The relationship between Iran and America has been a conflicted one. When the Shah of Iran was in power more than 37 years ago the two nations were linked through trade and cultural understanding. Numerous times on this trip I was approached by Iranians and listened to them speak lovingly of their times spent at universities in the United States prior to Ayatollah Khomeini and the 1979 Islamic revolution that upended Iran. One man spoke of his years studying electrical engineering in Norman, Oklahoma and of drinking beer and watching a Sooner football game with his American friends. He candidly said he had no idea of the rules, but rooting for his team was great fun. Another person spoke of his time studying at New York University, and as he rattled off street names and sights in Greenwich Village, you could easily feel his yearning for days past. Another woman spoke lovingly of her college roommate who had invited her home for the Thanksgiving holiday — she said it was the first and only time she had ever eaten turkey.
The ancient Persian empire was highly advanced, and having just photographed some of the most incredible architecture in the Islamic world, visited ancient ruins, and dined on multi-ingredient, meticulously prepared meals, one can truly sense the pride of the Iranian people. What surprised me as a guest in this nation was the modern infrastructure — the highways and bridges are as good or better than those in many industrialized nations. Modern art installations have sprouted up all over Tehran. I saw numerous vertical gardens climbing up office building walls, colorful murals adorned the sides of buildings in all cities and villages we traveled to. Islamic calligraphy is magnificent, and to view different the typefaces used as signage was fascinating.
Private stores in centuries-old, covered bazaars, passed down from generation to generation, are where the people shop. What a joy as a photographer to meet a store owner and see a sepia tone image of his father and grandfather hanging on the wall. What a joy as a traveler to be immersed in a culture that values their culture and architecture — no garish billboards, no mega-malls, no overflowing garbage cans, no lack of public drinking fountains, no sirens or cars honking, no screaming at one another, no junk food — civility, ambiance and tradition prevail.
I have no interest in writing about the Iranian clergy, the Iranian government, human rights or lack of them, or the U.S. and its relationship with this nation. To me, the way each person conducts himself on a daily basis is a political act. The genuineness and authentic kindness shown by every single person I met in Iran, whether it was a waiter, a store keeper, a 22-year-old soldier just starting basic training, or a rural housewife, was palpable.
Having been afforded the opportunity to have had many intensive discussions with men and women (some wearing the hijab, others the more conservative chador) has been truly a remarkable experience. I wish the Iranian people only happiness and the ability to reach their full potential as members of the world community.