémentine Schneidermann, Charlotte James, and a group of children in South Wales – this month’s issue is dedicated to the idea of the street as a site of theatre and historical spectacle.
“These documentary practices coalesced into a visual culture which, with its aptitude for capturing and transmitting collective emotions, became a tool for political propaganda,” write Hannah Darabi and Chowra Makaremi. They’re talking about the work produced in Iran in the years 1979-83, the period after the fall of the Shah and at the start of the Islamic government and a time in which freedom of speech briefly flourished, they argue, before descending into something darker.
“These few years stand out on their own in terms of the country’s publishing history,” adds Makaremi. “The creation and distribution of books would never be as unfettered as it was during this period. Nevertheless, at the same moment, books were also progressively becoming instruments of political propaganda and publishing became the laboratory in which to experiment with every form of dissemination of emotions, ideologies, and opinions. This propaganda operated through the production of texts, but also, and especially as of 1979, through visual and pictorial production.”
Darabi is a visual artist and collector who was born in 1981 in Tehran but is now based in Paris; her collection of Iranian photobooks make up the backbone of Le Bal’s latest exhibition, along with her own photographic “reconstructions”, creating using contemporary photographs of Tehran and archive images such as family snaps, press images, and postcards. Makaremi, a tenured researcher and a member of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, has “decrypted” the exhibition; in addition, Le Bal and Spector Books have worked with Darabi to create an accompanying photobook, with an introduction by Makaremi.
On 7th May 1979 the Iranian newspapers announced a new law had been passed stating all women must wear a headscarf in public. The following day, more than 100,000 women took to the streets to protest. Photographer Hengameh Golestan was there to capture it. “They were demanding the freedom of choice,” Golestan says. “It wasn’t a protest against religion or beliefs, in fact many religious women joined the protest, this was strictly about women’s rights, it was all about having the option.” Despite these demonstrations, the law remained, and newspapers declined to publish Golestan’s pictures. One of only a handful of female photographers working in Iran at the time, Golestan had started taking photographs seven years earlier, at the age of 18. She was inspired by her husband, the late Kaveh Golestan, who died in 2003 after while working in Iraq for the BBC. “I started as his assistant and then continued from there,” she says. “In the days before selfies, Photoshop and citizen journalism, photos were vital, a visual document that might otherwise not …