The Struggle over the Image of Iran

The Struggle over the Image of Iran: Photography and Politics before the Iranian Revelation
Hadi Azari Azqandi

The close relationship between photography and reality, given it a unique persuasive power as the most realistic form of representation. This makes photographs as inimitable tools for conveying political messages or promoting specific ideas in the society. Although the programmed use of photography can promote certain group interests, the critics and opponents of the status quo can also use it as a tool for political struggle. By focusing on pre-Iranian Revelation political discourses in Iran. This paper tries to indicate how photography can become a political action beyond artistic activity. The use of photography with idealistic and critical realism led to a confrontation between the Pahlavi discourses and the left-wing politics in the years leading up to the revolution, in which every political movement sought to attach and apply its own concept to photographs and by this mean prove his discourse legitimacy.

Photography is the perfect procedure that began in European art from the Renaissance onwards, with the discovery of Perspective and moving towards ever more realism. The inextricable relationship between photography and reality has given it an unparalleled place among the other arts. Andre Bazin distinguishes originality in photography from originality in painting, and he believes that the reason is "fundamentally objective nature of photography." In his point of view, the objective nature of photography makes it reliable that the other forms of visualization lack this reliability (3, p. 11). As Bart says, there is some reduction in the procedure of taking photograph of an object; reduction in size, dimension, color, etc., though this does not mean conversion or change of formulation. (4, p. 14) In other words, it can be said that among the various types of visual representation, photograph is the closest to the object and scene represented. Bart says that the presence of an object in front of the camera cannot be denied in photography. Photographs are always image of objects or events that took place at a particular time in front of the camera,1 while the history of painting and sculpture include issues that did not even exist. As Plotinus says, Phidias did not create the body of Zeus from a pattern but depicted it so that if Zeus were to come from heaven, it would appear to us. Consequently, in painting and sculpture, drawing of a subject can derive entirely from the painter's imagination, not from an external reality, while a photograph of the object undoubtedly requires a human pattern that is specific to the place, groom, and surely stand in front of the camera in a specified time. Thus, photograph is a document that proofs something has happened. Although photographs can distort reality in various ways, but it is assumed that there is something which resembles to what we see (10, p. 23).
On the other hand, because photography is easy-to-reproduce and reproducible, so it is more than an art and by associating with individuals it becomes a social and flowing phenomenon. Phenomena as cardomania2 in the mid-19th century and the postcards with the picture of celebrities or historical places indicate a shift towards a culture that is increasingly based on camera lenses. The reproducibility of the photographs, along with its unbreakable relevance (at least until recent decades), makes it a good equipment for information. The emergence of print magazines in the early decades of the 20th century is a testament to this claim.

