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How would you picture Iran's cultural image?

May 30, 2003
The Iranian

I am a photojournalist working on a personal project called "Iranian". I am looking for answers to the question, "Who we are?" I emailed this question to my friends and family members: "How would you picture Iran's cultural image?" Here are some of their answers. I would like to share them with you and ask the same question from all of you. Email me here.

Salam Baba Joon!!!!

Haale shomaa chetoreh?? Be nazareh man... Some things that come to mind when u talk about the culture of Iran r maybe like pics of Isfahan and Shiraz!!!!

I have to think on this so i will email u back as soon as I come up with some new stuff, k??




Daaee Nader Salam!

Omidvaaram keh haaletoon khoob baashe,

Inam list:

-- oon koochehaaye barike tehran keh vasatesh joobe koochooloe
-- pirezanaye koochooloo keh chadoriyan....
-- takhte jamshid (idea-e maamaanam!)
-- khiaaboone vali asr (hamoonjaa keh be tarafe khooneye ame akram mire) chon hich jaaye donyaa derakht be oon ghashangi o sabzi nadaare.
-- shomaal
-- 40 sotoon
-- chelo kabab (chon iran BEHTARIN ghazaa ro daare... (va khodamam yekam alaan gorosname) :-)
-- baazaare jaalebe miveh forooshiye iran (hamooni keh yaaroo biroon vaay miste DAAD MIZANE: MIVEH!!)
-- shabaaye iran! yanee vakhti shab az too khoone tamaame tehraano negah mikoni.. hamash cheraaghooni hast. yaa az panjareye havaapeymaa keh manzareye kheily ghashangiye.
-- javooonaa (chon teenager to iran KHEILY ZIAADE! va harjaa miri oonaaro mibini)

Kholaase inam listam... agar chizaaye bishtar yaadam oomad hatman baraatoon mail mikonam.




This is a hugely vague question. It all depends on your approach and intended application. Are you a novelist? a film maker? an anthropologist? a politicaljunkie -- critic --, a historian? a nostalgic second generation Iranian? a disenchanted first generation
Iranian? none of the above? some of the above? Depending on your perspective the answer would vary widely.



I would like to see... A traditional Bazaar, an aerial picture of Naghsh-e Jahan, or Takht-e Jamsheed. As people in traditional and modern settings anything in the order of the portraits of Kasraian would work.



All I know is that you have to show that the notion of culture or any cultural image is not static and changing within its seemed continuity and try to show some of the critical factors responsible for continuity and changes.

You may also want to elucidate that there are different cultural images of Iran or.... and try to compare and contrast them to find their commonality and or their differences. So you have to decide whose cultural image you want to examine.

I think a good place to start is with the stereotype images of Iran based on observations of foreigners. We had something in school about national attributes of different countries, i.e. French are said to be romantic, British cold people, Middle Easterners hospitable... You may look at some of those for a start.

I am sure that you know the answers and want to tickle the minds of toodehaa.

Take care and enjoy your life as if there might not be any heaven.



I went through 12 Iranian web site in last 48 hrs. I am not talking the news site (like gooya, emrooz, roydad, isna or etc.) a little bit more specific.

To me Iranians who are out of the country really like to see who or what kind of peoples are running their ountry. Seeing how they dress, how they act, how they spend their time after work, or even at work, is intersting. I am not talking portrait photos; a little more than that.



Nader jon salam,

Maraaseme mazhabi, daaneshgahhaa, javaanaan dar tafrih be vigeh kouhnavardi, amaakene baastani iran, mozehaa be khousous mozehe farsh, kaargahaaye ghaali baafi, soufrehe haftsin, sizdeh bedar, maraaseme mazahebe ghayre mosalmaanaan be vigeh zartoushtiyaan, maraaseme roushanfekraan as ghabile shabe she'r yaa kaanoune nevisandegaan, fa'aaliyate zanan be vighe dar soutouhe modiriyat, az jomleh nemoudhaye farhangi iran hastand.



Hello Davoodi jaan,

Nader jaan you know how much I am fascinated by Iran's folk culture -- music, music instruments, artifacts, clothes, tribal rugs and anything associated with it.

