“A House: Second Cut” is presenting a selection of documents of a house, which, in 1958 was built in Mahmoudieh, Shemiran (Tehran – Iran). An architect, an employee of National Oil company, was in charge of the design and building of the house. The landlord fastidiously kept a close eye on the whole process. After the revolution in 1979, the household emigrated from Iran, though with a hope to return they left the house and the furniture untouched. However many pieces of the furniture, as time passed by, decayed, many others are still in good order, photos, films, newspapers and magazines, and much other stuff. Taking a look at their personal belongings, we can learn the taste, culture, and interests of the family, which, in tandem with the modernization of Iranian society and within their financial means, tried to bring itself up to date and equipped.
Collecting and analyzing this material, along with the history of political, cultural ,and social transformations in Iran, are of considerable importance. What was left of the family and of their culture in the magnificent house in the “first take” was a group installation show which was titled “Final Encore Projects”, and had been exhibited in the house, in 2012, before it was demolished.
This Project was exhibited in multiple chapters, presenting different aspects of the house and its life in it. Chapters such as architecture, interior design, domestic objects, correspondences, photographic documentation, and publications are the main themes.
Tehran became the capital city of Iran in 1787 with a population of 10 thousand. Roughly two-thirds of the land inside the city was either empty or gardens and agricultural domains. In the time of Qajar, the population of Tehran grew and in 1870 it reached the number 155 thousand. This population that had recently arrived from the surrounding cities and villages was in need of housing. Therefore, the government of the time began the development of the city by destroying the monuments and citadels that had remained from the Safavid era. Tehran was expanded in all four directions and once more enough land was given to people to not only build houses for themselves but also create new gardens. Reza Shah rose to power in 1926 when the population of Tehran had reached 300 thousand. This number doubled in less than two decades and once again the need for housing and constructing state buildings for the developing city caused the destruction of the gardens such as the destruction of a part of the garden of Golestan Palace for constructing the building of the Ministry of Finance. The garden of Qajar Qasr(palace) was used for the Qasr prison, Eshratabad garden for the Eshratabad Military Base, etc.
In the 1950s after WWII Iran went under extreme political, cultural, and social changes. USA was the only country whose industries had kept the same level of production during the war and because of the country’s distance from the main locations of conflict it had remained safe from the airstrikes and thus the economic power of this country after WWII was much more than WWI. During the years between the two wars, the financial entities of the world were transferred to the US. The number of fatalities that the US went through during WWII was limited and taking advantage of the security it was able to produce with twice the capacity. Thus, for the USA the global scene after the war called for an era where it could step out of the American continent and control the political and ideological climate of the East as well and halt the influence of communism in the countries where economic weakness had made the target of the Soviet Union’s propaganda. This was the beginning of the cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union. In 1949 Truman, the president of the USA put the plan known as the “Four Point Program” into action to support the countries that were under the threat of falling into the influence of the Soviet Union in every aspect; countries such as Iran, Turkey, Greece, …
Iran had a geopolitical significance for the US as it was a neighbor of the Soviet Union and at the time it was called the bridge of victory. The occupation of Azerbaijan during WWII and also the year after it signified the Soviet Union’s desire to add Iran to its satellite countries. Therefore, Iran had to be developed economically and culturally more than ever. The USA was able to fund the 7-year development plan of Iran with the aid of a 250-million-dollar loan. Encouraging the government of Iran to close oil deals with American companies, sending American economic councilors to work in industries, mines, construction, roads, communication, railway, agriculture, water, electricity, and finance in Iran as well as the augmentation of importation of American goods were the results of the implementation of Truman’s “Four Point Program” in Iran.
In the 1960s the Iranian society rapidly went towards modernization. The economic development that had begun lasted until 1977. After the land reforms, the number of assemblage factories rose such as assembly factories of Arya Shahin, Dyane, Peykan, etc. More roads and highways were also constructed for the movement of cars and to facilitating traffic. One of the most significant of these highways was the “Shahanshahi Express” (now called Modares Express) that was opened in 1971. These connecting roads transformed the façade of the city and created modern life for the citizens. Architecture and urban design are some of the most significant signs of modern life during that period.
CHAPTER 1 / ARCHITECTURE
We often refer to a house as an intimate, private space where the house owner is in charge of his/her everyday activities, rituals, and material belongings. This so-called private space, however, bears layers of interference that are hidden to our naked eyes. This is simply the reason why many scholars refer to the space of a house as a “domestic” space as “domesticity” is an infused quality that reveals a process through which the house becomes the subject of higher planning. In this regard, A House: Second Cut is the tale of a house that has erected to tell the story of a middle-class family in Tehran in the 1950s through their homemaking process; an account that is unfolded by a dialogue between the exterior architecture, interior spaces, objects, correspondences and photo archives that have survived the home-unmaking process of later years. The following paragraphs start this tale with an architectural and urbanist investigation.
