Café in Mashhad.
Photos & Projects

Analog Iran – A Project Shooting B&W Film Documenting Iran – By Ali MC

September 3, 2020

In August and September 2019 I spent four weeks traveling around Iran, a fascinating and truly diverse country. Iran at that time was under immense political and social pressure – the United States had re-introduced harsh economic sanctions, the economy was in free-fall and the potential for war loomed on the horizon.

A palpable sense of desperation filled the streets as Iranians wondered what the future held. Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb rang out on stereos across the country. A taxi driver told me ‘young Iranians are old inside.’

During my time in the country, I shot over 1000 frames of black and white 35mm film. My aim was to capture everyday life for ordinary Iranian people. This project would result in a collection of around 150 photos titled Analog Iran, which I am currently featuring on Instagram.

The photos show the diversity of Iranian life, from the hustling capital Tehran, to the outskirts of Zahedan near the Afghan border; from the metropolis of Tabriz to the Kurdish mountains that straddle Iraq.

This small selection of photos represents my aim to capture, in part, the mood of a nation under a cloud of uncertainty, the darkness and the collective depression.

Since my trip, the Iranian government have shot down a passenger plane, the US has assassinated a top Iranian military general, and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has swept through. Sadly, tourism has all but ceased, and the friendly and generous hostel I was warmly welcomed at, See You In Iran, has shut down. Despite these pressures, Iranian people remain some of the friendliest, most generous people I have ever had the good fortune to meet in 20 years of travel.

There were many challenges in taking these photos. The first was ensuring that my images represented more than just the stereotypical. Many images of Iran commonly focus on the ubiquitous and state-mandated hijab and chador, life in the many bazaars, or the exquisite mosques. I wanted to delve a little deeper, and capture life behind closed doors, candid moments and the mood of the people. Due to Islamic adherences of dress and behaviour, life on the streets – in the public arena – is very different to life behind closed doors.

Another challenge was to capture the diversity of such a geographically large population. The cities, villages and different regions are host to numerous ethnic and language groups that are all part of modern day Iran. This meant extensive travel, and a willingness to head to regions such as Beluchistan (near the Afghan border) and Kurdistan (near Iraq) which seldom receive tourists.

Aside from this, Iranian people proved generous and willing to indulge an Australian with an analogue camera. In fact, that I was using film was a source of interest to the people I met, and I even stayed with other analogue enthusiasts in my travels.

Film photography is still popular in Iran, with second-hand camera stores in Tehran, and new film development shops starting up.

There are also numerous photography galleries that host a range of exhibitions, especially in the capital Tehran.

Inside a taxi in downtown Tehran.

Outside the holy mosque in Mashhad.

Outside the holy mosque in Mashhad.

The train from Tehran to Mashhad.

The train from Tehran to Mashhad.

Café in Mashhad.

Café in Mashhad.

Streets of Zahedan.

Streets of Zahedan.

Downtown Tehran.

Downtown Tehran.

Neighbourhood of Tajrish, in northern Tehran

Neighbourhood of Tajrish, in northern Tehran

Neighbourhood of Tajrish, in northern Tehran

Neighbourhood of Tajrish, in northern Tehran

Downtown Tehran.

Downtown Tehran.

Downtown Tehran.

Downtown Tehran.

Downtown Tabriz.

Downtown Tabriz.

Café in Zahedan.

Café in Zahedan.

Back streets of Zahedan, near the Afghan/ Pakistan border.

Back streets of Zahedan, near the Afghan/ Pakistan border.

Football outside the citadel in downtown Shiraz.

Football outside the citadel in downtown Shiraz.

Sadi, a neighbourhood n Shiraz, during the holy time of Ashura.

Sadi, a neighbourhood n Shiraz, during the holy time of Ashura.

Sadi, a neighbourhood n Shiraz, during the holy time of Ashura.

Sadi, a neighbourhood n Shiraz, during the holy time of Ashura.

