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17 July 2010

Paolo Woods, Walk on my Eyes

In 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was unexpectedly elected as Iran’s president, I began a photo project on Iranian society. I felt that with the arrival of this populist and extremist to the presidency, the divide between how the West viewed Iran and the country I knew was going to grow at a very fast pace.

I thus set out to portray a society that is more diverse, human and complex then the stereotypes that have personified it since the Islamic Revolution. I started investigating the Iranian psyche and national identity through the prism of its individual members. I am particularly drawn by the theatricality and the duality of Iranian society: the profound religiousness of the Iranians in spite of the regime’s cynical use of religion; the constant clash between modernity and tradition, often within the same person; the obsessive quest for personal success in a system dominated by collective values, in which suffering is upheld as a value in its own right.

I wanted to show that the Iranians can be surprising, droll, audacious, insolent and dissatisfied—not the homogeneous mass the regime would like us to believe.

With author Serge Michel, I have worked against the backdrop of major political events: the emergence of Iran as a nuclear and regional power, the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, the fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad, the birth of the Green Movement and its violent repression.

It is at this precise moment in history when Iran finds itself geographically and strategically in the middle of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the cause of much tension between the US and China, that a closer, more intimate look at its people is of the essence.

Having been witness to the events of June 2009, and having followed the situation from Iran on a daily basis and, now, reluctantly from a distance, I have started collecting the images taken by Iranians themselves, testifying to the brutal crackdown on the Green Movement. These photos, often taken with mobile phones or amateur cameras, have rapidly become the sole visual evidence of the post-electoral violence. Through the Internet, these images have been broadcast to the world, often reaching the level of icons and marking a new milestone in citizen journalism. A selection of these images will be on view as well.

Paolo Woods

Exhibition venue: Salle Henri Comte, Rencontres d’Arles 2010.