Iran is a notoriously closed society, so this was an unusual milestone: It was recently the setting for a high-fashion magazine shoot, published in California-based magazine FSHN.
Iranian-Canadian photographer Afra Pourdad took photos of model Shabnam Molavi posing in public spaces — in bazaars, on the streets. Molavi's head is covered, but she's not wearing abaya, the long, traditional black robe — she's wearing really colorful outfits. She stands out in the crowds.
"I had to explain this all the time to people here, that, you know, it's not like that," Pourdad says of Iran. "It's so much prettier, and it's so colorful. It was just a very personal project for me. That I wanted to have something to show to people."
She didn't get permission from the Iranian government to take the photos — taking photos like this isn't against the law, she says — but she was a little apprehensive at first. And it may have been the first such fashion shoot in Iran for an international magazine since Vogue in 1969.
"When I walked into bazaar, I was very conscious about what I'm doing and where I'm doing it," she says. "But then after a few minutes, I felt like: I'm doing this and this is the opportunity, so I can't really be too scared or be fearful of what I want to do."
For one of the shoots, Pourdad put the model right in the middle of an alley in a bazaar. At one point, an old man with a cart of tomatoes walked by, and looked right into the camera. She shot the photo.
"As he came closer to me, he said, 'Oh, you took a picture of me! I want you to take another picture!' And then he went back and stood right beside her, and the model was laughing, and I was laughing."
After that, Pourdad says she realized that she could communicate with people passing by. "The response that I got from them was amazing. I mean, I didn't have anybody who says no to it."
More of Pourdad's photos from Iran can be found on her website, AfrasCorner.com.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
While many Iranians are waiting for change in their country - an end to sanctions, a better relationship with the international community - others are pushing change in their own way. Afra Pourdad is an Iranian-Canadian photographer and she recently returned from a trip to Iran where she staged a somewhat risque fashion shoot. The photos appear in the current issue of the California-based FSHN magazine. She told us she wanted to show the outside world that women's lives in Iran are not as restricted as they are often portrayed.
AFRA POURDAD: So, I've had to explain this all the time to people here that, you know, it's not like that. It's so much prettier and it's so colorful. So, it was just a very personal project for me that I wanted to have something to show to people.
MARTIN: So, these photos, these are models who are posing in public spaces; in bazaars on the streets, not wearing the long, traditional abaya or a black robe, wearing really colorful outfits. Their heads are still covered but they do stand out in those crowds. Were these images hard to get? I mean, did you have to get permission from the Iranian government to do this?
POURDAD: I didn't look at it as something that I will need a permission for. I know that I'm not going to be shooting in places that I'm not supposed to, and it's not as black and white as it seems. There is a gray area line. There are films being shot, you know, in none of the public places without permission. When it comes to art, it's really different.
MARTIN: So, this wasn't against the law or anything.
POURDAD: No, no.
MARTIN: Realizing that you didn't feel that the government was trying to affect this project at all, did you self-censor at all when you were taking these photographs? Are there things that you thought to yourself, well, I'm not going to push that boundary? That would be too extreme.
POURDAD: When I was in the bazaar, I was very conscious about what I'm doing and where I'm doing it, but after a few minutes, I felt like I'm doing this and this is the opportunity. So, I can't really be too scared of, or be fearful of what I want to do. So, that's where I put the model right in the middle of the alley in the bazaar. And so I was standing with the sense from her and I would see the people that are coming from behind her. And then depending on how that person is looking at her and me, I would ask her to look up or I want a powerful pose. That's where the old man with the cart of tomato was walking by and I saw that he's looking right into the camera, so I didn't miss that. And as he came closer to me, he said, oh, you took a picture of me. And I want you to take another picture. And then he went back and stood right beside her and then the model was laughing and I was laughing and we took another shot. After that, it was just kind of a relief. And the response that I got from them was amazing. I mean, I didn't have anybody who says no to it.
MARTIN: Afra Pourdad is an Iranian-Canadian photographer. She joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Thank you so much for talking with us, Afra.
POURDAD: Thanks, Rachel.
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