Photographic work coming out of Iran isn’t necessarily a rarity. But the vast majority of the work is either focused on political photo ops or, when it tries to go beyond that, depictions of anti-Western sentiments (billboards) or just street scenes filled with veiled women or men drinking tea and smoking hookahs. Francesca Manolino’s work is different, though. It is quiet, intimate and poetic. She traveled to Iran and went beyond the usual things we see. In Sight spoke to Manolino to find out how she did this.
Manolino said she was inspired to go to Iran some 10 years ago after seeing the movie “Persepolis.” In college, she studied anthropology, and Farsi calligraphy began to fascinate her. Later, when she was studying for a master’s degree in photography, she became enraptured by the work of the Iranian visual artist, Shirin Neshat. Fast-forward to last year when Manolino began following some Iranian photographers on Instagram.
“I started to follow several Iranian Instagram profiles, and I found that a lot of them have an interesting point of view and a deep sensibility to images, deeper than usual,” she said. When Manolino finally headed to Iran, she would end up photographing some of the people she had met through Instagram. Indeed, just two hours after landing in Tehran, Manolino had already met one of her subjects, Sahba, with whom she would end up staying as a guest in her house in northern Tehran.
Manolino had never been to Iran before. She said she was interested in going to Iran “because I wanted to find out a different reality from what I have seen in the media, a more intimate point of view.” Before heading there, she had some trepidation, wondering if people would let her take their pictures and whether she would have problems with the moral police. But chiefly, she wondered, “would it be really different from the stereotype, or it was just my illusion?”
The interactions that Manolino had in Iran showed her that, even though they live in a society that is much more restricted than in the West, the young women she met had open minds. “They live in a country with a high level of censorship, but I never found [young women] so smart, with such an international culture, with such a sharp irony and awareness of nature’s law,” she said.
Manolino acknowledged that her understanding of life In Iran is necessarily restricted since she only visited Tehran. And to be sure, the women with whom she interacted understand the limits of their freedom. Recognizing this, one woman told Manolino: “Our country is hidden under the heavy dust of lies, politics and extremists. Although this doesn’t make me stop talking and saying what I actually believe, it always caused me some trouble. But it’s worth it. What is life without a little challenge anyway?”