One thing that I would imagine very useful for illustration is close shots of some parts of a tribal rug or perhaps an antique rug. This provides the beauty of natural colors and
paterns. The primitive shape of a bird or a sheep or any other animal resembles the simplicity of life and the ancient. The natural colors of old or tribal Persian rugs are breathtaking. The red and turquoise... Oh so beautiful.

The other thing that sort of turns me on are old mosaics. Again the colors and patterns makes them among the most beautiful in the world. Also images of lesser-known monoments and buildings would be nice. The popular ones have been exploited more than enough already.

Don't underestimate images of folk musical instruments (pieces other than tar, setar, daf or zarb). Again we have seen a lot of these polpular instruments on books and CD's. I am talking about boogh, shaipoors, some drums and some string instruments from villages of
Sistan-Baluchestan and the south in general.

Well, if I think of something else I will follow.

Sana gurbaan,



I am sorry, but I really cannot think of anything!!!! All I know is that PARMIS IS SO DAMN SMART!!!! hahahahaha hahahahahahaha hahahahahahahaha hahahahahahah ahahahahahahaha

I have to gooooooo,



-- Noon and noonvaaee
-- Baghaalee
-- Cinema houses
-- Religious posters (Iman Ali and...)
-- Bookstores
-- Libraries
-- Moozeh Iran Baastan
-- Terminal Jonoob (bus)
-- Jeegarakee
-- Qassaabee
-- Life in cafes and restaurants
-- Qan-naadee (different shirinis like zoolbeeyaa baamiyeh...)
-- Classrooms in famous schools (Alborz, Alavi, Andisheh, Hadaf...)



Salam Nader Jon,

Well, I shall try to answer your question. In terms of cultural categories: art, historical
events, food, literature (pores, poem), religion (all of them and not just the dominant one), politics, new generation, exiled Iranians, returned Iranians, change (both in terms of attire and thought), adaptation to modernity, insisting traditional ways, pre/post 1979
revolutionary concepts, internet, underground possibilities, street life, conflict (inside-outside homes), cinema, nature's diversity (mountain, desert, sea, ...), people's diversity (multi-nation), Darolofonon (I believe it was one of the first schools meant to introduce Western thoughts in Iran), prison, sabzi khordan, taarof (I am not sure how you can show
this unless you use moving images of two people trying to get inside a door or a guest that is repeatedly is given things to eat), tea, not being direct (another
hard one) ...

You see, it is not easy to summarize our culture ...

I believe that Iran has suffered from both neo-colonial powers (indirect colonialism) and
internal malfunctioning individuals in power. At the same time Iranians have attempted to adapt, learn, modify, change, .... more than some other nations in the region (relatively speaking) .... Am I making this too complicated? My apologies.

Just in terms of images what comes to my mind right now are: Damavand, Daryaeh Khazar, Aftabeh, Dashteh Lar, Chelokabab, Non va panier, Nima Yosheig, Forogh Farokhzad, Mosadegh (1953 was the first attempt ever by the US to control internal events of a country, most Iranians know that ... but not necessarily the rest of the world), Sohrab Sepehri, Abbas Kiarostami, Jokes (shokhi), old next to new (both in terms of objects and people), Mes (silver), Bazar, Hamomomomi (public bath), a family with their samavar next to a stream, beautiful eyes and eyebrows, big noses, different color skins, ....

I just cannot think just in terms of one or two images .... Sorry.



Salam Daaee Nader!

I hope you are doin' well as is what I think would reflect TODAY'S cultural image of Iran:

I think everyone is fed up with seeing old fashioned, historical images that don't necessarily represent the young generation in Iran. Especially, in a male dominating society such as ours, it would be very interesting to see the new faces and trends of women,
but in good taste!!! I think everyone wants to see the "ACTIVE" young generation (not easy to find, but worth it).

Try to capture what keeps our people going in today's political "khafeghaan". The little things like: poeple dressing up too much just to go grocery shopping (shomal shahreh tehran), computer & internet cafe's, sport events, javoonaayeh bikar sareh har koocheh, private parties (what really goes on in them). mardom vaaghe'an khodeshoonam nemidoonan ke donbaaleh chian to Iran, che javoon, cheh meeyaansaal... try to capture that on film.

However, I'm not sure if you wanna touch on issues like poverty, drugs, prostitution, political prisoners, and the whole screwed up system. Afterall, I don't think you can illustrate the true image of Iran anymore, without touching on what I just mentioned.

