‘…how deep, rich and complex the human tapestry is, so far from the one-dimensional concepts tailored for the convenience of evening news.’
This is part of the description that accompanies photographer Tom Kuczynski’s latest show, Illuminating Iran, which features eye-catching ‘insider’ shots of scenes from the Central Asian nation that is still mysterious to many. I had a chance over the weekend to speak with Kuczynski about his work on the (according to him) oft-misperceived country. And I was surprised to discover that after seeing his pictures and hearing stories of his trip there, I found even some of my own perceptions of Iran being challenged.
Kuczynski, who had wanted to visit Iran for a long time, for its ‘great, rich culture, history and hospitable people,’ went there after ‘happening to’ find some time to spare for travel and photography. This was a welcome adventure for the photographer, who also currently works full-time as a diplomat with the Polish Embassy in Japan.
Amongst the images in Illuminating Iran, there is a wide variety of those covering unexpected peeks into what seem like very hard-to-come-by slices of ‘real’ Iranian society. Take for example, one photo that caught my eye right off-the-bat, taken inside of a carpet shop. The man in the photo, presumably the shop owner or an employee, holds open a flipping display of large rugs, and the two pieces that are captured in the photo feature none other than notorious masked American hero: Spiderman. Kuczynski explained to me his own reaction to coming across this:
‘Often in the media we hear certain information about Iran, and what seems to be its stance "against" the Western world. Actually, the atmosphere you get when you arrive there is one where people are open and curious. They like very much Western products and Western culture. So there seems to be some discrepancy between the images of, let’s say, the formal stance that Iran has towards the Western world and the US and how the people actually feel and what they like. Western movies and Western characters (like Spiderman) are getting more and more popular.
'So here is this symbol, Spiderman, and it’s somehow accepted…You hear that people dislike something and then you have the very symbols of it integrated in traditional arts and manufacturing…I thought that this was very peculiar.’
I’ll continue with more of Kuczynski’s shared insight into Iran tomorrow.
Illuminating Iran is currently showing at the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Tokyo, Japan through Sunday May 23. More on Tom Kuczynski is on his blog here.