Youth in Iran: Inside and Out

Here’s a very neat photographic journalistic piece on Iran in the New York Times. Mr. Fatemi has been covering the duality of Iranian culture for decades now, and he does a very good job of highlighting the difference between how Iranian citizens act in public when they’re being watched by the government, versus how they act inside their own homes. I’m including some of my favorite excerpts and photos here: 

rouhani #27

“If Iranian youth culture was portrayed in a BBC drama, it might be called “Inside, Outside,” or even “Righteous, Raucous.” That is the duality present in Hossein Fatemi’s “An Iranian Journey,” a series that shows young people’s public modesty and piety vanishing once they escape the wary gaze of authority. These youths play music, drink, smoke, commingle and enjoy other intemperate — i.e., regular — Western activities. They are online, on Facebook, and are politically engaged and simmering, craving freer speech but stifled by the ayatollah’s rules.

“Naturally, whatever you prevent a human being from doing, it makes them want to do it more,” said Mr. Fatemi, who is represented by Panos Pictures.

He sees his task as putting in the open what is shrouded in the dark. Whether it is alcohol consumption by Muslims or patronizing prostitutes, he seeks to photograph what is forbidden. When postelection protests in 2009 made it nearly impossible to be outside, Mr. Fatemi eagerly took to the streets and photographed as much as he could. Once the world got a sense of what washappening in the streets, Mr. Fatemi turned to photographing interiors.

In pursuing his expansive project to taboo corners, like more recent efforts to document the country’s L.G.B.T. community (homosexuality is against the law), Mr. Fatemi has not been so successful. Fear prevents many, and not just L.G.B.T. Iranians, from being comfortable sharing their stories or portraits, and with good reason. Iranian watchdogs, official or self-appointed, are vigilant and aggressive.

“Since the publication of this photo series, not only himself but the photo agency Panos, they’ve been receiving emails from an array of organizations including government agencies, religious folks, some of the hardliners,” said Ehsan, a filmmaker and friend who translated for Mr. Fatemi during a phone interview last week. Ehsan reported that Mr. Fatemi said that he hasn’t received any death threats, but that persistent pressure from Iranian authorities is intimidating enough. (In an email on Wednesday evening, Ehsan said that, as of Saturday, the Panos Web site had been blocked in Iran, what he called a “consequence of his recent Iran series,” adding that other “government factions” continued to warn Mr. Fatemi to take down the pictures. Ehsan, who has lived in the U.S. for 13 years, asked that his last name be removed from this story.)…”

rouhani #28

“…The recent election of Hassan Rouhani, has some people thinking a slightly more moderate era was coming — at least internationally, with the relations between Iran and the United States seeming to be thawing somewhat on issues like sanctions, the Syrian calamity or other geopolitcal strategies. But at home, young progressives lament that not more has changed since the days of Mr. Ahmedinejad’s fiery presidency.

“The youth in Iran, they didn’t want him to legalize discos and legalize booze — that’s not what they were expecting,” said Mr. Fatemi, speaking through Ehsan. “They just were expecting something as little as lifting some of their Internet bans or just letting them room to breathe. It seems as if the current Iranian government is just as vigilant about restricting Iranian’s youth access as before.”

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January 16, 2014 · 4:35 pm

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