when revolution revolves around

I saw this show a while ago when it was touring around Canada. The show was at the College Building Gallery at the University of Saskatchewan. I was surprised and happy to see it given the very limited number of documentary photography shows that come through Saskatchewan. The photographer, Akbar Nazemi, was a photographer during the lead up to, during and slightly into the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution.

Mr. Nazemi talk about these events gave a facinating first hand account of the confusion and alternative stories about Iran at this time. What was most interesting for me was the gulf between images I had seen of the revolution and the ones he was showing. This wasn’t a society markedly different from Europe or North America at the time. The cloths and hair styles were consistent with the images I’ve seen of Paris, London or New York from that period. It broke down the narrative of this being an event that happened in a strange land to odd people but rather one that tied into the same zeitgeist as happened here.

Second it countered the idea that this was a fanatical religion driven revolution as is described by Iran and adopted by western media. Rather this was a popular revolution that involved everyone and had equal participation from secularists, Marxist and socialists as it did from the religious and Islamisists. In his talk Mr. Nazemi discussed how the push to remove the corrupt king united disparate forces in society and created a unified coalition. Afterwards he described how every side then vied and fought to fill the power vacuum left behind. We are aware how the struggle ended and a unified official narrative of the struggle written but these images show the volatility and dynamic nature of that struggle as it unfolded rather then the sanitised version now offered.

I think this is an important point to remember given the events unfolding in the middle east. The chaos of the events will ultimately be hidden or refined into a single clean and digestible narrative for viewers to slide smoothly into their particular biases of what these events mean. I think it is important to remember that a revolution, as it comes around again, is never ever an inevitable, sensible, predictable or controlled event.

Unfortunately I can not find a website for Mr. Nazemi. As a fascinating side note he related was the negatives that made this show possible had to be buried in a coffee can in his back yard for years before being smuggled out Iran because they show quite a different historical record to that of the Iranian government’s.