Iran /

Scratch the surface to discover hospitality and humanity

Western governments strongly advise against visiting Iran, warning “there are serious and potentially life-threatening risks that make the destination unsafe for tourism and unsuitable for most travellers”. Negative caricatures of Iran are not limited to travel warnings; media outlets commonly describe the country and its people as dangerous and uncivilised. However, not only is it an amazingly diverse country rich in history and culture, it also has a burgeoning and largely secular youth.

A young man enjoys some quiet time at Gazor Khan, one of the 50 ruined fortresses collectively known as the Castles of the Assassins in the country’s northwest. Alamut Valley is a special place for Iranians, its high altitude and serene landscape offer precious respite from the chaotic nature of Iran’s capital city, which is only a 3-hour drive away.

Any apprehension one might’ve had about safety in Iran will be quickly quashed, as you very promptly discover that locals aren’t just relaxed about the idea of western tourists, they’re thrilled about it. This man, like most Iranians, wanted to know where I was from. He, like many Iranians, loves Australia. He promptly offered to drive me across town, free of charge. The crippling traffic in Tehran makes a motorbike the fastest (and most entertaining) way to get around town.

A window display catches the eye of shoppers as they walk the corridors of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar. The famous Bazaar is not only one of the oldest shopping malls in the world, it’s also one of the largest. The Bazaar consists of over 10 kilometres of labyrinthine alleyways, corridors, stairwells and hidden passages, where street traders sell everything from dried figs to flat screen TVs.

Marivan, a small town just 10km from the Iraqi border, is well and truly Kurdish. The clothing of locals is clearly distinctive from the rest of Iran; the men wear earthy toned baggy pants called Pantaloons, secured by a cummerbund sash around the waist. They wear a woollen turban up top. Traditional dress for women consists of two layers of colourful dress and a headscarf. The personalities of the people are as colourful as the clothing. This man invited me into his home for lunch after spotting me in one of the local markets. I met his entire family, including a baby who was only a few weeks old. He is proudly holding a self-portrait from his younger days as a Kurdish solider.

Upon arrival in a new country, I immediately investigate the etiquette around photography. I discovered that in Iran, not only is photography ok, it’s encouraged. This girl’s mother was sitting behind the curtains in the window. When she saw me take the shot, she excitedly hurried out – with a few more kids – and requested that I get the complete set.

A Kurdish man in the village of Howraman-at-Takht in the Howraman Valley of western Iran. The village is straddled by the mountainous ranges of Iran on the east and Iraq on the west. The man is wearing a traditional brown-felt jacket called ‘Kolobal’ with its distinctive shoulder horns.

Kurdish boys hold hands while walking in Howraman. In many parts of the Middle East, including Iran, holding hands is the warmest expression of affection between males. The tactility extends to kissing cheeks and long handshakes to express solidarity and kinship.

A Kurdish woman spins wool as the sun sets across Howraman Valley in the background.

Two boys walk home with their dinner in Howraman-at-Takht. Houses are built into the steep hillside seen in the background, with the exterior of rooftops doubling as a walkway or porch for those above.

Kurdish children in Howraman take time out of their match to pose for a team photo.

The wall of a workshop in Kashan, a large oasis city that runs along the edge of the Great Desert. The main figure in the photo is Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. He is the head of state and highest-ranking political and religious authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran. His image is prominent through the country on murals, billboards, hotel walls and in the homes of citizens. However, his photo will not be seen in Kurdish region of Iran. Although most Iranians are Shia Muslims, the Kurds are predominantly Sunni, and this has often put them at odds with the Iranian government.

A man sits outside his abode in Kashan, central Iran. As I walked past, I noticed his yard was filled with hundreds of rabbits and tyres, some of which can be seen in the background. Our conversation was limited. I don’t speak Farsi; he didn’t speak English – but it didn’t matter. Sometimes communication is less about content, and more about expression. In exchange for granting me a portrait, I gave him a Polaroid portrait of his own, which can be seen in his right hand

A woman walks through Naghsh-e Jahan Square in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Isfahan. The tree lined boulevards conjure images of Paris while the intricacy and beauty of the city’s art and architecture rivals anything else in the world. While it is one of the great cities in the world for Islamic architecture, the city is also home to important Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian sites. There are approximately 1,500 Jews in Isfahan, the main synagogue is in the heart of the city in Palestine Square.

A shepherd near the tiny desert village of Toudeshk.

Artist and musician, Maziar Aledavood, in his 300 year old home in the mud-brick village oasis of Garmeh. The house doubles as a famous guesthouse in Iran called Ashetooni, which is popular with Iran’s young and secular youth. Being a private and secular home, there is no requirement for women to wear the hijab.