AWL Photographers in the Field: Iran by Walter Bibikow

What attracted you to photograph Iran?

Certainly the country is in the news and the opportunity to photograph in a place that is both fascinating and notorious (at least in the press) was the draw.

Iran, Central Iran, Esfahan, Bazar-e Bozorg market, interior
Iran, Central Iran, Esfahan, Bazar-e Bozorg market, interior

What preparations were involved in making the trip?

I had to travel as part of a small group to maintain tourist status; getting permission for individual travel, especially for me, a US citizen would have been difficult. I nearly always travel alone so doing the group thing was problematic at first. Lots of lectures about history during the day during time that could have been better used to photograph. I eventually convinced our minder that I was very enthusiastic about being there, had no issues with their culture, and that I would not do something foolish like get lost. After a few days I was given a ‘long leash’ to go off on my own. Biggest issue though was securing an Iranian visa. This involved applying at least 4 months in advance, booking flights and the ‘tour’ and then waiting until about a week before leaving for the confirmation from the Iranian government. Once I got that my passport had to be sent to the Pakistani embassy in Washington who processes the visa for Iran, who have no diplomatic presence in the USA. A knuckle biter for sure!

What were the major challenges you faced?

Once there, no real obstacles. It was easy to walk around Tehran. I even hired an English-speaking driver through the young couple who picked me up at the airport upon my arrival who was the nicest guy. We talked about the latest ‘Mad Max’ movie an afterwards I told him about the things I needed to visit and off we went in his Peugeot. At the end of my tour I walked all over Tehran again and used the subway as well; very cheap, very clean and very good. No problems and great people!

Did you have a favourite moment or place in your travels in Iran?

Lots of them! In Shiraz, my group went to look at carpets so I broke away and walked up to the hills. Great walking past tons of wonderful coffee shops with young Iranians hanging out in separate groups for young guys and young women. Went to the roof of the Shiraz Hotel, (see #IR01213 below) lovely vista, great coffee and yummy cakes. But the absolute best was seeing how despite the religious prohibition on casual dating and any contact between the sexes, there was a lot of flirting going on! Reaffirms my belief in human nature and that the official version of things is often not entirely correct!

Iran, Central Iran, Shiraz, elevated city skyline from the north
Iran, Central Iran, Shiraz, elevated city skyline from the north

Did anything surprise you?

I’ve travelled in quite a few Middle Eastern countries and Iran’s infrastructure was very impressive. Roads were great, plenty of traffic, good drivers and most of the cities looked to be in good shape. They were nearly all built by the locals (vs places like Dubai that are certainly amazing but feature all ‘imported’ construction). Often times I felt like I was in California, though in a California with lots and lots of women in kerchiefs and black cover-ups! As one goes up the hills in Tehran the neighbourhoods get quite wealthy. I went into a car showroom where, despite the embargo, one could buy a new BMW M6 in gold metallic with bright red seats, fresh off the boat, if one had the cash!

What was your favourite image and is there a story behind it?

#IR01187- talked with these guys who were fooling around with a computer at a road rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Funny and welcoming, lots of selfies and laughs!

Iran, Central Iran, Neyriz, young Iranian men with laptop computer

#IR01117- loved walking in the Tehran mountains in a place called the Roof of Iran. The city spreads out like Los Angeles and people are just hanging out watching the night fall.

Iran, Tehran, visitors to the Roof of Iran Park above the city skyline

#IR01166- took lots of pictures at the bus station in Kerman, men in the front of the bus, women in the back marked in black as is their clothing! Ok, it’s not entirely a ‘kumbaya’ world for women, but we know this!


Do you have any advice for others thinking of visiting Iran (not necessarily photographers)?

It’s a very interesting a varied country. Great people, you will make friends and enjoy tasty food so you will not starve. Biggest obstacles are politics but there is a lot of that going around. Do your homework, find a tour operator that you can trust and don’t sweat the visa thing too much and all will be well!

To see more of Walter’s Iran images click here.