Life in Tehran, through the rear window

Tehran residents eat icecream in Baharestan Square, June 4, 2013.
AFP Photo/Behrouz Mehri

By Cyril Julien

Being an AFP photographer in Iran isn’t easy. A walk down the road with a camera around one’s neck automatically invites all sorts of unwanted attention. Behrouz Mehri thought of a novel way to work around this problem and capture life in Tehran – he shot a series of images from the back seat of a car. “I did this to show that it’s hard to make photos in Tehran, especially during election season,” Mehri says, referring to Iran’s June 14 presidential election.

A couple ride a motorcycle on Jomhouri road. June 4, 2013.

Ordinarily, photographers must get a permit from the culture ministry, which regulates foreign press, for each in-town assignment. “But that’s only good for uniformed police officers. There are other security forces, like the intelligence services or the Basij (a paramilitary volunteer force), who can choose to ignore this authorisation. Sometimes we are delayed for hours, and we miss the photo,” Mehri says. Some of his colleagues have even been arrested while at public events they were invited to cover. “Basically, we never really feel at ease in the street. We’re always expecting problems,” he adds.

Emamzadeh mosque in north Tehran, on June 7, 2013.

Shooting photos from a car lets Mehri capture some of the spontaneous moments of Iranian life. But if people spot him, they’ll often strike a pose.

He says he tries to ask his subjects for permission to publish the photos, though for various reasons this isn't always possible. The constrained perspective of photographing out the back of a car means it takes a while to make the right shot. “Each series lasts about four hours, sometimes we need to drive by the same spot five times to get the photo we want,” Mehri says.

A balloon vendor on Molla Sadra road, in northwest Tehran. June 7, 2013.

Still, the rear window also lends his images an interesting vignette. “It’s not the sort of result you get with Hipstamatic or Instagram,” he says.

The Tehran-born photographer chooses places he feels best represent the capital: The Azadi stadium, the Milad communications tower, the Imamzadeh Saleh mosque, Tajrish square, to name but a few.

“It’s to show the city to foreigners who don’t know it, to those who maybe have preconceived ideas,” Mehri says. “My photos show how varied life in Tehran can be.” He also wants Tehran locals to see his images, especially “those who spend their time in their cars without looking around, without noticing what’s happening on their city’s streets.”

A watermelon vendor on Sarcheshmeh Road in central Tehran. June 4, 2013.

Iranian flags flutter along Hemmat Avenue in west Tehran. June 7, 2013.