Standing on the rooftop of Persian Esteghlal International Hotel _ former Royal Hilton_ we can see a densely developed hillside at the foot of mount Alborz. Albeit, beneath this layer of juxtaposed tall buildings, we can detect traces of green belts and isolated single houses; as if the latter is trying to say a folded story by confronting the enormity and alien presence of the first. If we hold the hotel as a reference, or better said, a witness, this extinguished trace can create a dialogue with Tehran of the 1950s -1960s when a newly built autobahn separated a newly built modern hotel from a newly built modern house at no.1/35, Zohreh Street, in Mahmoudiyeh; a triangle of modern elements that involved housing, leisure, and rapid transit.
The cubical form, flat roofs, brick cladding, large and exteriorized windows, formal landscape of the garden, and interior space planning of the house are representations of a modern house that depicts a modernized lifestyle within it. The house, however, is a spatial representation that ties the domestic realm of its inhabitants to a bigger picture; the picture of a garden suburb that has traveled around the world, from Britain to India, Iraq, Southern Iran, and now, Tehran.
Even though the formation of a modern house in Iran goes way back to the formation of the company towns of Abadan, we cannot neglect the importance of these townships in the context of architectural modernizations throughout the country. While foreign involvements such as Presbyterian missionaries of the early 20th century tied the modern management of the house to educational and hygiene advancements in the North, the industrial development of the southern cities planted the seeds of modern city planning according to western post-industrial doctrines. In this regard, the development of Abadan by the Anglo Iranian Oil Company is a historical affair that connects the story of our house in Tehran of 1953 to series of urban transformations and residential developments in Abadan from 1910 to 1951 when the oil was finally nationalized. Of particular interest is the involvement of the owner (developer) of this house in AIOC as an employee and the transfer of knowledge that happened through AIOC architects to the builders of the house.
The 1930s mark the years of rapid industrialization in Iran. To offset the anticipated social disruption of such change, AIOC was after an augmented effort to ensure political stability in their developments in southern Iran; an effort that was the merit of greater “Iranianization” of workforce and training of Iranians in Britain to depart from colonial distinctions. AIOC’s post-1930s developments needed racially mixed, yet modern, communities where expatriates and Iranian workforces could live symbiotically. The mission was to blur the distinct division between Braim, the British bungalow area, and laborers’ tents, mud huts, and at best, barrack-like developments. The architect who was given this job, which involved an extraordinary responsibility for town planning schemes as well as large numbers of buildings in Abadan and elsewhere, is hardly known today: James Mollison Wilson. A student of Lutyens, Wilson was the architect that introduced the garden suburb planning in Abadan. Following the long trail of Ebenezer Howard’s original Garden City idea, Wilson was one of the first architects who had an attempt in localizing the imported Modern ideas of design in Abadan. By 1944, he was formally recognized as the Company architect. Before Wilson, Abadan’s more substantial buildings had been built by Company engineers usually employing a serviceable formula of arcaded verandahs surrounding brick structures or steel-girders godowns. In Iran, Wilson was after a distinct architectural language that walked a middle line between the Company’s two best-known public architectural expressions in England: Britannic House (1920–1924), their headquarters at Finsbury Circus, London, designed by Lutyens in a witty modern neo-Roman; and the AIOC pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley (1924), a pseudo-Persian caravansary. Even though his attempt is widely recognized as unsuccessful but it was presented throughout all grades of housing by flat roofs, uninflected façade ornaments, courtyards at the rear for Iranian accommodation, deep-set clerestories for ventilation, small but telling variations in the laying of brickwork, and, surprisingly often, an absence of verandahs.
The central concept of the Garden City movement in Britain was to create new satellite towns, surrounded by rural belts, combining the best of urban and rural values, self-managed and self-governed, and elevating the pursuit of ‘health, light, and air’ above other communal imperatives. Despising the overpopulated urban areas of London, Howard believed that all people agreed the overcrowding and deterioration of cities was one of troubling issues of their time. This movement, later on, was translated to many different approaches in satellite town planning where peripheral townships develop away from central urban areas. In this regard, townships of Abadan were no exception. However, traces of this trend are not unique to Abadan. As factories mushroomed all over the country, especially in southern and central regions, factory towns followed the industrial intrusions. What made these developments questionable was the massive effort in the creation of a lush environment in the middle of desert climate and lack of cultural adaptation in space planning of the houses; a pure imported western model that took a long time to arrive at a reasonable landing if ever at all.
Wilson’s ideal company town never exerted the miraculous powers that he had imagined for it. In 1951 Mossadeq’s Iranian nationalist movement boiled over and the 1933 agreement was annulled as the result. Due to the aftermath of the nationalization movement, British citizens of the mixed towns were cut off for some time from their co-nationals in Braim by groups of rioters coming from the ‘town’. The existence of some senior Iranian staff living in the same development as their British counterparts was now manifestly an insufficient token of the Company’s good intentions. In fact, the very spaciousness of the plots in the company town and its generous and largely redundant road provision could only be provocative to the Iranians in the ‘town’. In the face of potential violence the Company, without military support from the Labour Government in Britain, could hardly trust the allegiances of the Iranian army. AIOC’s withdrawal from Abadan in 1951 drew to an end forty years of exclusive oil exploitation in southwest Iran and the developing garden suburbs.
