Tehran, city of hope and despair
Project info

“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”

—Robert Frank

Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the United States imposed sanctions against Iran. In 2006, following discussions around the Iranian Nuclear Program, the US, UN and other Western nations expanded the sanctions. The restrictions hobbled Iran’s economy and led to widespread pessimism among Iranians about their future.

I photographed this series in the streets of Tehran at the height of the sanctions between 2012 and 2014. During this period, people felt the shadow of war over their heads and saw their purchasing power greatly diminished as prices rose dramatically, day by day.

Sometimes I shot from the hip, but often I waited for “the decisive moment” when the action, the light and other elements came together to make the ideal composition. I’m very interested in how light and composition play on one another in my photos, and I shoot wherever I find striking and visually appealing graphic elements.

In my mind, street scenes are representative of the deeply interior life of Iranian society. As such, I photographed in the streets with a small camera (my iPhone) to be closer to my subjects.

—Ako Salemi