Iran Unveiled: The Street Photography Collective That Shows the Softer Side of Iran

A closer look at everyday life, far from the politics and propaganda.

Iran Unveiled: The Street Photography Collective That Shows the Softer Side of Iran

Iran Unveiled, an artist collective made up of nine Iranian photographers in their 20’s and early 30’s, aims to show a side of Iran that’s often missing from its portrayals in Western media by inviting its viewers on a walk through Iran, one photograph at a time. “Drawing on Iran’s rich history and homegrown talent, this project aims to address misconceptions about this long-isolated Middle Eastern country and depict a more realistic image of its people and how they live their lives,” says Mahya Jaberiansari, who founded the collective in September of 2015. “All that is portrayed [in the media] is hostility, aggression, and this sense that the people of Iran are primitive and backwards. What is missing is the ‘human’ face of the country: the simple everyday happenings, the fact that Iranians are crazy about music and coffee shops, the fact that they know what it means to find happiness amidst all the troubles in life.” These young artists use Instagram to place daily life in Iran, which takes place against a backdrop rich with history and tradition, squarely in the modern age.

“We [the artists] come from different walks of life and have unique stories of how we ended up capturing life around us in pictures. But what unites us all is Iran — our love and passion for this country, and the urge to change the dialogue about a country that has been trapped in discourse by politics and sanctions,” says Jaberansari. “For us, Iran Unveiled is about more than photography; it’s about our world culture and our future as citizens of this Earth.”

The group recently celebrated the opening of its first exhibition, which is currently on view at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California. Their Instagram account, carefully curated by Jaberiansari, boasts over 15,000 followers.



“This picture was taken in a village named Kandovan in Tabriz, in northwest Iran. These villagers live simple lives, but are not unhappy. An interesting fact about most children in Tabriz, especially in the villages, is that many of them don’t speak Persian before the age of six, when they learn it at school. Persian is the main language spoken in Iran, but in Tabriz they speak Turkish. The children in Turkish-speaking provinces do understand Persian; they just don’t speak it before they go to school. So, communicating with them [for a non-Turkish speaker] means speaking in Persian and getting answers in Turkish.”



“This is Azadi Square in Tehran, the main symbol of the city. It was my first time taking friends to Iran. The Azadi Tower reminds me of both the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the Green Revolution of 2009 — two very important dates in Iran’s recent history. The tower was the gathering point of many demonstrators.

“I want people to see the beauty of Iran. This part of the tower is just one of its legs, but that part alone speaks to the majesty and the beauty that is Iran.”



“I feel nostalgic [when I look at this image]. It’s a really old and tiny restaurant in the north of Tehran called Amoo Hooshang, which translates to ‘Uncle Hooshang,’ the name of the restaurant’s owner. Not everyone would stop by and eat in this hole-in-the-wall place, but honestly it’s one of my favorite spots in Tehran and I go there six to seven times in the few weeks I visit. Eating here allows me to feel like I’ve really been part of the people of the city for all this time; it makes me feel like I am one of them, even though I have been away for years. I love it when my aunt sits down and tells her friends, ‘You won’t believe Mahya goes and eats at Amoo Hooshang’ — it’s as if she’s been raised here and not in America.”



“The shrine of Shah Cheragh in Shiraz is regarded highly in Iran. The Shrine of Imam Reza [the eighth Imam of Shi’ites] is in Mashhad, in northeast Iran, and the shrine of his older brother Ahmad-ibne-Musa [or Shah Cheragh] is in Shiraz. This is the third shrine of a member of the family of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

“The locals go to the shrine to pray. The place receives millions of pilgrims during the month of Muharram, when there are many religious mourning ceremonies underway in the country. This month marks the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussain, the third Shi’ite Imam.

“I’d like for people to see a different face of the pilgrims. A little bit removed from reality with an elevated sense of spirituality. That’s what I see and feel myself.

This is one of a collection of photos named ‘The Prayer Wall.’”




“We weren’t expecting the rain; neither did we have an umbrella. But the view was so spectacular that I just had to capture it. I didn’t have a tripod at the time, so I made do with some rocks. I managed to get this shot on the third try, while standing on top of the camera to keep it safe from getting wet. I believe that good things come to those who wait.”



“This photo was taken last autumn in Goftegoo Park in Tehran. My friend suddenly started running; it wasn’t planned and I was laughing. When I see this photo it reminds me of that day and it makes me laugh again.”



“She was too shy to look at the camera at first, but after awhile she became more relaxed and this moment was her very first peaceful look. I want people to feel the peace that we had in that moment and all the other great feelings.”



“I had just arrived in Isfahan and it was before sunset. The child was playing in the big pool located exactly in the middle of Naghshe Jahan Square.

This picture easily satisfies my inner child because I spent most of my childhood playing with water wherever possible! [I want] people to simply realize that it is really easy to be happy! As simple as the joy depicted in this picture.”



“When I look at this picture, I feel proud of being Iranian.”

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The exhibition, “Iran Unveiled,” opened on September 17th, and will be up at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California, through October 1st.