A Pictorial Journey Through Central Iran

A Pictorial Journey Through Central IranA Pictorial Journey Through Central Iran

John Moore, senior staff photographer at Getty Images, traveled across the heart of central Iran in 2014. Moore’s photographs offer a unique perspective into the daily life of Iranians. The following is an essay on his experience, as published online on the photoblog of the Denver Post.

Iran is immense and fascinating, with more recorded human history than most of the West entire. I chose the timing of my trip to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Republic.

The commemoration promised to give me a day of solid news coverage with thousands of people visiting his shrine near the capital of Tehran.

My main objective was a road trip through central Iran, basically the huge swath of desert and arid mountains, which is home to important cities as well as archeological sites from previous Persian civilizations.

I flew from my base in New York through Istanbul, where I caught a connecting flight to Shiraz. In Shiraz, I was met by my team who would accompany me on my week-long adventure – Amir, my idiom-speaking translator and driver Mahmoud, who bore some resemblance to actor Robert Di Niro, albeit, thankfully, not to his character in Taxi Driver.

  unique tradition

Shiraz is a popular place to visit, in particular the grand and ornately carved tomb of the country’s greatest poet – the 14th century Hafez.

At dusk and outside of Hafez’ tomb, I photographed a unique tradition as a handler’s parakeet chose fortunes from a box of verse for those willing to pay a small fee.

I tried my luck and the bird produced this for me, “To the owner of this fortune – in the past you have had ups and downs in life. However, dwelling on those times is not good for your soul. You will have a bright future. So don’t ruin it by focusing on the past. Use past experiences for future success,” -- No arguing with that.

From Shiraz we made our way through central Iran, and I concentrated on daily life scenes in villages and cities along the way. Already late spring, the afternoon temperatures were uncomfortable, hovering near a hundred degrees, so most people spend much of their days indoors.

I tried to organize my travel schedule with the tougher long-distance drives during midday, when the light is harsh for photography, which meant I would be in more populated areas for photos as the sun set.

For a week I worked this way, trying to put a modern Iran in context with Persia’s historical roots.

  Not What Many Expect

I found a country whose people are eager to interact with foreigners. I have worked quite a bit in the Islamic world in my career, having lived for three years in Pakistan, two in Egypt, and four in India. Iran turned out to be far easier and more accessible when it came to photographing people on the street, living their daily lives.

The people were surprisingly open to photography, even warm to me. It is apparent that citizens, everyday people, suffer under the international economic sanctions imposed by the West, which questions the nature of Iran’s nuclear projects.

Still, I did not find the depth of abject poverty that I have witnessed across the border in Afghanistan.

Although the trip was but a week, I covered a lot of ground and saw far more than I had hoped for. Perhaps my photos reveal something of the country and its people, a vision that Americans may not have expected to see. Of course there are so many more stories to tell. I would like to return to Iran. There is so much more to explore.