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Isolationism
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Asia, Middle East
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Iran, Culture, Youth, Tehran, Muslim
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Photography of everyday life on the streets and in bazaars—life that reveals the traditions and customs of the Iranian people in a non-judgmental manner. My purpose was to reveal an essence and spirit that Americans can relate to.
Eric Grigorian

1998 — student winner

For nearly two decades, Americans have held preconceived notions about Iranian people and their culture. My proposal is aimed at dispelling those myths.

I will spend two months this summer in Iran, the country of my birth, photographing a culture and people who have repeatedly been portrayed in a negative light by the western media. I want to photograph everyday life on the streets and in bazaars — life that reveals the traditions and customs of the Iranian people in a non-judgmental manner. My purpose to reveal an essence and spirit that Americans will be able to relate to.

I feel this is a significant and timely story due to the long silence between Iran and the Western world. This is also a period of change for Iran. In May of 1997, more than 20 million defied their country’s leadership by electing Seyid Mohammed Khatami as their president. The election of Khatami demonstrated the call for more freedom, a call made by the young people who are taking their country through a new revolution.

In this photographic essay, I will also explore some of the many cultures that live in Iran—the minority ethnic groups that reside among this dominant Muslim society. I will focus on the large population of Christian Armenians living in Iran and the role they play in a Muslim country. On the whole, racial conflict is not a problem in Iran. The Iranian government, with a few exceptions, allows minority cultures to explore and practice their religion. I will photograph the Christian life and the repercussions of choosing to live in a Muslim country.

Apart from the fact that pictures and reports of Iran have been very limited in the western world since the fall of the Shah, there are several other reasons for choosing Iran as a project; reasons which are more personal.

My family and I left the country suddenly in the midst of the Islamic revolution of 1979. I was raised and lived in the United States ever since I was nine-years-old.

Coming to the United States, I left behind part of my childhood. I left behind part of my family: my uncle, aunt, cousins and grandparents. I left behind a close family that I have not seen since. So in a way, Iran is a local story for me. My neighborhood, school, and people in Iran represent a part of my childhood that I have almost forgotten.

This trip and my project will not only be a window for Americans to see and better understand Iranian culture, but also a learning experience and a way for me to see who I was and who I might have become.

My ability to communicate in Farsi and Armenian, my ties with family in Iran and my knowledge of the culture of Iranians and Armenians will immensely benefit me and make this project possible.

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A defaced mural of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and now spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a village outside Tehran. In March of 1997 a majority of Iranians elected their new president Khatami, who is in favor of opening relations with the western world. Although Khatami is the president, the spiritual leaders are still considered the heads of the country. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
An Iranian women wearing a traditional chador in Tehran, Iran. The chador, the one-piece cloak traditionally worn by very religious women, has become a symbol of the country as seen by the West and an image of fundementalism. It is not however the dress code imposed by Iran.  It is however required for women to cover all parts of the body except the hand, feet and face, and to ensure that the outer layer of clothing gives no hint of the shape of the body. This dress code is challenged more frequently of late as women wear tighter clothes show more of their wrist, ankles, and reveal more of their hair than it is allowed. Eric Grigorian/Alexia Foundation
Iranians in a courtyard located in Tehran's main bazaar. The mosques and buildings around the courtyard were originally built as places for learning. It is now used as a place for gatherings and daily prayer. Tehran's bazaar has become more than just a market place, in many ways it has become the Wall Street of Tehran. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
At a family picnic north of Tehran a baby is balanced on her father's palm. Affection among family members is openly expressed, although it is very uncommon in public areas between people of different genders, mainly for religious reasons. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
Make-up has always been strongly discouraged, but is much more common now than before Khatami's election. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
Tehran is one of the largest growing countries in the world. Tehran alone increased its population more than 10 million after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
On his way to the Caspian Sea, an Iranian drinks tea at a rest stop alongside a mountain trail. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
Both public and private beaches exist in Iran. Private beaches are divided for men and women, while public beaches allow both sexes with the restriction that women be covered. Here, volleyball is played by locals at a private beach north of Tehran. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation
A woman wearing the chador, the one-piece traditional cloak, walks with her baby in the streets of Tehran. All women living or visiting Iran are required to cover all parts of the body except the hands, feet and face. Men also have dress codes. Shorts are not acceptable in public. Eric Gregorian/Alexia Foundation