Therefore, it’s no surprise when we come across the image of a man, an AIOC employee, who is standing in the middle of nowhere posing for a camera that is recording the beginning of a homemaking process at the foot of mount Alborz and away from the deterioration of city. This man and his house are part of a lifestyle that entered Iran years ago with the discovery of oil in Abadan; only kilometers away in Tehran. Interestingly enough, the nationalization of oil was not the end of the garden city movement and its influences in the architectural and town planning of cities in Iran. Tehran, in specific, became a laboratory for American ideals. Nearly 10 years after the construction of our house, the gardens of Mahmoudiyeh together with the neighboring amenities and network of rapid transit systems became part of Tehran’s comprehensive plan in 1963 that was formulated by Victor Gruen, the father of shopping mall design in the USA, and Abdolaziz Farmanfarmaian.
As a result of WWII, international relations changed across the globe. Colonial countries gained a level of independency that was coupled with rapid industrialization and its aftermath. Due to a severe political change, specially the East-West power struggle and the dawn of the cold war, most higher planning including architectural and urban planning in underdeveloped countries became a political tool with which international powers fought their wars with. Iran was no exception. In the midst of such interactions, the future planning of Tehran was an American suburban vision that combined the idea of a functionally separated city and models such as Howard’s garden city. Gruen’s expansive master plan realized the city at different scales. It pushed the street grid aside in favor of a system more organic in its appearance, with winding roads and highways that circumnavigate the city. Around a metro core, he planned for Tehran to be ten cities, each consisting of ten towns around a city center. Each town, in turn, would have four communities around a town center, with each community containing five neighborhoods . Obviously, this plan was never fully realized due to the Revolution of 1979 but our little garden suburb of Mahmoudiyeh with its house no.1/35 is one of those confronting resemblances that present an oddity within the current fabric of the city in 2019.
As discussed, the architecture of a house is often the product of socio-political context and higher city planning. With its focus on architecture, this chapter of the exhibition at Platform 28 draws your attention to the way homemaking of the 1950s-1970s visualize the shift in cultural ideals. With the advent of Modernism and its related doctrines, the domestic hierarchy and ways of inhabiting and managing a space changed. In the context of Tehran, houses were usually in one level, and spaces, public or private, where spread around a central court that provided light, ventilation, and common gatherings. The relationship of the house to the street was rather a discrete relationship that reduced the role of transient alleyways to passageways. Modernized houses, on the other hand, gradually opened this interiorized living arrangement to the world outside. Streetscape, multi-story buildings, façade treatments, picture frame windows, views and etc were of new terminologies in the architectural language of these years. The notion of public and private, the gender role in the management of the house, the public receptions, the everyday habits and rituals such as sleeping, dining, bathing, and entertaining started to have new definitions and accordingly demanded a new setting for the performance.
The same house has experienced the post-modernized years when the revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s stipulated different arrangements as well. Westoxification of these years turned a once glorified modern house of the 1950s into a beacon of Westernized lifestyle and its spatial representations; a lifestyle that gradually dissolved in the post-revolutionary planning of Tehran. Our house, like that of Wilson’s town of Bawarda or Gruen’s idea of an American suburb, deteriorated as its inhabitants left the house one by one. Today, when we stand on the rooftop of Persian Esteghlal International Hotel, we do not see the two-story modern house of an AIOC employee but a 5 story neo-classical building that is more in tuned with Lutyens’s Britannica House in Finsbury Circus, only with absolutely no relevance. The story of our garden suburb is an underlayer for a new story to be told; the story of a Tehran that starts its new chapter of homemaking by a home-unmaking process. For this project, this story starts in 2013 when our no.1/35 house gets omitted from the face of the city.
CHAPTER 2 / INTERIOR
The main door opens and a straight long walkway reveals itself. The walkway passes through a minimal, formal, and well-groomed garden ending with a couple of cantilevered steps. The lightweight steps are in harmony with the rest of the garden; a gentle transition to an open and elevated front terrace that separates the house from the garden. The entry to the house, however, is a mystery. A paneled glass wall defines the limit between the interior and exterior of the house. While outside, you feel you are inside. The glass serves a dual function. It exposes a naked life beyond itself but also creates a barrier; a determined obstruction that both invites and prohibits. While looking for an entry, two of the glass panels open. We enter the house wondering if we have passed a wall, a door, or a window. The house starts with a direct entry to a living room. But it also has the dining room in its perspective and the kitchen beyond that. The father is reading his latest issue of “the New Yorkers” by the fireplace while the mother is passing plates and utensils to her daughter through a wide arched opening that visually and physically connects the kitchen to the dining room. The son is reserving a spot for their family lunch by sitting early at the table. A strange voice is heard from the room on the right! Perhaps, it’s Dr. Michael Rossi who has arrived from New York City to set up his practice in the town of Playton Place, a town around which the whole TV series of Payton Place was produced in the 1950s. By the kitchen, a staircase leads us to the bedrooms upstairs. The stair, however, is both an element of transition and prevention. It facilitates the flow to the upper floor but also alarms the entry into a private realm. Like the glass wall, it’s an element that exists to present a world beyond by defining our positions in relation to it. The plot above is a picture we paint in our minds while looking at the floor plans of our exhibited house. This is not an unforeseen picture. We can find traces of it in many of Iranian modern literature, films, magazines, or even private photo albums of the 1940s-1950s.
