Exploring the Other: Contemporary Iran

Photo by Iason Athanasiadis

Los Angeles

Tehran Bureau | spotlight

It is the most hypothetical news story topping the international news agenda: Is the Islamic Republic pursuing a nuclear bomb? Does it lurk behind the Iraq insurgency? Is it out to dominate the Persian Gulf? Where is the fire amid the smoke?

Speculation and demonization consistently drown out WHAT IS arguably the Middle East’s most diverse ethnic and religious culture. They obscure landscapes of rare variety and geological beauty pulsating with colour and a rare light. Iran’s mystical topography is the setting for the struggle between tradition and modernity. It has been a constant in 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 culture wars. Old civilizations find it particularly awkward to adapt to a rational modernity where culture and tradition stand for little; countries where indigenous religions, Greek polytheism, and Iranian Zoroastrianism, are subsumed by Christian and Muslim monotheism.

Greece and Iran have both been crossroads and laboratories for experiments in social conditioning. The most radical consequence of these culture wars was the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Whether in the form of churches planted on top of marble temples or Zoroastrian shrines transformed into imamzadehs (burial shrines for Shiite saints), the imposition of monotheism signified the loss of indigenous traditions.

I photographed Iran from the perspective of charting shared narratives and divergent fates. I leave you to make up your mind about this secular theocracy manifesting paradox in its every fissure.


“Exploring the Other: Contemporary Iran: Through the lens of Iason Athanasiadis” opens tomorrow at CAFAM in Los Angeles. The exhibit offers an alternative narrative of the country famously included in the “Axis of Evil” by President George W. Bush. Through the vivid photography of international photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis, visitors will experience an Iran rarely seen in Western media. Vignettes of daily life not unlike our own are revealed in stunning color and black and white photography: Friends on a weekend ski-trip; a Tehran designer’s first fashion show; Soccer fans rooting for the home team; backstage at a rock concert. With the youth demographic rapidly growing—today, nearly 70% of Iran’s population is under 30—Iran’s traditional culture is adapting and being reinterpreted by a youth subculture that is both Western and critical of the West.

One Response to “Exploring the Other: Contemporary Iran”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    So while we are drowning in negative media scare tactics about the new behemoth that threatens our safety you must give us a life line by shedding light on the more positive aspects of that country. You must admit having an educated articulate man who wants only transparency and to listen to the people is a start in changing America’s mind about a warped view – regenerated in the past administration.

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