Photography and Representation Policy
The attributive aspect of photography in the representation of reality, and with its reproducibility, the political and propaganda use of photography were increased. In fact, photography as the most realistic way of representation convinced people that there was no lie in the photograph. However, according to Lewis Hine, "liars can take photographs." In any case, photography, as part of the government's propaganda culture and culture industry, could promote particular ideological and political ideas and beliefs and be profitable for the ruling class. There are some examples, which include the use of photographs in political advertising during Soviet realist socialism. However, photography by critics of the ruling class and the current situation could simultaneously challenge these policies. In this conspectus, the art works of photographers such as John Heartfield in criticizing the policies of the National Socialism Party or the work of documentary social photographers attempting to lay the groundwork for reforming these policies by criticizing ambitious and unequal policies. In the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, many believed that "representation is one of the major components of the political struggle" and regarded poverty as the consequence of the ruling social system, which underpinned radical left-wing activities in theater, cinema, and photography. (6, p. 121) photographers from the US Department of Agriculture in the 1930s are another example that by taking photograph of the disenfranchised farmers and displaced people trying to turn the focus  from the glittering, cohesive American dream point to the bitter and poignant reality of poverty.
War photography is one of the major points of opposition between a government propaganda approach and a critical and revealing approach. During the Vietnam War, the US government tried to manage the war photographs through military photographers. They wanted to disseminate photographs in mass media of television networks that depict the Vietcong as savage and uncivilized people. That has said, the photographers of independent newspaper and magazine, portraying the killing of Vietnamese civilians by US troops, and this caused that the White House war criminals be accused of the war. This case was also carried out for the Gulf War, that television networks "relayed heavily selected and designed photographs of this war ..." (13, p. 414).
Alternatively, as another example that can be mentioned of this contrast is the difference in the representation of the labor's class between the upper classes that is shown by the photographers. While photographers took photographs of the lower classes which were portrayed in the works of middle-class photographers as an "other", a bad patch for society, labor-photographers attempted to show a "reassuring class identity" by taking photograph of their children behind school desks. (17, p. 172) consequently, It can be derived that, along with political opposition, there has always been a struggle over the photographic image. also, in different period of time, photography in Iran were used as an equipment  for promoting a specific ideology and at the same time in the hands of the opposition it was used to legitimize that ideology. In this regard, this paper tries to analyze this struggle over the image of photography in the years leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Photography in Qajar dynasty era
The emersion of photography, was the result of scientific advances and discoveries, also it was the consequence of the growth of the capitalist system and the formation of the middle class. At the same time as the public announcement of photography in France, in addition to William Henry Fox Talbot in the United Kingdom, there were about 20 more patents on photography worldwide, including in France and it can confirm this fact. (19, p. 23) The invention of photography in the West was accompanied by the formation and development of a middle class seeking a means of self-expression, and photography could be the instrument of this newfangled class. (18, p. 20) This proves that the invention of photography, rather than only is based on casualties or merely scientific advancements, is a social phenomenon than the modern citizen demands. A citizen who believes that some part of his civil rights is the right of representing himself and the world around him.
Three years after the invention of photography, or after the public announcement in 1839, it imported to Iran during the Qajar dynasty era. Unlike Europe, that photography advanced gradually, because citizens demanded and invented by themselves and after that, the court employees and the upper classes of society found it attractive, this trend was reversed in Iran, namely the court and the ranks. The art of photography was first used by upper classes and then the common people started to use it. Photography gained a special place during the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar. Nasser al-din Shah was very interested in photography that he transformed part of the Golestan Palace mansion into a photography studio for himself and employed teachers from other countries to teach photography at Dar al-Fonun School, but none of these efforts could not made the process of photography used by people in Iran as West countries.
Photography imported to Iran but the people could not use this art as a Western countries people, and it can be the reason that after the death of Nasser al-Din Shah, photography has gradually been forgotten; and it is used only at critical historical moments such as the Constitutional Revolution. For example, as Kasravi says, Joseph Naus's photograph has had a profound effect on raising the constitutional demands (9, p. 27). Photography in Qajar dynasty era was largely centered on the king, and in most cases, photographers either took orders by the king or took photographs at the court (9, p. 26). In fact, by the growth of capitalism, urbanization, and the growth of the middle class during the Pahlavi era, photography became a common process. In addition, with the advancement of magazines and newspapers that used photographs, photography could be exploited to assert the ruling class and Pahlavi dynasty.

