Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Iran at 30 years Old


Above is a very brief mix mash of my photography from Iran over the last few years. I've made several trips there and had a most incredible time on each journey. My reason for today's blog is because this past week, February 1st actually, marked the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That's right, it is been 30 years since the revolution that toppled the "western-backed" Shah and brought Ayatollah Khomeini, and the clerics, to power.

Iran is a country that I hold very close to my heart for several reasons. First and foremost, photography by Gilles Peress ("Telex Iran") and Abbas ("Iran Diary") from Iran are some of my earliest photographic memories; their black and white images from the revolution, and the aftermath, are still vivid in my consciousness and has had a profound influence on me both personally and professionally.

The second reason Iran is dear to me is because in 2003 I traveled from Hong Kong to Istanbul over land, in what was a most exhaustive six month epic journey through Central Asia. After passing through the "stans" my entrance into Iran still, although difficult, still brings a smile to my face. So the story goes I woke up early one morning in Ashgabat and caught a broken down bus headed for the town of Saraghs, a border town with Iran. Exiting Turkmenistan was no problem at all, a breeze in fact. After paying homage to the President Turkmanbashi portrait on the wall I headed out for a 2km walk across the no man's land. When I arrived at the other side I was beaming to finally enter Iran, and I thought that a quick passport check and stamp was all that held me back from exploring this incredible country that I had already read so much about.

To my dismay the border checkpoint folks on the Iranian side spent some 6 hours surfing the Internet trying to figure out if I was a journalist or worse a spy who puts all his details on the Internet. Can you believe I actually waited 6 hours at a border check point? It was painful, I ended up just sitting on the floor reading my book and eating bad Uzbek chocolate I had bought a few days earlier near Bukharra. By the time I got through and was "released" in to Iran it was dark and there was no one around. I managed to scramble to find a taxi that drove me to the town of Mashad, just a few hours away. The remainder of my trip to Iran was a joy, but that border crossing was an experience I'll never forget; that and the shakedown on the Georgian / Azerbaijan border - dodgy.

Changing direction, it is my opinion that Iran is one of the most important countries in the world to watch over the next few years. With their expanding nuclear program, their sponsorship of terrorism and their hardline on Israel; Iran is moulding itself in to a potentially volatile country. While their rhetoric was strong at US$130 oil, less so at US$40, their strength and influence in the Middle East continues to grow. My main question is where is all the photography that should be coming from Iran these days? Perhaps I am not looking in the right places but the fact that this influential, and incredibly complex country, is now thirty years old should be a huge headline, and while BBC and CNN spent some time on the subject very few magazines have dedicated any pages to the issue. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one who suggests that the 30th anniversary of the Islamic republic should be celebrated, but it deserves to be critiqued and explored, and at a time when my Fortune, Time and Newsweek are knee deep in the financial crisis. And thinking about it, the Islamic Republic of Iran at 30 years old would have made an incredible National Geographic feature, as the country is chalked full of frustration, contradictions, unemployment, government mismanagement as well as an incredible history and culture.


Ryan Pyle

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Ryan Pyle