But, you may want to rethink that if you are planning to go back. Try to create a mix and don't forget to show how the western culture has affected ours (clothing, cars, computers, etc.)

Anyways, good luck and say hi to everyone from me.

Take care,



Dear Mr. Davoodi,

Thank you for considering my opinion noteworthy. Based on my experience of having been in US since 1978 and being involved with so many cultural functions and getting feedback from non-Iranians the following is what I like to see: Pictures portraying Iranians in real life situation which we do not see everyday.

For example the north (Gilan and Mazandaraan) has beautiful sceneries and everyone sends pictures but we hardly see the rice farmers. Also we need to see more pictures of women in various jobs. Unusual pictures such as women weaving carpets and even perhaps the process of dying the threads (with petals of flowers) which I saw in the movie Daughters of The Sun.

Pictures of the country side for example, children or women taking water from the springs or springs (if that is still the case). Women playing musical instruments or performing in the country sides with their traditional clothes.

Subjects such as putting henna for wedding or even tattooing as it is customary in some areas. Pictures of places that are old but beautiful still. Oudla Jaan was a beautiful area.
I recently saw a movie about a musicologist going to various areas trying to collect some lullabies an local songs before they are forgotten. That movie gave pictures of so many unusual and breathtaking things which will make everyone take notice. An old house with beautiful trees, climbing ivy, mismatched clay pots and the magnificent pond with a few brick steps caught the attention of so many non-Persian movie goers I spoke to.



Nader jan, Salam.

If I were in Iran at this time, I would cover the new life style, modern city life and youth life. Traditional life has been covered a lot and I think it's enough. Most of the Western folks think that Iranian life means nomads, bazaars, old men...

I think youth life, such as their sports events and social environment, and if you can picture the contrast between them and traditional life, would be a good project.

I wish I were there to cover these topics with you.

Good luck,



Hey Nader,

When I think of Irannian culure I think of:

-- passion (music, people, couples walking down the street)
-- compassion
-- affection
-- obeidience
-- submissive/passive
-- agressive
-- tart (as the food is tart and yummy)
-- family relations as a community
-- extravagance
-- arrogance - as Irannians are sure to let people know they are Persian...
-- inside the family home, dichotomy of the family - how there might be separation outside the structure of the home, but how there is integration within.....
-- taxi's.... the reliabilty on old peugots, and from inside a taxi one can learn about the world people see and reflect upon... while driving from one part of Tehran to another
men in caps with white beards and withered hands (hard workers) - and dressed in suits despite any holes within them...

All for now... will write more later...




Dear Nader,

Here are my suggestions:

-- damavand mountain
-- mazandaran rice paddies
-- imam reza shrine
-- tehran university gates
-- a coffee house




Salaam Shakhsiyat-e- bozorg.

Sorry for this late reply. I have had some problems recently. Hope you and the family are well and happy. say hello to Ahmad agha and Shahaab and other friends if that is not being "vaaseteh".

I think these are good cultural symbols of Iran:

-- Some statue of Ferdosi, or his tomb
-- a view of tehran with Damaavand summit in it;
-- teahouse with Shaahnaameh Naghaali or pardeh in it;
-- carpet patterns in a museum;
-- some symbol of Iran's Women cinema.




Dear Nader,

Thank you for choosing me to ansewer your question. But unfortunately I'm not interseted in Iranian subjects. It does not mean I've forgotten who I am.Thinking of Iran hurts my feelings. I have a lot of painful memoirs in my mind from my country. Every subject about Iran reminds me how much I was in a bad situation especially in the last few years before I left Iran. Anyway my friend if I see you I'll tell you about it.

I think the best symbol for introducing Iran to other countries is the "Aftaabeh". For many reasons:

1- Our religion depends on the "Aftaabeh".
2- It's repeatedly mentioned in the "Resaaleh".
3- "Aftaabeh" is very popular and shows our culture and mentality of our government.

By the way, we can use "Aftaabeh" as a mark on our flag. I'm just joking.

I always enjoy watching the photos of nature in Iran. I beleive the best symbol for Iran is one of the natural elemants. Beacuse politics can't be sensetive about that. We have always had problems with governments, but not nature. Natural symbols would be the best, such as mountains, various kinds of trees, a flower, or something like that.

Best wishes,


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