An entry on photography in Pahlavi dynasty era 
There were different factors contributing to the remarkable growth of photography during the Pahlavi dynasty era, especially during the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi that we try to peruse. During the Qajar dynasty era, the Iranian population consisted of two groups, the upper classes and the lower classes, and the middle classes consisted of a small group of "alderman, ... local scholars, landowners, and merchants" (2, p. 43) at the same time, the rise to power of Reza Shah, also referred to as the first Pahlavi dynasty era, coincided with the "tendency to become secular, westernized, and initiated to achieve modernism" as well as to create and develop. New forces are referred to as the "new middle class." (5, p. 19) Thus, the formation of the new middle class was the missing link that photography needed to become produced in Iran.
In addition, during the Pahlavi dynasty era, photography equipment that were made lighter and more portable thanks to technological advancements, the middle class population started to use cameras as a tool for recording memories and important moments of life including celebrations, New Year's Eve moments, and trips. In addition, during the 1930s to 1947, eighteen books on photography were published, mostly devoted to technical issues (11, pp. 50 to 54). This demonstrates the public's interest in learning photography. The advancement of photography in Pahlavi dynasty era in the form of personal photos and memorabilia strengthened the relationship between photography and reality and stabilized its persuasive power, which in turn provided the basis for the political and propaganda use of photography.
Other factors that enhanced the commercial and political functions of photography include the formation of the Tehran Photographers' Union in the 1930s and the recognition of photography by the Ministry of Culture and the Arts in the 1940s. (12, p. 30). by the independence of the Ministry of Culture and Art from the Ministry of Culture in 1965 that photography was considered as an art for the first time (8, p. 18 and 19). This shows that Pahlavi reign was aware of the importance of photography in guiding public opinion. 
The news and media function of photography also expanded in the 1930s and 40s. Along with the growth of photography  in the mentioned decades, formation of the first spheres of news photography that show themselves more in the photography of actors, film photography, sports photography and events. In this regard, magazines such as ''Mehregan'' and ''Tehran Mosavar'' can be mentioned, which promote "Western lifestyle" by publishing love stories and photos of Hollywood actors to introduce the western life style. (16, p. 122).
In addition, the high illiteracy rate in the 1940s was another reason to make photography more of a necessity alongside the post as a medium that conveyed its message easily. (8, p. 67). This attitude towards photography to promote modernism or modernism mixed with Westernization was also pursued during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in publications such as Woman of the Day, White and Black, Girls and Boys. It seems that in the Pahlavi era, parallel to the modernization process appears in land reform, and the Kshfi-e hijab, photography is gradually became as it was in the West. That is, it was used as a social need, a political and ideological instrument. In fact, the Pahlavi reign's policy makers were well aware that photography was good equipment for managing society and promoting specific beliefs because of its unmistakable realism and persuasion, which led to the quantitative and qualitative advancement of photography.
That said, the use of photography to promote beliefs or a particular ideology was not confined to sovereign institutions, and other political and cultural actors sought to use photography to promote their ideas. Therefore, in order to have a proper of the perceiving of the photography trends before the Iranian revolution, the political discourse that was dominated in Iran in the years leading up to the 1979 must be understand.

