“Individuals - even when forced into uniformity through imposition of a repressive ideology - still manage to preserve their individuality, their uniqueness. They are proof of the vulnerability of the totalitarian state: it can jail and torture its political opponents, but can it ever arrest and put in jail millions of people who want to dress the way they like, listen to their favourite music, raise their children as they see fit? Can it ever force them to look and act as it wishes?”
Azar Nafisi, The Guardian Weekend, 2006
Interested in how individuals act, move and behave in public places where freedom of people is restricted, I traveled to Iran in the period from 2003 until 2006.
I wanted to find out how far the image of Iran - a society in which all people appear to be a part of a political and religious collective - has been created by western media and the Iranian propaganda itself and was curious to know more about the backgrounds, lifestyles, hopes and beliefs of individual, ordinary people, who are so often presented as merely a link in a system.
Using a mid-size format camera, a tripod and a set of lights, I set up my equipment in public places, different locations every time, mainly in Tehran. In cooperation with journalist Eefje Blankevoort, passers-by where asked if they would be willing to pose for the camera. By using lighting and giving directions, the volunteers became ‘actors’ in their own lives. By literally placing the main figures in front of the spotlights, these individuals take on the main roles in life in Iran. This approach led to interesting encounters, in which the Islamic Republic and the revolutionary ideology fade into the background, becoming a dimly lit décor for the moment captured by the photo.
Somehow it felt unsettling not to make an explicit political statement. Neither the camera of the outsider -me-, nor the subjects attempt to do so. But – all the people in the photographs are acting in their business of everyday life, a life which is constantly oblivious of the monitoring eye of the state. That makes every photograph taken in Iran layered and maybe politically subversive, even the most innocent ones.