The photos from Analog Iran were shot with a Voigtlander Bessa R2A, with a USSR-made Jupiter 9 lens from 1963. You can see the rest of the collection on Instagram @alimcphotos

I will also be holding a presentation on the project (and speaking about my previous work) on Zoom. To register, just go to my website www.alimc.com.au and subscribe for more details.

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    STUART
    September 3, 2020 at 10:36 am

    I really enjoyed this article and the wonderfully contrasting set of photographs.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you Stuart for taking a look, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos 🙂 I’m doing a talk on Zoom this Tuesday about the project if you are interested. 7pm Melbourne (Australia) time zone. Just let me know and I can add you to the email list. Iran sure is an amazing place! Ali MC

  • Reply
    Graham Spinks
    September 3, 2020 at 11:25 am

    Inspirational project and fantastic photos. Thank you for posting.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks Graham! I highly recommend Iran as a travel destination (once Covid is resolved). Would love to go back.

  • Reply
    Michael J
    September 3, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    Great pics, Ali- thanks for sharing them with us. I’ve never been brave enough to venture to Iran (on a UK passport) but I’ve heard wonderful things from those that have thrown themselves into travelling there. I’m starting to like Jupiter lenses very much, too!

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks Michael, yes, a bit tricky on a UK passport, and unfortunate because Iranian people are super hospitable. I liked shooting with the Jupiter it was a bit nerve wracking as it is unpredictable, but that also gave some results I did not anticipate but really loved. I found this particular lens from 1963 has a particular texture which worked well with Kodak T Max. I have another set of photos using the Jupiter from a trip to Vanuatu on my website which I think worked well too. Thanks for stopping by to take a look, as I’ve posted above, I’m doing a Zoom talk on this project on Tuesday Sept 8 feel free to sign up 🙂

  • Reply
    Matthias Rabiller
    September 3, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    Neat article!
    But I am afraid it appears your Instagram isn’t accessible without logging in… I know everyone is supposed to be on Instagram, but somehow that doesn’t strike me as ideal for sharing your work with the rest of the planet.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 10:11 pm

      Hi Matthias, I’ve posted a lot more of the photos on my website http://www.alimc.com.au so you can check them out there too 🙂 I’m also doing a free Zoom presentation on the project, feel free to join us!

  • Reply
    Peter
    September 3, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    A wonderful collection of life. I especially love the hop-scotch one.Beneath all of the political rubbish people are people and your photos express that reality. Thank you for this post.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Peter – yes, that’s exactly what my aim was with this series – simply to show everyday life of regular people in Iran. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

  • Reply
    Kris
    September 3, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    interesting grain structure on “Downtown Tabriz.!

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 10:13 pm

      Hi Kris, a lot of these photos were taken just as it was getting dark. I think between that and the unpredictability of the Russian made Jupiter lens made for some interesting results!

  • Reply
    Huss
    September 3, 2020 at 8:04 pm

    Love the pics, and the fact that it does not show the tourist side, but life.
    Were the locals amenable to you walking around taking pics of them?

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Huss, for the most part I had no problem taking the photos. Often I was with a local person who was translating and showing me around. I also make it pretty obvious to people that I have a camera and will often indicate I’m taking photos so they have the opportunity to refuse or avoid me. Other times I just quickly snapped away and hoped for the best! Iranian people are super-hospitable and generous, and this generosity also seemed to extend to being very patient and tolerant of me wandering around taking photos.

  • Reply
    Alexander Seidler
    September 3, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    Beautiful !

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    September 3, 2020 at 11:44 pm

    An interesting “project” indeed, Ali, and good to see a different perspective from the usual newsreels. An interesting country indeed.
    I first went to Iran in 1976 but visited after the revolution when clearly somethings were quite different, particularly security. So I’m wondering how you managed to get some 30 reels out of the ciuntry without any questions? Or shouldn’t I ask.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 3, 2020 at 11:55 pm

      Hi Dave, yes Iran is endlessly fascinating. That would have been amazing to go pre-revolution. To be honest I was pretty nervous taking so many photos, but perhaps unnecessarily so. Although an Australian academic got sentenced to 10 years’ prison on charges of ‘espionage’ while I was there and two other Australian tourists were arrested around the same time too (and later released). Somehow I managed to get as far as Zahedan on the Afghan/ Pakistan border without too much trouble (apart from being accused of being a spy at one point) and exited the country overland into Iraqi Kurdistan. But that’s another story 😉

  • Reply
    D Evan Bedford
    September 4, 2020 at 3:34 am

    Beautiful! Thank-you! I love seeing all thing Iranian. I especially celebrate when TCM occasionally shows Iranian films (Where is the Friends House being a favorite).

