Peering Inside Contemporary Iran

Article excerpt

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An exhibit of photographs of Iran featuring the work of Iason Athanasiadis, a 2008 Nieman Fellow, opened for a three-month show in January at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles, California. "Exploring the Other: Contemporary Iran," the title Athanasiadis selected for his collection, became the first exhibit of political photography from Iran to be shown at an American museum since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Now Athanasiadis is contributing some of the exhibit's photographs, along with others he took during the years when he lived and worked in Iran, to the pages of Nieman Reports. His words that accompany these photographs were written for CAFAM's newsletter to introduce his show and explain how a photojournalist created an "artistic museum show about Iran." On the following page, this introduction appears in a reworked version.

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It is the most hypothetical news story topping the international news agenda today. Is the Islamic Republic of Iran pursuing a nuclear bomb? Is it seeking to dominate the Persian Gulf? Sometimes it gets difficult to find the fire amid all the smoke of headlines and the heat of rhetoric.

Speculation and demonization consistently drown out the Middle East's most ethnically and religiously diverse culture. They obscure landscapes of rare variety and geological beauty pulsating with color and a rare light. Iran's mystical topography is the setting for a struggle between tradition and modernity that has been a constant of the modern era, first during the Qajar and Pahlavi empires, then throughout the three-decade lifespan of the Islamic Republic.

I come from Greece, a country as rich in heritage and as culturally fractious as Iran. Moving to Tehran in 2004, I was struck by our shared experience of forming modern identities. …