In 1976, I was commissioned by a publisher to write and photograph an education book on Iran for children. The photographs used were mainly colour and related to the thematic preoccupations of the book. It is only in recent months that I have revisited my black and white negatives.
Working on my own as a woman and US passport holder was both challenging and fascinating. On entering Iran, I was required to register with the Embassy and inform them of all my movements. From then on, the SAVAK (Iranian secret police) shadowed me everywhere. Described as Iran’s “most hated and feared institution”, and dissolved amidst the Revolution at the start of 1979, they worked as a hidden network. While I never actually saw them, I was continually aware of their presence. The most noticeable sign of their vigilance was the fresh cigarette butts found every morning in the back yard of the place where I was staying. Over the weeks, though, I found myself in several tight situations in which somehow the tensions were miraculously dissipated. I can only assume this was due to outside instructions.
In 1976, Iran was in the final years of the Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime. This was a Western-oriented secular dictatorship, brought into power by a UK and US backed coup. Areas of cultural freedom were interspersed with brutal repression. Political opposition was quickly suppressed. Shops, businesses or individuals not prominently displaying the Shah’s image, would be closed-down or disappear overnight. Rapid, state-led industrialisation, and a period of land reform had exacerbated social and economic divisions.
Two years later, in 1978, the stirrings of the Iranian Revolution began, with mass strikes and public demonstrations eventually bringing the Shah’s regime to an end. By 1979, the Shah had gone into exile and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. My book came out, but already belonged to a different historical epoch.
(Janine Wiedel 2020)
14cm x 20cm