Iran 1979-2009

These photographs — spanning 30 years of life in Iran, from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 through the highly contested political elections of 2009 — depict conflict, contradiction, anger, defiance, tenacity, and an overwhelming will to live freely with joy and celebration. 

While walking through the exhibition in Paris, and talking with the photographer and other Iranians about the photos and context, one realizes that these images are loaded with unspoken codes and references that may be difficult for someone outside Iranian society to understand and appreciate completely.

The modern-day photos, full of bright saturated color, show the seemingly casual good life in pool halls, with female rock bands, couples on the beach or bouncing through the surf on jet skis. Others, taken at nearly the same time, show massive protest demonstrations, street violence, and young women with modern dress and make-up defiantly standing up to the street police who harass women to cover up in traditional dress. Women bravely bare their faces and gesture with hands that have been sprayed with bright green paint, a symbol of the revolution. All of this is ordinary life in modern-day Iran.

The black-and-white photos from the early days of the revolution in 1979, show a much different, bitter and desperate struggle against oppression. There is no joy at all in these early photos, only anguish.

Photographer Alfred Yaghobzadeh was born in Tehran, in a multicultural family, his father is of Armenian origin and his mother, Assyrian. In 1979 the Iranian revolution put an end to his university studies in Interior Architecture. That year, the Shah's monarchy became the "Islamic Republic of Iran." The first student riots in the streets of his hometown led him to take up a camera with black-and-white film. At age 19, Alfred became a photojournalist. By instinct, he documented the early years of the Iranian Revolution and the front line of the war with Iraq. His journalistic instinct, talent and professionalism were quickly recognized by the largest photo agencies. He worked on assignment for Associated Press first, then the Gamma and Sygma agencies, and finally joined Sipa Press.

His work took him far and wide. Wounded in Lebanon during the civil war and taken hostage, he continued to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 13 years. He has photographed in Somalia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, The Philippines, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, Russia, China, and Sri Lanka. At the beginning of the conflict in Chechnya, a shell exploded a few meters away and almost killed him. It took a year for him to recover, and then he hit the road again with his camera.

In 2006 Alfred returned to Iran after a 25 year absence. He shows the new look of his country from the point of view of a mature man who has witnessed much suffering and violence, but still loves life to the fullest. The new-found freedom of women in Iran fascinated him, and during a year he set out to show the many facets of life that women share in Iran. He photographed the daily life of a Mullah in the holy city of Qom, and provides a unique view of often hidden lifestyles.

— Jim Casper