Political discourses in Pahlavi dynasty era
By ending Qajar dynasty, which meant the weakness of the central government, and because of the interference of foreign nations during World War II, cased that Iranian intellectuals demand formation of a powerful central government. Of course, the political crisis in Iran has led Iranian intellectuals to suggest different solutions to get out of this situation and form a strong nation-state. On the one hand, thinkers such as Akhundzadeh believed that the opportunity to promote and theorize an extreme form of nationalism is returning to Iranian identity, and the rejection of Islamic-Arabic elements of Iranian identity. Akhundzadeh believed that by "abandoning the Arabic language, rejecting religion, and returning to the pre-Islamic era." is the best way to save Iran (7, p. 8). The modified form of this extremist trend continued with the anti-colonialist and patriotic tendencies found in the formation of the National Front led by Mohammad Mossadegh.
Another group of thinkers believes that by imitating the West culture, Iran can be saving from mustiness and can advance. On the other hand, to explain and theorize this westernization, some have tried to point to the common roots of Iran and the West, for example, Mirza Aga Khan tried to identify the common root of French and Persian words. Hassan Taqizadeh is one of the major persons in this movement is Taghizadeh, who believed that the Iranians should be alike Westerns totally. (16, p. 120) The Vanguard Organization and the Youth Palace were among the organizations that promoted Western policies of sovereignty during the Pahlavi dynasty era.
Alongside these two movements, the Marxist left-wing was also influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx, the German philosopher, and Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, who believed that workers' revolution and the establishment are the ways to save Iran. Bozorg Alavi and Taqi Arani were of the major persons in this period. Taqi Arani promoted these ideas during the reign of Reza Shah with the publication of World Magazine. Although this process was suppressed during the reign of Reza Shah, it re-emerged in the 1922s with the formation of the Tudeh Party.
During these years, another movement called the Islamists began to enter the political arena, which began to work more serious after 1963 demonstrations in Iran and Ruhollah Khomeini was the leader of this movement. Some clerics, such as Navab Safavi, formed a militant group in the struggle by forming a group of Islamists. Of course, this Islamist movement did not have a clear account of the exposure or use of art as a means of struggle through the traditional doctrine and view.
Another movement that formally supported and promoted by the court was the Pahlavi ideology. At a time when the anti-colonialist tendency was intensified by the attempt to nationalize the oil industry by Mohammad Mossadegh, Reza Shah also formed an imperial nationalism based on "two basic pillars of racial (Aryan) identity and historical (archaism) ". These laid the foundation for this discourse. (1, p. 10). Then, the attitude that was not complete in the reign of Reza Pahlavi, it was as the form of a well-established ideology in the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In fact, this ideology sought to establish a new school of thought by "combining ancient Iranian culture, Islamic period in Iran, and elements of Western socialism and liberal democracy." (1, p. 8) This school was trying to make Pahlavi rule a continuation of the great ancient civilization of Iran, providing for the prosperity and security of the country by granting a sacred position to the king.

Political discourse and art 
Except of Islamist movement, each of the other thought movement and political discourse promoted a definite expectation of art. The Western movement promoted adherence to the modernist art's principles of western, so logically it sought to exemplify Western values and principles. The first glimpses and manifestations of this attitude had previously appeared with the realistic artworks of Kamal ol-Molk and his disciples in Iran, but remained to the limit of the naturalistic view of art. The establishment of the College of Fine Arts and the presence of European lecturers in the College can be considered as the starting point of the modernist course in Iran.
The nationalist movement, which was a sign of a return to Iranian origins, in visual arts it was associated with a return to the ancient tradition of Iranian painting, which was Persian miniature and to architecture return to ancient Iranian architecture. For example, we can refer to the elements of ancient architecture in today's world such as the "Taq Kasra in Sasanian era for museum, and temples of Persepolis for banks, military and administrative buildings". (15, p. 150). The demand of returning to cultural roots has gradually become a public demand. For example, Jalil Ziapour, one of the first graduates of the Faculty of Fine Arts, protested because Iranian art history did not teach in this university. This nationalist attitude was associated with a returning to the traditional Iranian image of miniature, it was also content in terms of its Iranian elements and motifs.
While nationalist and westernization discourses were incapable of providing a coherent3 artistic alternative, a process called idealistic realism in Pahlavi discourses can be seen. Idealist realism tried by presenting a coherent and powerful image of the Pahlavi dynasty, prove that the monarchical system as the sole savior of the country and the only way to reach advancement. The presentation of an elegant and idealized image of the country required that economic and social deprivations be either ignored or aesthetically modified in various forms and arrangements. The culmination of this attitude can be found in the 2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire and visual magazines.
In contrast to idealistic realism under the aegis of the Pahlavi dynasty, the left-wing politics, which believed art as equipment for class struggle, promoted a kind of critical realism. For example, Ehsan Tabari, at the Iranian Writers' Congress in the summer of 1947, organized by the Iranian Cultural Association and Soviet Union, defined art as equipment for classes struggle. In 1965, Parviz Natel Khanleri also wrote in Speech magazine: "The deprived class people expect the artist to help them in the [class] struggle" (7, p. 7). The first glimpses of critical realism attitude in the visual arts can be found in the paintings of Mohammad Oliya and Ismail Ashtiani. They represented rural workers, and labor strikes in their art works. (14, p. 95 and 96) thereafter, some filmmakers, such as Kamran Shirdel and Forough Farrokhzad, tried to use photographs and films in order to legitimize Pahlavi discourse and political criticism and subsequently idealistic realism by addressing the people who were outcasts.
As it was said, photography was the most useful in left-wing politics and Pahlavi discourse, because their doctrinal art was based on critical realism and idealistic realism. The nationalist and westernization politics were on the one hand more represented in other branches of the visual arts, including painting and sculpture, on the other hand, Western discourse was largely interested to Pahlavi discourse; since the nationalism discourse emphasized the Iranian visual tradition and painting, been not related to photography as the pinnacle of the prospective representation system. The Islamist discourse, which was not agreed illustration, could not have a successful changing of photography despite the political struggle against the Pahlavi dynasty. Pahlavism and Marxism were politically and ideologically opposed to each other as a result of beneficial using of photography.

