The women in Iran we never see

Photographer captures the double lives of Tehran women


Hossein Fatemi

Iran, for photographer Hossein Fatemi, is a nation of two halves. There is the public half that the government wishes to promote, the pious and religious one. Then there is what Fatemi describes as “the semi-hidden part of the country” that exists behind closed doors.

For years, while Fatemi worked for a news agency with ties to the government, he could only take images that showed his country the way its rulers imagined it. Away from work, like countless other young Iranians, he lived a different life involving mixed-gender parties and other supposedly Western pursuits.

Fatemi thought a lot about this contrast while living in Afghanistan, where he moved in 2009. He decided to return to Iran to capture all of its diversity. The resulting series of photographs illuminate both halves of the country, as well as the space where the two clash and accommodate each other. There are chador-clad women, but also a naked prostitute; child members of an Islamist militia, a rock band, and women with bare legs languidly smoking cigarettes.

Fatemi also shows Iranians pushing the boundaries of what is normally acceptable in public, such as the two women shooting pool in an all-male venue. Other women acquiesce to the rules requiring that they wear headscarves, but choose colourful ones that conceal as little as possible. Boys and girls go hiking together or flirt in cafés. So many Iranians are young, and through social media or officially restricted satellite TV can connect with the outside world. It’s human instinct, says Fatemi, to test the limits of what a society permits.

These were not easy photographs for Fatemi to take. It took months just to get access to a gym where women were lifting weights. Some subjects worried about being identified and insisted their faces not be shown. Others cancelled appointments because they were afraid of losing their jobs. The results suggest Fatemi’s efforts were worthwhile. It is a stunning and provocative portrait of a country. The only tragedy is it is unlikely ever to be published or exhibited in Iran.

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The women in Iran we never see

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • Wow that would be so awesome. I love Persian girls, think they are the most beautiful!

      • This comment was deleted.

        • Really? I barely see muslim women in veils, plus Iranian are generally not religious, atleast the ones I’ve met. Most just live their lives without following the bible, quran or a rabbi

        • Holy crap, dude, no more hookah for you!

          • Witch One Are You? (jou? christian? musim?)

          • Chrono-synclastic-infundibulationist.

    • Muslim immigrants are harmless, hard working and valuable additions to the Canadian tapestry. I’m far more frightened of the progs and post-modernists.

      • But how about the American marathon tapestry? Are they valuable additions to that as well? I can’t recall the last time a “prog” or “post-modernist” bombed a marathon.

        • Uh…
          Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma register at all? How about a search on hard right terrorist in N America

      • If only this were true – you are so innocent

  2. You will see them if you go to Iran :)

  3. The women aren’t actually playing pool, they’re playing snooker. Much bigger table, smaller balls, and totally different rules.

  4. iranian people totally different as arabian people
    iran is religious country but don’t that place, you’re thinking
    iran have a lot and lot great people in the past and even now
    and like all countrys has a usually problem

  5. Everyone forgets that women were fine before Iran became an Islamic republic after the Islamic revolution of 1979. Before that it was a completely democratic and cultural place and since then it has become increasingly more difficult for women to express themselves. Culture has suffered.

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