This common, middle class image of a family, how ever, is the result of many interesting socio-political changes that formed the history of built environment from 1920 to 1979. In fact, the construction years of the house mark critical transient years between two distinct views on domesticity in Iran, the first to be the house in a society that is being industrialized and the latter, the house in a consumer society. The architecture of 1940s to 1950s is a transient phenomenon between the rise of ethnic nationalism during the first Pahlavi regime and the anti-communism agendas of the second Pahlavi regime; a set of programs we refer to them as white revolution. What becomes interesting in our story is how the space of a home transforms itself as the socio-political context of the house changes. Therefore, the interior of our house is a representative of unprecedented debates around the relationships between formal expressions, space planning, empirical measures, social identity, gender roles and connectivity to the urban context in the space of a house and in dialogue with a new concept of family.
The rise of anti-nationalist movements in 1940's
The formation of first Pahlavi dynasty was parallel to the rise of social-nationalist party in Germany; a party we know it as Nazi party. Due to depressed post war economy of the Nazi state and following German philosophy of Weltkultur, Iran played a key role in relation to Reich Economics Minister Hjalmar Schacht when he first introduced his “New Plan” in 1933. This plan intended to reduce imports, reduce unemployment, channel government spending into a wide range of industries and make trade agreements with other nations. In this way, Schacht’s plan and Reza Shah’s strategy to modernize Iran led to nearly two decades of close relationships between the two countries. As a result, the speedy wave of modernization in Iran started with many ideas of German modernity; a multi-faceted discourse that had its own complications in Europe. On one hand, the Greman modernity was expressed through Hitler’s architect, Alber Speer, in favour of an empowered National Classicism in architectural expressions and on the other hand, institutions and associations such as Deutscher Werkbund and Bauhaus were promoting a universal modernity away from nationalist ideals. Other modern architectural movements such as The International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) in 1930s, Team X’s avant-garde approach to urbanism in 1950s and British Brutalism and Dutch Structuralism in late 1950s accompanied and followed these debates. By 1950s, under the influence of these European movements, Iran followed the same track as well. While the architecture and interior design of 1930s promoted extreme nationalist motifs, the return of Iranian yet European-educated architects was the beginning of a movement against imposed nationalist agendas of the regime. To succeed, the anti-nationalist movement shifted the focus of design from nationalism to socialism where the emerging socio/cultural needs were the drive for creative design. Even though, in the case of our house, the transfer of knowledge was from the British architects of AIOC in southern Iran, we cannot neglect the intellectual context of Tehran where the house was built at the time. Given the fact that James Wilson had an office in Tehran, we are confident that his architects were fully aware of the trends and critics of architectural movements in Tehran and in relation to European debates around modernist architecture.
A very prominent character of our house is defined by the harmonious relationship between the interior and the exterior within a related visual vocabulary; an approach that probably has its foot in ideologies of Gesamtkunstwerks and in relation to Art Nouveau. Even though geometry has always been an accompanying part of architecture in traditional Iranian buildings, its application, meaning and identity was different from the modern and post-industrial doctrines of the West. In Eastern context, geometry served as a visualization technique to materialize a divine power. In Western culture, how ever, it revealed a different logic. Empirical measures and scientific management of design were core concepts of Western Modernism. It was a generating engine to create form and function. In this sense, geometry was a tool to realize a man-made and a man-controlled machine; an idea that was quite distant to that of Eastern divine pursuits. The cubical form and design details of our house are not that far from these Western modern ideals. The triangulated pattern of the main door is in harmony to interior tile patterns and balcony handrails. The curvature of the pool transcends itself to the curvature of the stair handrails and planters in second level. These inside out correlations were spatial strategies that promoted Western modern approaches to design. Art Nouveau and Bauhaus in particular were some of the Western doctrines by which Iranian progressive architects of 1940s fought against the strong imposition of nationalist agendas in the realm of built environment. National motifs, Islamic patterns, classical and neo-classical building elements were doomed architectural ideologies that were resisted by introduction of minimal forms, harmonious spatial connectivities, visibility, lightness and flow.
Gender role and space planning
Prior to massive wave of modernization in 1930s, houses in Iran were formally and spatially products of old courtyard style. They included a secluded space consisting of rooms around a private central courtyard carefully separated from biruni (outer space) segment of the house. The andaruni (inner space) was generally reserved for women and only close family members had access to it. The biruni, how ever, was entirely used by men and their guests. The house was composed of an octagonal gatehouse, hashti, attached to a dog-leg entrance that helped prevent direct visual access to the interior. Kitchen was always located in andaruni where the female spent time. Long corridors with often not even a window to create visual connections connected the two spaces. Gradually, towards the end of the Qajar period, birunis started to lose their functions as the space of the man and instead, served as the formal space for events and ceremonies. On the other hand, andarunis gradually transformed to a family space instead of women only. Following the spatial transformations, the management roles of the households transformed too. Pre-modern household management emphasized the role of the father as the sole manager of the house and in charge of choosing the wet-nurse and monitoring the education and physical development of the children. As for the mother, only her bodily genes and health were deemed important. Industrialization, how ever, started to formulate a new agenda for mothers. With newly introduced concepts of labor, production and efficiency, women started to serve new roles in domestic realms. Gradually, they became the main educators and eventually, instead of being part of the house, they became managers of the house. By this time, the house had new meanings. The andaruni, biruni, hashti, sofreh khaneh and other traditional spaces where introduced with new terminologies such as utaq-I pazirayi (living room), utaq-I naharkhori (dining room), utaq-i neshiman (TV room) and etc. In short, the new house, had new roles, serving new spaces.
