Monday, March 09, 2009

Recommended Reading:
Inside Iran
(Mark Edward Harris)

Just published last year, Harris’s exquisite and engaging book of photographs from his trip to Iran may be the best depiction that we in the U.S. are going to have of the country in its contemporary climate for quite some time, at least if the news media has anything to do with it. Paging through it, I find myself struck less by the beauty of the historical structures and landscapes—which are undeniably awe-inspiring, especially the gorgeous Shah-e-Cheragh mausoleum—than Harris’s intimate stills of Iranian citizens. As Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami writes in his lovely foreword to the book, “I know these kids in the photographs; they are the same all around the world”—a helpful point to consider for those in America who believe that Iran should simply be wiped off the face of the earth. Granted, Harris certainly doesn’t downplay the country’s social problems: in his fascinating captions which accompany the photographs, Harris often addresses the females’ struggle to express themselves beneath their chadors and manteaus, with many of the images revealing subtle forms of rebellion (an attractive teenage girl seems to wear a pair of sunglasses on her head as an excuse to pull her scarf back further than usual). Much of Harris’s most pointed observations actually come across in the absence of certain photographs, such as in his description of the isolated, male-restricted Women’s Beach Club at the island of Kish, where the area remains surrounded by a seven-foot-high fence and all cameras and phones are confiscated at its dressing room. In another sense, however, Harris’s intimation of Iran’s oppressive environment only makes the humanity that he captures in his photographs all the more moving—lest we forget, Harris’s book reminds us that, in spite of the human rights denied by its government, Iran is still a place called home for a multitude of human beings.

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