PetaPixel

Photographer Captures an Intimate Look into Life Inside Iran

zXc4LoN

New Zealand-based travel photographer Amos Chapple visited Iran on three personal trips between December 2011 and January 2013. While he was there, he photographed the country and its people as he saw them on the ground.

Chapple tells Alan Taylor of The Atlantic’s In Focus that what he saw was very different from what’s seen in western media:

[...] the regime actually want to portray the country as a cauldron of anti-western sentiment so they syndicate news footage of chanting nutcases which is happily picked up by overseas networks. For ordinary Iranians though, the government is a constant embarrassment. In the time I spent there I never received anything but goodwill and decency, which stands in clear contrast to my experience in other middle eastern countries.

All these photographs were shot using a Panasonic Lumix GH2 and various lenses. Chapple says his small camera was essential for this work, as a larger one might not have gotten through the country’s customs.

A commemorative plate of the former Shah of Iran in an antique store in Shiraz. The Shah was installed in power by a MI6 and CIA-backed coup after Prime Minister Mosaddeq nationalized the petroleum industry of Iran, thus shutting out British dominance of an industry they had controlled since 1913. That Mosaddeq had been a democratically-elected leader, with wide popular support fuelled resentment at western powers, and the Shah, who many saw as a brutal puppet for the west. The anger at western intervention helped stoke support for the virulently anti-western Ayatollah Khomeini.

A commemorative plate of the former Shah of Iran in an antique store in Shiraz. The Shah was installed in power by a MI6 and CIA-backed coup after Prime Minister Mosaddeq nationalized the petroleum industry of Iran, thus shutting out British dominance of an industry they had controlled since 1913. That Mosaddeq had been a democratically-elected leader, with wide popular support fuelled resentment at western powers, and the Shah, who many saw as a brutal puppet for the west. The anger at western intervention helped stoke support for the virulently anti-western Ayatollah Khomeini.

Azadi ("Freedom") Tower, the gateway to Tehran designed in 1966 by a then 24 year old Hossein Amanat. As a practicing Bahai'i Hossein was forced to flee Iran after the Islamist government labeled followers of the religion "unprotected infidels". He now lives in Canada.

Azadi (“Freedom”) Tower, the gateway to Tehran designed in 1966 by a then 24 year old Hossein Amanat. As a practicing Bahai’i Hossein was forced to flee Iran after the Islamist government labeled followers of the religion “unprotected infidels”. He now lives in Canada.

Two shepherds lead Palangan's flock of communally-owned sheep out to pasture. The government's spending in some rural regions has bought them a network of loyal followers who can be scrambled at any time to crush trouble in the urban centres. Rural Basij were used as a part of the crackdown in 2009 which resulted in the deaths of seven anti-government protestors.

Two shepherds lead Palangan’s flock of communally-owned sheep out to pasture. The government’s spending in some rural regions has bought them a network of loyal followers who can be scrambled at any time to crush trouble in the urban centres. Rural Basij were used as a part of the crackdown in 2009 which resulted in the deaths of seven anti-government protestors.

A mural painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran. Murals such as this are at odds with statistics showing that, despite American sanctions, and the American-led coup against a elected and popular prime minister, more Iranians feel positively about America than do Turks or Indians.

A mural painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran. Murals such as this are at odds with statistics showing that, despite American sanctions, and the American-led coup against a elected and popular prime minister, more Iranians feel positively about America than do Turks or Indians.

A man in southern Tehran, the working class region of the city. In the past 14 months, tightened sanctions have nearly halved the value of Iran's currency and fuelled soaring inflation. Life is becoming drastically difficult for ordinary Iranians but many feel powerless to change the situation. Said one Tehrani "we're not naive like the Arabs to think a violent uprising will magically fix everything. We've had our revolution.. and things only got worse."

A man in southern Tehran, the working class region of the cty. In the past 14 months, tightened sanctions have nearly halved the value of Iran’s currency and fuelled soaring inflation. Life is becoming drastically difficult for ordinary Iranians but many feel powerless to change the situation. Said one Tehrani “we’re not naive like the Arabs to think a violent uprising will magically fix everything. We’ve had our revolution.. and things only got worse.”

View of central Tehran from inside a minaret in Sepahsalar Mosque.

View of central Tehran from inside a minaret in Sepahsalar Mosque.

At the Sa'adabad Palace complex in northern Tehran, Islamic revolutionaries sawed a statue of the deposed Shah in half. Today schoolchildren are taken on group visits past the boots and into the palace to see the decadence of the former Shah's living quarters.

At the Sa’adabad Palace complex in northern Tehran, Islamic revolutionaries sawed a statue of the deposed Shah in half. Today schoolchildren are taken on group visits past the boots and into the palace to see the decadence of the former Shah’s living quarters.

A young worker walks through the light of a stained glass window in the Tehran Bazaar. Under Khomeini Iranians were actively encouraged to produce large families. By 2009 nearly 70% of all Iranians were under 30, but the country is the least religious in the Middle East. Instead of the "armies for Islam" Khomeini had called for, the youthful population is now seen as the biggest threat to the deeply unpopular regime.

