Tehran: a huge city, a metropolis really. 617 square kilometers, filled with a population of over 15 million.

I have lived in this city for more than 30 years. How fast the city has changed and how fast it is still changing. I remember the days when there were no highways, no high-rises, no towers, no traffic and far fewer people.

Now, life is so fast-paced in Tehran. So fast, that we forget ourselves, our environment, our city and its changes. Permanently, something is added to it or removed from it.

Our image of the city is formed through the interaction between our accumulated mental memories and the accumulation of permanent changes. The changes fall like sediment, gradually gathering into our shared historic image of the city. The memories fuse into our urban daily life and then it seems as if they have always been there. We don’t notice them any longer.

Recently, where ever I go in this city, where ever I stand, where ever I look, I notice Milad Tower. This lofty concrete structure has come to stand as a new symbol for the city. It’s come to define a different identity for Tehran. As if it has come to manipulate our visual memories of this city, to conquer the city with its static, shadow-casting presence, becoming an incontestable and permanent panoptic observer of our lives.

It seems it functions as a guardian. But guardian of what? Of people who are not noticing it anymore? Of deserted empty places and ruins? For me, the tower is a symbol of a culture that is growing fast in Iran—a culture of a small yet wealthy social class that increasingly boasts of its masculinity, modernity, wealth and power.

Much as the tower has no roots in Iranian architecture or tradition, this culture is similarly aborted: their masculinity is sterile, their modernity is fake , their wealth and power but a temporary windfall. There is a huge contrast between the life of this wealthy class and the mass population of the city, who are swallowed up by daily urban life.

I have asked myself many times, “Why is Milad Tower there? What is it representing? What is it defining? Is it Tehran that defines the tower or is it the Milad Tower that is trying to create a new identity for the city?” The challenge is over. The tower has grown to be an inevitable part of the city. It is there now, observing the city under its shadow.

—Kaveh Sojoodi

An unexpected view on Tehran, documenting the city’s controversial and multifaceted urban identity. The series was named a finalist in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2015. Discover more inspiring work from all 31 of the winners and finalists.