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Isolationism, Gender
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Asia, Middle East
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Iran, Youth, Persian, Islam, Women's Rights, Democracy, Youth
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Iran has a very negative image in the West where it is thought to be controlled by fundamentalism but traveling there on assignment I have found this not to be the truth. This project aims to show the country in a more positive way, though not overlooking its problems.
Kai Wiedenhoefer

2002 — professional winner

Today about 60% of Persians are under 25 years old. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 the population has doubled to 74 million. As a result, even conservative clerics had to support a campaign of birth reduction. Contraceptives are handed out for free and a PR campaign to reduce population grown is carried out. The growth created serious problems -- especially in housing, education, and the labor market.
 
About 20% of the theologians admit that the Islamic revolution has failed. These reform theologians are very supportive of a democratic society and want to separate state and religion again. They are the heroes of the young generation and have often been imprisoned. This change within has the best chance to reform the political leadership and Iran. Their power base is the young generation, which is not so different from the youth in other countries. They want to have a boy/girlfriend, hear music (preferably Western -- even Metallica, etc.), go to parties, enjoy their hobbies like inline skating or surfing. They are very worried about their future, as there are big economic problems. Salaries are low, rents are too expensive, even for graduate students who have managed to get a job. At the same time the education system cannot absorb the growing number of students. Out of despair, a lot of young people start talking drugs. A dose of heroin costs the equivalent of a liter of milk. This has created a big problem for the government which even sends anti-drug squads for training to Canada. Since 1980, 10,000 police officers have been killed in drug fighting.

Another problem I want to explore is women rights which is high on the agenda of young women. This often finds its expression in sports (like paragliding and the first women football team, which was just founded). As Iran was the spearhead of the Islamic movement and has a lot of impact on other Muslim countries, its failure and the lessons learned will also send signals to other Islamic communities outside Iran.

Iran has a very negative image in the West where it is thought to be controlled by fundamentalism. I was very much surprised when I spent a week there on an assignment in June 2001, because I also had a negative view of the country in my mind. Western media mostly stick to the clichés like the Mullah state oppressing democratic reformists. I would like to show the country in a more positive way, though not overlooking its problems. Breaking these clichés would further the understanding in the West and raise support for a positive development. A more positive image of Islam and the Middle East is my target with this story.

To further understanding, I also have to understand what is going on around me. Hence, I need to speak the native language. Language creates trust and good pictures mostly live from the trust people have in the photographer. I speak and read Arabic, which I studied in Damascus. This was my base for specializing on the Middle East for the last ten years working mainly in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the occupied Palestinian territories (a book on the work will be published by DAP/Steidl in 2002). I have already started learning Persian. As about one third of the words are of Arabic origin, it is not too difficult for me. I intend to visit first a three-month language course at the Dekhoda Institute in Teheran and then carry out the project in another four months. Iran is a very cheap country and the money the grant provides would be enough for this long stay.

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Burned election posters during the presidential elections in Enqelab Al-Islami street (Street of the Islamic Revolution) in downtown Tehran. The mural shows the distruction of an Iraqi tank by a child soldier in the eight year long Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). Tehran, June 2005. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Teheran, Iran 2001. Young women during the opening of a coffee shop next to the Mellat Park in the north of Teheran. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Teheran, Iran 2001. A group of youngsters exercising with their roller skates in a a the Western suburb of Ekbatan, a settlement build by the French in the seventies. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Teheran, Iran 2001. Young people from Teheran listening together to a Pink Floyd cassette in a garden restaurant in the Albroz Mountains just on the northern edge of Teheran. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Teheran, Iran 2001. A group of young women celebrating the victory of Mohammed Khatami during the presidental election on the 8th of June in a main street in the center of Teheran. The posters show the writing Seyyid Mohammed Khatami. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Youth in Iran, 2003. Filmacting students during a concentration exercise in the private film acting school of Amin Tarokh in Tehran. A course in the school lasts about 8 months and is lectured by various well known actors. A lot of the popular actors in Iran came out of the school of Amin Tarokh. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Youth in Iran, 2003. An art student painting his self-portrait in a workshop of the University of Tehran. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Teheran, Iran 2001. A young couple flirting in a restaurant in Tehran's northern Mellat Park. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Youth in Iran, 2003. Architecture students having a chat before entering their class in the Azadi University of Tehran. April 2003. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation
Teheran, Iran 2001. A family mourning a martyr who got killed in fights with a militant resistance group (Mujaheddin al-Khalk) on Tehran's martyr cemetary Behesht-e Zahra. Kai Wiedenhoefer/Alexia Foundation