Photography and Ideal Realism
Howbeit, in the 1950s, magazines tried to follow part of the Pahlavi court's guidelines for forced modernization of the country by publishing Hollywood actors' photographs, but these photographs could not be a response for account for the overall outlook of the court. On the other hand, the government, which has faced serious challenges since the early 40s and the 1963 demonstrations in Iran, tried to present a unified and powerful image of Iran in various ways by hiding economic, social, and cultural difficulties. In this regard, the Pahlavi government dynasty tried to promote a form of idealistic realism. This attitude sought to hide the infirmity and defects of the Pahlavi dynasty by emphasizing the manifestations of progress, modernization, grandeur, and glory. In fact, in the ideology of imperial nationalism or Pahlavism, social dilemmas, class antagonisms, and class contradictions were tried to be hidden behind a beautifully idealized image.
The best examples of this attitude are the books of Canadian photographer, Rollof Beny, which are "Iran, the Elements of Destiny" and "Iran, Firoozeh Bridge". In these two books, he tried to make an idealized image of Iran by emphasizing on historical greatness and the effects of progress of urban life. In other words, there are no signs of deprivation, poverty, corruption, and anomalies in these photographs. Even in the photographs of rural life, there is no sign of poverty or deprivation, and these inequalities are hidden in natural beauty. (Pictures 1 and 2) The book ''Iran. Jeune Afrique, 1976'' by Bruno Barbey is another example of the use of photographic imagery to propagate Pahlavi ideology. For example, the book's title "''Iran. Jeune Afrique" may indicate that the greatness of the Iranian Empire in the Achaemenid dynasty was once again revived under the leadership of the Pahlavi kings. In addition, his photographs are a mixture of progress, prosperity, military authority, ancient sites, and the royal family. (Photograph 3 and 4) Barbey's photographs also point to poverty and deprivation and social and class discrimination; even the photographs of rural areas emphasize the mechanization of traditional Iranian-Islamic architecture.


Photographs 1: from Iran, Elements of Destiny by Rollof Beny

Photographs 2: from Iran, Elements of Destiny by Rollof Beny                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


Hadi Shafaieh's photographs of Iranian ancient artifacts can be another example. This exhibition, which was held at Abbas Palace and visited by Mohammad Reza Shah; he confirmed that it was in line with Pahlavi discourse. (Picture 5) Hadi Shafaieh had not taken these photographs in the context of this discourse, but the reference to the photographs of Iranian ancient civilization and the greatness of the monarchies was unintentionally in line with the Pahlavism discourse.