A young worker walks through the light of a stained glass window in the Tehran Bazaar. Under Khomeini Iranians were actively encouraged to produce large families. By 2009 nearly 70% of all Iranians were under 30, but the country is the least religious in the Middle East. Instead of the “armies for Islam” Khomeini had called for, the youthful population is now seen as the biggest threat to the deeply unpopular regime.

A worker inside Vakil Mosque, Shiraz. The mosque now serves as a tourist attraction but sees only a trickle of visitors. Although tourism is on the increase, western tourists still make up only 10% of the total. One tourist guide said westerners are scared away by the bloodcurdling rhetoric of a government which is completely out of touch with ordinary Iranians.

A worker inside Vakil Mosque, Shiraz. The mosque now serves as a tourist attraction but sees only a trickle of visitors. Although tourism is on the increase, western tourists still make up only 10% of the total. One tourist guide said westerners are scared away by the bloodcurdling rhetoric of a government which is completely out of touch with ordinary Iranians.

Palangan Village, in the mountains near the Iraq border. Palangan, illustrative of many of the country's rural settlements, has benefitted handsomely from government support. Many villagers are employed in a nearby fish farm, or are paid members of the  Basij, whose remit includes prevention of "westoxification", and the preservation of everything the 1979 islamic revolution and its leader the Ayatollah Khomeini stood for, including strict rules on female clothing and male/female interaction.

Palangan Village, in the mountains near the Iraq border. Palangan, illustrative of many of the country’s rural settlements, has benefitted handsomely from government support. Many villagers are employed in a nearby fish farm, or are paid members of the Basij, whose remit includes prevention of “westoxification”, and the preservation of everything the 1979 islamic revolution and its leader the Ayatollah Khomeini stood for, including strict rules on female clothing and male/female interaction.

A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture in the mountains on the Iran/Iraq border.

A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture in the mountains on the Iran/Iraq border.

A Kurdish man settles in for a night of guarding some roadworking machinery in the mountains near the Iran/Iraq border. The border is rife with smugglers who carry alcohol from Iraq (where alcohol is legal) into the villages on the Iranian side. From there it is transported by vehicle to the cities. In Tehran a can of beer on the black market fetches around $10USD.

A Kurdish man settles in for a night of guarding some roadworking machinery in the mountains near the Iran/Iraq border. The border is rife with smugglers who carry alcohol from Iraq (where alcohol is legal) into the villages on the Iranian side. From there it is transported by vehicle to the cities. In Tehran a can of beer on the black market fetches around $10USD.

Detail of Persepolis, the seat of the Ancient Persian empire. The Arab conquest of Persia led to a an islamification of Iran but Farsi, the Iranian language, has remained alive. The 11th century poet Ferdowsi, described as "Iran's Homer", wrote an epic in Farsi which was carefully crafted with minimal Arabic influence. The "Book of Kings" has been credited with helping preserve the Farsi language - one of the world's oldest. The Book of Kings ends with the Arab invasion, depicted as a disaster for Persia.

Detail of Persepolis, the seat of the Ancient Persian empire. The Arab conquest of Persia led to a an islamification of Iran but Farsi, the Iranian language, has remained alive. The 11th century poet Ferdowsi, described as “Iran’s Homer”, wrote an epic in Farsi which was carefully crafted with minimal Arabic influence. The “Book of Kings” has been credited with helping preserve the Farsi language – one of the world’s oldest. The Book of Kings ends with the Arab invasion, depicted as a disaster for Persia.

Two soldiers being attacked inside the Tehran metro after an argument. The soldier was punched in the head at least four times by an angry crowd of mostly well-dressed young men. Both soldiers were forced to leave the metro at the next sation.

Two soldiers being attacked inside the Tehran metro after an argument. The soldier was punched in the head at least four times by an angry crowd of mostly well-dressed young men. Both soldiers were forced to leave the metro at the next sation.

A group of friends in the hills above Tehran. Many (every single one I met) young Iranians feel deeply embarrassed by their government, and the way the nation is perceived abroad. Zac Clayton, a British cyclist who will finish a round-the-world cycle on March 23 describes Iran as having the kindest people of any country he cycled through. "I found most Iranians - particularly the younger generation - to be very aware of the world around them ... with a burning desire for the freedoms they feel they are being denied by an out of touch, ultra-conservative religious elite."

A group of friends in the hills above Tehran. Many (every single one I met) young Iranians feel deeply embarassed by their government, and the way the nation is perceived abroad. Zac Clayton, a British cyclist who will finish a round-the-world cycle on March 23 describes Iran as having the kindest people of any country he cycled through. “I found most Iranians – particularly the younger generation – to be very aware of the world around them … with a burning desire for the freedoms they feel they are being denied by an out of touch, ultra-conservative religious elite.”

Detail of Persepolis. After the Islamic Revolution, hardline clerics called for the destruction of the site, but official unease prevailed. "They realized this would unite the people against them" says an English teacher named Ali, quoted in National Geographic.