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 4, 2020 at 11:12 am

      Thanks for taking a look! I have been watching Iranian films via a new streaming sight IMVBox which has a ton of Iranian films and TV shows.

  • Reply
    Irma Prunesqallor
    September 4, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    What it shows very clearly is the total subjugation of women in their culture.
    All of the men are doing whatever they want and wearing whatever they want.
    All of the women are bound up in clothing that is physically awkward and restrictive, and must be hellishly hot, whereas the men just put on a T-shirt, which is the sensible thing to do. The image titled “Neighbourhood of Tajrish, in northern Tehran” shows the contrast most clearly. “Downtown Tabriz” shows societal sexism very clearly.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 4, 2020 at 10:16 pm

      Hi Irma, thanks for your comment. As a western male, I’m certainly not the best person to comment on the role of hijab and chador in Iran’s Islamic society. Suffice to say, though, that there are varied opinions you can read online about whether such dress is empowering or oppressive – The Guardian has some good discussion articles and videos from Muslim women about this. I guess its also worth remembering that all cultures have societal norms and expectations about what women should wear – perhaps not as visibly extreme as the hijab or chador, but they still exist (I’ve never heard any women in my life say high heels were particularly comfortable!). Ali

  • Reply
    Patrick
    September 4, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    Fantastic photos. I love the Jupiter 9 too.

    • Reply
      Ali MC
      September 4, 2020 at 10:18 pm

      Thanks Patrick. The Jupiter sure was fun to use. I think the main flaw was that it doesn’t respond well when there is varied light – great in situations where the light is uniform across the whole scene. And much better with subjects in close range. I didn’t find it that great for subjects further away. But as you know, these lenses vary in production so maybe that just happens to be the quirk of my particular one. Ali

      • Reply
        Patrick
        September 4, 2020 at 11:13 pm

        Hello Ali,

        Absolutely as to Jupiter 9 variations. I have two, one with the coveted “red dot” which is actually much worse than the one without (both early chrome examples). Great shooting, thanks again.

        Patrick

  • Reply
    Marc Wick
    September 6, 2020 at 3:35 am

    Thanks a lot Ali for your very impressive photos! I was in Iran three times and I have never met so many friendly and helpful people. But unfortunately at the moment the times are very bad for the Iranian people, what I regret a lot. What will the future bring??

  • Reply
    Ali MC
    September 6, 2020 at 4:02 am

    Yes I loved it there and would love to go back. Sadly, the hostel I was staying in during my time in Tehran has closed down due to there being no more tourists. Hopefully things will change over time. Thanks for taking the time to check out my photos. Ali

  • Reply
    Bill Linehan
    September 8, 2020 at 11:03 am

    Thanks Ali and thanks for your presentation on zoom just now. I’ve enjoyed following your photos on Instagram. i enjoyed your book, which I picked up from your presentation at Michaels camera store in the city. Your compositions are good, you capture the moment as it is. I picked up a Jupiter 9 and a Helios 44, with adaptors for digital cameras in between lockdowns in Melbourne. I’m struggling with them but its a brave effort to use them with analogue. I’ve got some analogue cameras but I’d be nervous using a lens like the Jupiter 9 in a location like Iran without being confident with it first. Thanks again. Bill

  • Reply
    Ali MC
    September 8, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks Bill, I really appreciate you attending and I’m glad you got a lot out of the presentation. I love the old lenses but yes, they take a bit of getting used to. I think it’s just getting out there and shooting, practice helps a lot. Take care and see you next time. Ali

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