Photographs 3: from Iran, Elements of Destiny by Rollof Beny

Photographs 4: from Iran, Elements of Destiny by Rollof Beny


Photograph 5: Hadi Shafaieh


Photography and Critical Realism
In contrast to the attitude of idealistic realism in photography and influenced by critical realism, there are the art works of photographers who are trying to question the legitimacy of the image of Iran in the attitude of idealistic realism. This attitude in Iranian photography is a blend of social documentary and politically committed art. In the history of western photography, social documentary photography was a powerful process in which photographers tried to redefine social dilemmas by taking photographs of them. In this regard, we can refer to the art works of photographers such as Lewis Hine, Jacob Riis and W. Eugene Smith. The protests against the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran also affect photography. In other words, social documentary photography becomes a political action by working on those that the ruling discourse ignores.
Kaveh Golestan was one of the influential photographers in the field of critical realism whose trilogy entitled "Worker, Prostitute and insane", was published in Ayandegan newspaper in 1977 and was exhibited at Farabi Hall of Tehran University, which received unparalleled acclamation. The magazine's editor-in-chief, Massoud Amirloui, believes the exhibit is about Kaveh's attempt to portray the Iranian family at that period of time. The father of the exploited family (worker), the mother who is being imprisoned in sexual salvery (the prostitute), and the child of the family (the insane), whose fate is no better than his parents expected. (Figure 6).



Photograph 6: from ''New City'' Collection, Source: Ayandegan Newspaper, by Kaveh Golestan

Hengameh Golestan's photographs of the lives of Khomein villagers and the working families of Tah-Dareh neighborhood (now called Jahan-Ara in Tehran) are also included in this attitude. Hengameh Golestan's art works, like his wife Kaveh Gostan, are visual depictions of a suburban lifestyle and a social subculture. Hengameh Golestan selected a suburb and this is practically contrasted with the image of a progressive Iran and questioning the of Pahlavism discourse. (Photo 7) Nasrallah Kasraian is another photographer who took inspiration from left-wing politics ideas in the style of critical realism. Kasraian also took photographs of the people who lived in suburbs like Halabi-Abad and the unorganized plight of their lives that is in contrast to the Pahlavism discourse. (Picture 8) In fact, photography of the lower classes and those who were displaced was more than a social action in the Pahlavi era and it could be a political action. Interestingly, with the victory of the Islamic Revolution, this style of critical realism became the mainstream in artistic production and creation until the end of Iran–Iraq War.

Photograph 7: from ''Khomein'' Collection, Source: Eindegan Newspaper. Photo by Hengameh Golestan


Photograph 8: Nasrallah Kasraian, from the book ''Gozar''


Shortly, there was also a battle over the image of Iran in the years leading up to the Iranian Revolution, which was more than ever reflected in photographic imagery as a result of the development of magazines and newspapers as well as public interest in the political arena; It had become a humanism art. This battle over photography was a battle between idealistic realism and critical realism. The art works of photographers such as Bruno Barbey, Rollof Beny and Hadi Shafaieh can be an idealistic view of realism; in these art works, Iran is more often portrayed as a prosperous and affluent country, emphasizing on the manifestations of economic success and social welfare or its glorious history; there are no signs of social contradiction and deprivation. In fact, it seems that these photographers' ideological attitude in order to support the status of Iran and the Pahlavi dynasty is reflected in their art works. On the contrary, the attitude of critical realism in the art works of photographers such as Kaveh Golestan, Hengameh Golestan, and Nasrollah Kasraian can be mentioned that have tried to portrayed the deprived and marginalized and scour the legitimacy of the Iran's image that Pahlavi dynasty submitted. Admittedly, with the revolutionary motivation of society and the radical demand for radical change in the mid-1970s becoming more serious, photography also responds to this social-political atmosphere with a kind of prophesy and commitment to the representation of the humblest living, marginalized, and social dilemmas. In fact, photography by these photographers was not just an artistic activity, but also it was a political act that challenged the image of Iran that was presented in media.


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1.    This is the fact about photography until prior to the advent of digital technology, as even fictitious photographs have always been the representation of an exterior pattern that could be captured by special effects, makeup, and actors.
2.    In the middle of the 19th century, with the invention of business cards made by four-lens, there was a great fascination with the public for collecting business cards.
3.    "Saqqakhaneh School" in the Pahlavi era, which was shaped by the confluence of the modernist and Iranian-based motifs, proved this subject.