Early version of this new package is best presented in issues of the first Architecture magazine in 1940s where the idea of a modern house is introduced through the concepts of simplicity, minimalism and comfort; a kind of definition that manifested itself against former definitions of a home in early 1930s and more strongly, courtyard houses of late Qajar period. In the 6th issue, the magazine dedicates a good portion to the importance of food, the act of eating and the importance of kitchen design and its relation to the dining area. Criticizing the poor hygiene and social engagement of cooking and dining areas in Iran, the magazine illustrates diagrams and supporting images of kitchen and dining arrangements in Europe where traditional notions of public/private is lifted and the house, as a whole, is democratized in favour of its inhabitants. And by this, they mean all its inhabitants demanding equal gender rights within the spatial arrangement of the house. In such houses, kitchens were not concealed female spaces. Rather, they were manifestos of liberal spaces where hygiene and comfort defined new everyday habits and rituals.
A solid example of this transformation is revealed in the open planning of our house where the space of the kitchen is connected to the dining room with the help of an arched opening. While entering the house, the cone of vision included all genders and all domestic roles in one single continuous space.
Karimi, Z. Pamela. Domesticity and Consumer Culture in Iran: Interior Revolutions of the Modern Era. London: Routledge, 2017. For further information refer to mid 19th century newspapers such as Akhtar and Ta’lim where they continually propagated the idea that in order to improve the nation, Iran needed well-informed mothers who not only knew how to read and write but also how to raise their children in proper manners.
Infrastructures of comfort
Democratization of public spaces and liberation of gender roles within the domestic realm were not the only outcomes of modernizations. Modern ideas of health and hygiene coupled with grand infrastructural developments in 1940s to connect the space of the home to the metropolitan through the most intimate and private space; the space of a bathroom. Among the interior images, we come across a carefully laid bathroom with blue and white tiles, a set of toilet seat and bidet, a washing basin and its facet, an oval mirror and a large window allowing the natural light in. To our eyes, this is a modest bathroom. In 1950s, how ever, this was revolutionary. Behind this modest small space existed an invisible big system on which it depended. The difference in scale between these worlds is immense. Aesthetically, too, they are miles apart: the decorative surface of the bathroom bears little relation to the industrial architecture of the system – damns, reservoirs, water towers, sewers, pumping stations and treatment plants – mostly located on the periphery of cities … decoration works against connecting the bathroom to infrastructure, precisely because the exoticism and prettiness of its detailing distract from the utilitarian world beneath.
In 1940s to 1950s, Tehran underwent a massive change in terms of infrastructural developments. Under German influence, the Czechoslovakian company, Skoda, installed the first steam generators for the power station in 1943. The British company, Sir Alexander Gibbs & Partners started their water-plumbing project in 1947. In late 1950s, Truman’s point four program came to picture. To increase the capacity of filtered water, the construction of Karaj damn, Tehran’s first damn, started in late 1950s by the American company, Marison Nodson. The American Axim bank demanding the unconditional use of American experts funded the project. It becomes apparent that the small and modest space of the bathroom in our house is a water driven space that bears the heaviness of a massive development at global level.
New interior functions
In a way, the interior arrangement of traditional houses in Iran followed some sort of inside-out relationship as well. The courtyard houses were comprised of a central court with functional rooms around. The inferior of these rooms followed the same logic. Free of any obstacle, the central space of the room was reserved for functional activities such as dining and sleeping while the surrounding walls served as storage. In fact, What we know today as cupboard, closet, console table and etc, had one place in old houses: The wall. In such context, the notion of heating fits quite well in this spatial arrangement. While in Western cultures fireplaces were functional elements to heat the space and be a point of gathering, in Qajari houses, families sat around Kursi (a central heating table) in the middle of the rooms. Kursis were multifunctional elements that served as heating devices, family gatherings, communal dining areas as well as collective sleeping spots during winter. Interestingly, the presence of European fireplace was quite evident in these houses too but with one major difference: The wall mounted fireplace had no chimney and no fire. Instead, it served a peripheral role as an storage element for displaying objects. Following the urge for functionality, omission of decorations and traditional craft of gachbori (gypsum decorations), the idea of fire place as a functional building element found its way to interior of modern houses in Iran during first Pahlavi regime. There after, new houses were equipped with heating systems, bedrooms and living rooms. With this transformation, modern houses drew distinct lines between gathering, eating and sleeping areas; a distinction that was in tuned with individuation of selves and new definition of family functions in modern years.
