The Looming Shadow of Revolution for Iranian Youth
In From Labyrinth, Iranian photographer Farshid Tighehsaz focuses on the sociological and psychological impacts of the Islamic revolution and years of long war on the younger generations.
When the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, putting an end to more than two thousand years of monarchy with the ousting of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the royal reign was soon replaced by a theocratic republican constitution under the watchful eye of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In a national referendum in 1979, 98% of Iranians voted for their country to become an Islamic republic.
As the regime’s Islamic doctrine sealed off the country from western influence, the result was a complex mix of contradictions that fuelled the social and political instability. The new regime moved quickly to apply sharia law, banning alcohol and gambling, and requiring women to wear veils; however, modernity still broke through, when western music and movies streamed over satellite dishes dotting the cities’ rooftops.
Farshid Tighehsaz had yet to be born when the Revolution came to the streets of Iran. Still in his mother’s womb during the Iran-Iraq conflict, Tighehsaz recalls having vivid dreams of distant explosions that shook the calm moments of pregnancy. Indeed, the aftershocks of the revolution and war extended through time and space and are still spilling over into the Iranians’ lives, tarnishing the country’s future.
Tighehsaz’s generation, and the ones who came later, are still assailed by the hardships of those oppressive reforms. In fact, the chaos of war has made it hard for Iranians to envision a future of new possibilities. “The war and the revolution had a [strong] impact on my life,” Tighehsaz recalls. “And not just [on] my life but also on all the younger generation after the Revolution,” he says. “The way of thinking, the way of speaking, the way of behaving, [but also] the identity… the structure of society.” The revolution reshaped every aspect of daily life.
Tighehsaz audaciously captured the impact of these conflicts in his work, From Labyrinth, a hint of the intricacies and contradictions of Iran, and the continual concatenation of everyday stories that intertwine into a broader narrative. “This is about my place where I live, in the Middle East… with [its] economic problems, social problems and psychological problems too,” the photographer says.
In his work, Tighehsaz captures the broad spectrum of sentiments lingering in people’s lives: fear dominates over everything else, for the uncertainty that the future holds - the castration of a nation’s youth. Tighehsaz shows this through an encounter between two young lovers; though societal norms keep them apart, they share the pain of the unnatural distance. They cannot touch; and no gesture can cross that distance. Dominated by the religious order, the two lovers are physically deflated, their hopes crushed. The adolescents’ hidden faces render their feelings universal, but their identities are also nullified, beaten down by a regime that prohibits their natural affection.
“In general - but especially in my country, especially in the Middle East - [living] every day with war, with [...] this news, these events... You can't be sure about your future. What's going to happen tomorrow? You can't be sure about your future. And your life,” Tighehsaz explains.
This uncertainty looms again, a misty fixture in many of Tighehsaz’s images. The cruelty captured in the photo of a wounded child - slivers of a bomb dotting his mouth and nose, hints that his eye will be lost - is the abnegation of the future itself. The sight of a moth, hesitating between flight and a muddy window, summons in us a tinge of anxiety about choosing between paralysis and a sudden leap. Teens experience depression and self-harm. Young men vent their anguish by smoking cigarettes. A sense of anguish, broken objects like crippled faith, completely surrounds them.
Even playful moments reveal a bitter edge. A man in underwear buries his head behind a fridge, leaning towards a window to peek at some girls next door. The ludic glance gives way to the fragility and oppression that define romantic relationships. “It somehow expresses fear,” Tighehsaz explains, “fear of being yourself. You always have to hide yourself from so many things here. You can't be yourself. You can't be totally free.”
From Labyrinth grows into a collective web of stories that conveys a larger narrative, exposing the jagged grain of society in Iran, which is still dragging the burden of its complicated past.