This month marks the fortieth anniversary of the student protests that precipitated the Iranian Revolution. In the years after Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979 and declared an Islamic Republic, the country became America's central nemesis in the Middle East, accused of funding terrorism and building a nuclear weapons program. The country has been in the news again recently because of widespread street protests against the regime, raising the possibility of another revolution.
In an attempt to go behind the headlines, Italian photographer Simone Tramonte traveled through Iran last summer to capture images of ordinary life in the Islamic country. "I wanted to tell the daily life of contemporary Iran, led by the new moderate president, Hassan Rouhani," he says. "I've always been interested in the 'closed countries,' and having the opportunity to be there with the locals allows you to see things in a very different way."
Following the lifting of sanctions on the country as part of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers (including the U.S.), Iran's economy has been showing signs of life. The country has also been opening up to foreigners, giving photographers like Tramonte the freedom to travel widely. Over the course of a month, he traversed the country, from Tehran to the holy city of Qom, then across the Zagros Mountains to visit the nomadic Qashquai people. Everywhere he went, he was met with hospitality and kindness.
"Both men and women enjoy getting photographed, which is not the case with most of the Middle East," he says. By traveling on a tourist visa, he was able to document the country without being monitored by regime officials; this allowed an extraordinary intimacy with his subjects. He noticed that many Iranian people live a double life, bifurcated between "the official version of Iranian life promoted by the authorities and the reality of daily life for the Iranian youth who are struggling to find an identity in a rapidly changing and evolving world."
Images of an Iranian skateboarder, children in shopping carts, or a young couple taking a selfie show ordinary life proceeding in defiance of the geopolitical tensions that dominate CNN and Fox News. The aspiration to live a normal life, in a normal country, is what is fueling the protests we're seeing today, Tramonte says: "In Iran there is a great desire of the people to be free. They want to express themselves, and are struggling to find an identity without losing their historical memory."