Detail of Persepolis. After the Islamic Revolution, hardline clerics called for the destruction of the site, but official unease prevailed. “They realized this would unite the people against them” says an English teacher named Ali, quoted in National Geographic.

Women in the hills above Tehran at dusk. Concealing clothing in the Islamic Republic, including head coverings, is mandatory for women, but the exact definition of "modest" is flexible, leading to a tug of war between young females and the authorities each spring. Outside metro stations female police can be seen regularly checking the passers by.  If a woman's dress is considered "immodest" she is arrested and taken into custody. In 2010 a senior cleric in Tehran blamed the frequency of earthquakes in Iran on women who "lead young men astray" with their revealing clothing.

Women in the hills above Tehran at dusk. Concealing clothing in the Islamic Republic, including head coverings, is mandatory for women, but the exact definition of “modest” is flexible, leading to a tug of war between young females and the authorities each spring. Outside metro stations female police can be seen regularly checking the passers by. If a woman’s dress is considered “immodest” she is arrested and taken into custody. In 2010 a senior cleric in Tehran blamed the frequency of earthquakes in Iran on women who “lead young men astray” with their revealing clothing.

In Tehran, a collection of modern art valued at $2.5billion is held by the Museum of Contemporary Art. In a little-publicised exhibition in 2011 the works, including pieces by Warhol (pictured), Pollock, Munch, Hockney and Rothko were put on display for the first time since 1979 when the owner of the art, Queen Farah Pahlavi was forced to flee Iran with her husband, the late Shah of Iran.

In Tehran, a collection of modern art valued at $2.5billion is held by the Museum of Contemporary Art. In a little-publicised exhibition in 2011 the works, including pieces by Warhol (pictured), Pollock, Munch, Hockney and Rothko were put on display for the first time since 1979 when the owner of the art, Queen Farah Pahlavi was forced to flee Iran with her husband, the late Shah of Iran.

The Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. Work on the unfinished building has dragged over 23 years. With growing economic chaos in the country, its completion is still nowhere in sight.

The Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. Work on the unfinished building has dragged over 23 years. With growing economic chaos in the country, its completion is still nowhere in sight.

You can follow along with Chapple’s work through his Facebook page.


Image credits: Photographs by Amos Chapple and used with permission


 
  • http://www.facebook.com/gabrielconstantin1 Gabriel Constantin

    I’d like to see more of this on Peta Pixel. Of course more good photographers will need to be shooting more interesting stuff…

  • http://www.facebook.com/swasti.rao.5 Swasti Rao

    interesting stuff..some pics have an ethereal effect .

  • MarvinB7

    Best post in a long time. This photographer needs a pat on the back from all of us. I’m so sick of all of the political negativity about Iran. They are real people there, just trying to live life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1312995208 Christian DeBaun

    Excellent essay, and I hope Amos Chapple continues forward with this project.

  • Caca Milis

    It’s great to see photos like these, they show ordinary life and an interesting perspective, that we don’t see in the news

  • Joshua Morin

    Really great shots, thanks for posting this!

  • Ingemar Smith

    qft!

  • Ingemar Smith

    White society looks down on Iran and other countries but there are parallels in almost every society to the very things despised of other countries.

    Here in Atlanta (and other cities) the police can and will arrest a Black kid for dressing immodestly (excessive sagging of jeans). Like in Iran, the dominant class here sees no problem at all with such a practice.

    I really enjoyed the art and politics of this post. People everywhere are just trying to live.

  • Alan Dove

    Great post.

    It’s terrible when a tiny group of religious fundamentalists figures out that they can pay off part of the population to cling to power. Seems like that pattern happened somewhere else a few years back, too.

  • Jazz Benigno

    Some of the photos in this post are excellent street photography

  • mohammad

    I’m Iranian thanks a lot to the photographer who posted these pics people in Iran are afraid to say these words cuz they will be killed the next day you will never know how Iranians feel if you have never been to Iran , 90% of Iranians don’t want this government and the 10% are the ones who enjoy being in the groups of those bastards stealing billions from poor and weak people we need help we want every each of these 2 faced liars to die

  • Mansgame

    If he’s visiting, how intimate can the pictures be? A local can take much more intimate pictures because they know how things work locally. In countries like Iran, people only let you see what they want you to see whereas the locals can get past those shields.

  • Jeff Ross

    Powerful picture of the soldiers being attacked in the metro.

  • Tom Fox

    These are some fabulous photos. Excellent stuff.

    One wonders if that first photo could get you attention from the authorities in some western countries. It’s an excellent photo. Surreptitious pictures of children, for any reason, seems to be regarded as criminal in this day and age. One wonders what would be of Cartier-Bresson if he had lived in the digital era

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Amen brother.

  • tic226

    Thank you for that link, the photos are fantastic!

  • walt kovacs

    so how long will it take for the young and other to depose the idiots running the country?

  • walt kovacs

    that has nothing to do with immodesty and everything to do with gang culture

    and white society does not look down on iran…there are many iranians here in the states and most are prosperous

  • Akiel

    Excellent!!! Brilliant Pictures of Iran!

  • smek2

    Wtf? You basically just copy and pasted the whole Atlantic article here. Have some respect.