The interior of our house presents a living space for a family of four: a father, a mother and their son and daughter. While we review the survived images of the interior shots, we can easily find traces of a transformed family. Mothers’s meticulous home management skills, father’s involvement with AIOC and his relationship to the world beyond the national borders, their controlled number of children, the provision of family spaces, functional interior elements and harmonious relationship of the inner life with the exterior context reveals only one message: this isolated house in the outskirt of Northern Tehran has come to existence to make a statement; that homemaking, no matter how extravagant or how modest, is always pregnant of socio-political affairs
CHAPTER 3 / DOMESTIC OBJECTS
We can blame it on the warmth of summers on the body’s urge for a cold drink, but an urge that demands style and depicts progressiveness. Sitting out on the terrace, by the pool, a family of four open bottles of fizzy drinks. A bucket of ice is nearby, breaking the unbearable hotness. Pepsi- Cola in hand and icemaker in the kitchen, the family experiences an unforgettable afternoon in the summer of late 1950s Tehran. In the years after the World War II, industrialists in Iran came to an arrangement with the Pepsi- Cola Company acquiring the machinery to set up a bottling factory in Iran. They then placed an order in Germany for bottles and formed the Zamzam Company, which began production in 1955. The people of Iran were not used to buying bottled soft drinks, but it was easy to convince them. Consumers could have been reminded of the other drinks that were previously available, often made with polluted ditch water, and compared this state of affairs with the hygienic conditions in the Zamzam factory. In a speech in the parliament by the Health Minister, Jahānšāh Ṣāleḥ, he stated that, following the introduction of Pepsi-Cola, cases of infective diarrhoea had fallen by 60 percent . Pepsi-Cola was not the first hygienic solution for a troubled nation. The post-WWII Western discourse of international development sought improvements in healthcare, education, housing and urban planning when considering how to transit the Third World to a healthy future. U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s Point IV Program was a direct intervention that targeted Iran through a series of programs directed at to home economics schools. In spite of their claimed agenda, Kitchen Laboratories and Model Homes started to indirectly advocate and reorient the Iranian economy towards mass market consumption. For a simple example, take the concept of ice and icemaker. While Point IV specialists ostensibly encouraged the use of ice cubes instead of natural mountain ice for health reasons, the American York Corporation expressed an interest in introducing facilities for manufacturing pre-made ice cubes and ice storage devices.
Our family afternoon on the terrace is a domestic experience that also unfolds as an urban phenomenon beyond the house — a phenomenon that brings concepts of modern home management into the picture, not only in regards to hygiene but also time and comfort. Coupling ice and refrigerating systems with the automobile industry, supermarkets began to be new spaces in cities; big boxes that had to tear up the urban fabric of Tehran in order to accommodate new liberal lifestyles that required flawless time management. Through the combination of domestic objects and the automobile industry, the domestic realm infiltrated the urban and, vice versa, the city leaked into the house. The city would come to be seen as a continuous fabric of differential intensities, rather than a patchwork of enclosed categories that distinguish between private and public, house and city, or inside and outside. Refrigerators created supermarkets, televisions created cinemas, washing machines created laundrettes, cooking stoves created bakeries, vacuum cleaners sanitized outside spaces, bringing them up to the standard of a well-managed interior. Under the influence of these objects, suddenly, the new city became a projection of domestic life, only bigger. The new city became the ground for leisure and consumption.
While the new city was the exaggeration of a modern domestic house, many of the old building elements were shrinking to be extensions of the domestic sphere. In his last year of living in the United States (1946-47), Habib Sabet, a prominent industrialist in Iran, travelled around, acquiring numerous franchises from American companies. After his return to Iran, he fell into a pattern of travelling to the United States, seeing what was being used there, and identifying similar gaps in the market in Iran. Apart from his famous tire company, in 1946, he cooperated with the Royal Typewriter Company to design and manufacture a typewriter with Persian characters for import to Iran. For medical supplies and consumer goods, Sabet obtained franchises to import drugs such as penicillin from Squibb (and later, drugs from Schering also), surgical and medical equipment (such as X-ray machines from the Dutch firm, Philips), and consumer goods such as, Revlon nail varnish, Philips razors, Magic Chef cookers, Kelvinator refrigerators, and most importantly, Duo-Therm room heaters and water heaters, the importation of which advanced the shift from public baths to household baths in Iran — a shift that not only reshuffled the spatial planning of the house but regards to hygiene but also time and comfort. Coupling ice and refrigerating systems with the automobile industry, supermarkets began to be new spaces in cities; big boxes that had to tear up the urban fabric of Tehran in order to accommodate new liberal lifestyles that required flawless time management. Through the combination of domestic objects and the automobile industry, the domestic realm infiltrated the urban and, vice versa, the city leaked into the house. The city would come to be seen as a continuous fabric of differential intensities, rather than a patchwork of enclosed categories that distinguish between private and public, house and city, or inside and outside. Refrigerators created supermarkets, televisions created cinemas, washing machines created laundrettes, cooking stoves created bakeries, vacuum cleaners sanitized outside spaces, bringing them up to the standard of a well-managed interior. Under the influence of these objects, suddenly, the new city became a projection of domestic life, only bigger. The new city became the ground for leisure and consumption.
