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Maria, 2006 (from the series Girl Power)
Credit: Newsha Tavakolian
Malu Halasa explains why the Iranian authorities want to censor images as much as words
14 IRAN UNCUT – MALU HALASA
In the aftermath of the disputed June elections in Iran, the authorities began targeting the image, both still and moving, as a vehicle ‘for fomenting a velvet revolution in the country’. One of the casualties of the crackdown on reporters and photographers was my friend and colleague Maziar Bahari, a journalist and filmmaker who was covering the elections for Newsweek. He was detained without charge for nearly four months in Evin Prison. Some of the contributors to an anthology that Maziar and I edited together earlier this year, Transit Tehran, were also arrested, beaten up or attacked on the street. The Chinese whispers that reach me in London are Kafkaesque: confiscated computers, traced emails and photographers asked to inform on other photographers. The authorities wanted to stop news and documentary images coming out of Iran. Five months later, in November, at the time of writing, they have done just that.
Ironically, many of the contributors to the book describe themselves as ‘apolitical’. It is enough to take the photograph, to make the film, to show life, without filters. In Iranian photography and documentary filmmaking, showing has become resistance. Chit-chat is unnecessary. The image conveys, to paraphrase the Iranian Documentary Filmmakers Association, a truth.
In the past, art, film and photography provided a safety valve and dissenting voices could be found and even celebrated within these genres. In film, the voices often spoke in metaphors but they could still be heard, understood and even tolerated.
This seemed to change, in a very real way, at least for photographers, nearly a year ago, following the closure of an exhibition at the Asar Gallery in Tehran. The show, Paradoxical Life, featured work by the photographer and writer Peyman Hooshmandzadeh, whose short stories appear in Transit Tehran. The images in the exhibition included scenes Hooshmandzadeh had taken from a car window. "All the works have been removed from the gallery for their contradictions to Islamic codes and social values as well as for [their] negligence of sanctities," reported the Tehran Times, quoting the Centre for Visual Arts, part of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Now, any time a gallery wants to exhibit work it must seek permission from the centre for visual arts – not for the photographer or for the themes of the exhibition, but for each image, one by one. Considering how long it takes the Ministry of Culture to approve film ideas this will be a bureaucratic nightmare. But it also shows that resistance to the Islamic state in a visual form will not be tolerated. The closure of the Asar Gallery took place in