In recent decades images of Iran in different artistic mediums as well as photography have been contradictory. More than three decades ago, Iran was a beautiful country, the land of the ancient tale of One Thousand and One Nights. Somewhere to fall in love. The country where Agnes Varda made her short film Plaisir d'Amour en Iran, and where Albert Lamorisse made his cinematic poem Le Vent des amoureux. The Islamic Revolution in 1979 suddenly changed everything. Iran became an aggressive country, and a new government that had strong Anti-American and Anti-Israeli sentiments. Those were the years of the Revolution, with its excitement and fluctuations. Soon after that, the invasion of Iran by Iraq caused the 20th century's longest conventional war. A useless war and bloody years, so many young boys who died to preserve their motherland, a whole generation's youth stolen form them. Many homes and lives were destroyed and so many opportunities were burnt.
Revolution and war were two important elements helping to form and develop Iranian photography. In the following years Iran became increasingly isolated from the outside world. These years were less bountiful for Iranian photography. What types of images could possibly be representative of all of the contradictions and realities of this new isolated Iran? Shirin Neshat who had left Iran shortly after the Revolution in 1979 to study art at university in the US, came back to Iran for the first time in 1990 and created her series Women of Allah and since has made numerous other bodies of work about Iran. Neshat is Iranian, but having not been witness to those ten tumultuous years of Revolution and War, her gaze, upon return to this completely changed country, had no difference with an outsider. With her talent, she created a mysterious aesthetic to represent a part of Iranian reality to the West. Let's remember some of her imagery; a group of women walking in front of the ever naked sea. It's beautiful and poetic, it could be a part of a surrealistic poem. However, since it is done in Iran it address issues of identity, women, Islam and other issues dealing with a third world Islamic country. Neshat's incredible success made a new generation of Iranian artists depict their country as a foreign and strange place. The images had to be simple to be able to have a certain interpretation after seeing them. These artists grew up in Iran, and they were insiders, but they were working for the audience who were outside. As the waves of globalization were transforming the world including Iran, they had to be "local" to be seen in "universal" context.
The new social situation of Iran in 2000s and of course the effect of the internet created a newer image of Iran. Now that I'm looking back, I find images of every subject in this era. From Iranian social life and its contradictions to landscape and urban-scape, photography as a tool to see ordinary realities, as a medium of telling stories, and as a way to criticize the political issues, (of course in a quiet voice). There are also the Iranian photographers living outside of the country, who came back to look at their homeland, with a sense of discovery or nostalgia. Apart from that, we can find a few examples of the life of the Iranian diaspora. Some foreign photographers have also found the opportunity to travel to Iran and see the country through their own personal lens as well. They have reflected different realities, from the beauty of the architecture to the cool contradictions of a post revolutionary Islamic country.
This issue of Landscape Stories sets out to show meaning to all these contradictions and mysteries of Iran through different fragments. We further hope to show some new layers of Iranian photography, and photographers who have had until now, a smaller audience.
Special Edition curated by Mohannadreza Mirzaei.