While the new city was the exaggeration of a modern domestic house, many of the old building elements were shrinking to be extensions of the domestic sphere. In his last year of living in the United States (1946-47), Habib Sabet, a prominent industrialist in Iran, travelled around, acquiring numerous franchises from American companies. After his return to Iran, he fell into a pattern of travelling to the United States, seeing what was being used there, and identifying similar gaps in the market in Iran. Apart from his famous tire company, in 1946, he cooperated with the Royal Typewriter Company to design and manufacture a typewriter with Persian characters for import to Iran. For medical supplies and consumer goods, Sabet obtained franchises to import drugs such as penicillin from Squibb (and later, drugs from Schering also), surgical and medical equipment (such as X-ray machines from the Dutch firm, Philips), and consumer goods such as, Revlon nail varnish, Philips razors, Magic Chef cookers, Kelvinator refrigerators, and most importantly, Duo-Therm room heaters and water heaters, the importation of which advanced the shift from public baths to household baths in Iran- a shift that not only reshuffled the spatial planning of the house but also introduced new markets for foreign sanitary wares. Once again, the correlation between hygiene and comfort revealed itself within the walls of our house. Maldonado and Cullars argue: “Equipment for hygiene condition the dislocation of living spaces and redefine their use and function, even when the order and composition of the family are in consideration. The appearance of the bathroom as a locale specifically use personal hygiene became possible due to running water, heating and the furnishing of “sanitary” equipment. At the same time, the bathroom modified the relationship of human beings to their own bodies and to all their physiological functions: elimination of wastes became private activity. Thus there into being one of the central pivot points for modesty privacy unknown to earlier social norms. For them, even if we forget the very obvious fact that, beyond a more or less rigid articulation of functional divisions in a modern house (dining room, living room, bedroom, kitchen, bath, etc.), the house is also a material regimen, an arrangement of movable and immovable objects: equipment and utensils for the making and saving of food, for the care of children, for hygiene and cleanliness; installations for the control of temperature; gadgets for recreation and communication; furniture; household goods; etc.). Daily domestic life was, to a great extent, a continuous putting on of such a regimen with this regulation. This definition, however, was obsolete in the context of Iran prior to modernization. Domesticity in the Qajar era — the pre-modernization years —was everything Modernism fought against: ambiguous, impermeable, and communal in activities, yet segregated by gender. The essential everyday activities were comprised of sleeping, cooking, eating, passing waste, washing, praying, playing, reproducing, learning and hosting. For all these basic functions, there were four basic building elements: the outer space of the court, the lower space of the basement, the interior walls, and the ground. Together, these four elements provided and defined ventilation, sanitation, storage and most importantly, the basis for the folding and unfolding of temporal arrangements of domestic functions, with the help of temporal domestic objects. For instance, the ground was a mutual agent accommodating the kitchen, foldable mattresses, the sofreh (eating cloth), the poshtis (large cushions used as seats) etc. The home, however, was stripped of certain complementary essential needs. The bathing space, the exercise space, the washing space, etc., were everyday activities that happened away from the domestic space. Public baths, Zurkhanehs (sports halls for men), public laundry houses, Ab Anbars (water basins), tea houses, Tekiyehs (religious festivals), etc., were spaces of everyday activities throughout the urban fabric.
The discontinuity of everyday rituals created the dynamic of everyday life, but it also interrupted the efficiency of these everyday rituals. These arrangements, to the eyes of Westerners, were problematic, for they demonstrated spatial qualities that lacked the modern concepts of hygiene, comfort and efficiency in relation to the human body. In pursuit of new social norms, privacy started to have new definitions as well. This new definition not only revealed itself in new bathroom settings and different physiological changes in making waste but also in other everyday rituals related to bodily needs, such as eating, sleeping, reproducing and entertaining. At the dawn of modernization in Iran, when Ernst Neufert was putting together his internationally known Architect’s Databook in the 1930s in Germany, there was no room for irregularities. Iranian domestic life, by far, was a distinct oddity in relation to this book of standard design. This irregularity in everyday behaviour was a glitch in the big picture; a picture that was trying to put together production, industry, technology, labour efficiency, hygiene, comfort and above all, market, in one place.
Not only did these new domestic objects did intrude on home interiors and urban developments at metropolitan scale. They also were meddlers that stimulated new definitions of the “modern man” from what he had been before modernization in Iran into a standard definition of the “new man” and later, the “new woman”. In this setting, modernization was just a style and thus empty. Modernism, on the other hand, was a change of life-form that would create a “new man”. This change automatically put the attention of the state on the design of humans and human identity, their philosophy, relations, and body-soul issues, as viewed through the lenses of biology, technology and modern science. Following this ideology, and backed by Western doctrines of Modernism, Iran as a country entered a stage of standardization in 1925, in which individuation and bodily transformations became state-measured matters of the first Pahlavi dynasty.
