Faces of Iran, an Introduction (and Special Comment)


This account of Iran's people, land, arts, and history begins simply with a collection of faces -- of citizens going about their daily activities socializing at the mosque, crowding the weekend bazaar, selling and trading, and swarming a party of "rare" American tourists. Only one day on the streets of Tehran is enough to suggest that the general urban populace of Iran (named Persia until 1935, Reza Shah) has no quarrel with the "westerner." Iran's youth, true to the very history of Persia itself, are indeed rebellious of restrictions imposed by their elders. However, the young and their parents are also remarkably respectful of their visitors and guests from around the world, and curious about that wider world to a degree that might cause Americans to blush. Their pride in their own nation (flaws and all) is also insurmountable. This country of Iran is bi-polar, religious and secular. Ali M. Ansari, in a small book, Iran: A Short Introduction (Oxford), describes Iran as "at once theocratic and autocratic yet as a succession of visitors will relate -- often with a sense of bewilderment -- it seems to be also possessed of democratic characteristics,...." Hence the nation bears the hallmark of a melting pot that brewed what are today called "Western" values imbued with the pragmatic devotions of Eastern faiths.

Iranian law and custom requires all women in the country (including visitors) to wear the hijab (scarf, hair cover) in public. However, as is evident in the first photograph above, two young women have let their scarf (hair) slip off their heads. Apparently this inadvertent oversight is in fact occasionally intentional and part of the unspoken etiquette of youthful flirtation with the wider secular world. Ansari (in his Short Introduction) refers to the phenomena as "the curious retractable nature of women's headscarves." City dwellers often look the other way when such infringement of rules takes place. No doubt, as will be evident in the photographs, the hijab has many fashionable and attractive uses that do not diminish the beauty of its wearers.

The apparel/shawls (hijabs) here display some of the creative ways that women apply the precious fabrics to their public persona.

This young model of fashion apparently is a member of a special sect of the Islamic populace in southern Iran (Hazara perhaps)

There is a decidedly macho male-dominated culture that still flourishes in Iran, much to the consternation of some westerners and some of Iran's own female population as well. And yet since the Islamic Revolution (the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979) the men have been experimenting -- shaving their beards (beards are much rarer except for clerics) or wearing a tie.