In his book, Architecture of first Pahlavis, Mustafa Kiyani defines the history of Iran in relation to three key points: invasion of the Arabs and the establishment of Islam in Ancient Persia; the invasion of Moghuls and their long occupation of Persia; and Iran’s inclination towards the influence of Western powers — the last proving to be the most important of all. While the first two incidents were bloody interventions, the last was greeted cheerfully, peacefully and quietly; a very prominent characteristic of the Modernist years in general. The history of the Monarchy in Iran before the Islamic Republic Revolution of 1979 is a long trail that reaches back to Mesopotamian civilization. However, the last five dynasties were in power parallel to the advent of the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and Modernism in Europe. While Safavids define the glorious years of Persia in the 16th century and the very first interactions of Persia and the Western world aboard, the Afsharids, Zandiyehs and Qajars mark a severe downfall in political and economic stability, and in socio-cultural developments in the country. Therefore, the last dynasty, Pahlavis, came to power as a bridge for the country between a long lost glory and the Modern standards of the West. For this reason, investigating the transition from the Qajar to Pahlavi dynasty is critical when we look for early traces of Modernism in Iran at the dawn of the 20th century. In fact, what is central to this research are new Modern concepts and the relations between “living the life” and “governing the life” that penetrated Iranian culture. This worked to define the “new man,” and later the “new woman,” as the “modern products” of a standard and universal doctrine that we refer to as “Modernism”.
In his book, The Human Motor (1992), Anson Barbinbach investigates modernism in relation to the Industrial Revolution by analyzing the concept of “work”. He argues that, in Europe, the science of work transformed the perception of work. Breaking sharply with earlier doctrines of moral and political economy, this new science focused on the body of the worker. The great social thinkers of the turn of the century (Weber, Freud, Durkheim) argued for the autonomy of cultural science (sociology, psychoanalysis, anthropology) from older scientific models — though each remained convinced, albeit differently, that labour, defined in largely energeticist terms, was central to their enterprise. Freud transposed the energetic model of nature to sexuality; Weber saw routinized time-bound labour as the characteristic feature of Western rationality; and Durkheim argued that the division of labour irreversibly destroyed the coherence and integrity of traditional culture. At the same time, however, each began to question the ontological status of labour as the prime motivator of man and nature. Barbinbach, then, introduces physiology, medicine and psychology as basic supports in formation of the idea of labour power. He refers to the institutionalization of social energetics as a modern movement in Europe and claims that socialist, communist, and national socialist ideologies, which embodied versions of productivism and adopted aspects of the science of work, paradoxically led to the politicization and professionalization of the science of work during 1920s and 1930s. Therefore, it is no surprise to see traces of such bodily investigations within the governing agendas of a regime that entered into two decades of close relationship with the National Socialist party in Germany -the Nazi party —from 1925 to the invasion of Iran by the Allied Forces in 1941. Albeit, the establishment of the National Physical Education Association in 1934,. or efforts by the Pahlavis to provide modern national health systems such as midwifery, prenatal care and close attention to the birth health and development of the new generation can be seen to be the result of such interactions. In the summer of 1925, Mir Mehdi Varzandeh, father of modern sport in Iran, wrote: I suggest instituting physical education teacher-training classes at Dar al Fonun school, so that with the help of these teachers the ministry would succeed in improving the Iranian race and training the nervous and bone marrow cells of Iranian children so as to provide people with sound bodies and sound morals for the future of Iran.
As German Minister in Tehran between 1923 and 1931, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg opened doors to Iran for German businesses. Starting in 1928, Germany’s largest firms Junkers, AEG, Siemens and Philipp Holtzmann became involved in Iranian industrialization, with the latter receiving a concession with the Kampsax consortium to build the Trans-Iranian Railway. German companies, engineers, experts and personnel went to Iran in the 1920s and 1930s in the service of industrial projects. The relationship between Germany and Iran intensified and transformed in the mid-1930s, following the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist government. The architect of a new outreach to Tehran in 1934 was Hitler’s economics minister, Hjalmar Schacht, and at the core of the relationship was a new and radical mechanism of economic exchange. These were the clearing agreements, fashioned by Schacht, which established a Nazi system of global trade based in relationships with modernizing economies. They took in Southeastern Europe, South America and the Middle East: Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran.
By WWII, Iran had more than 295 factories in 22 different industries. This rapid industrialization was heavily dependent on labourers hat had to adapt to Western concepts of “work”. This work, however, brought with it the standard manual of living. This manual, without doubt, was not limited to work; the labourers exercised their productivism elsewhere: in the spaces of their homes.Without doubt, our house in 1953 is the product of a consumer city. Flipping through the images of the house, we come across GE home appliances, electric fans, European utensils, wine glasses and kitchen equipment; European locks, bedroom storage units, office accessories, pens, pencils, typewriters, lighters, ashtrays, suitcases, money boxes, purses, etc. Nevertheless, this pseudo-American consumer city with its network of shopping malls, cinemas, cafes, bars, supermarkets, highways and boulevards is a city born out of a German modernity. It is under this German modernity that, for the first time, registry of identification documents became a law in 1922; military services was enforced in 1926; physical exercise in schools became a law in 1928; formal uniforms and unified use of Pahlavi hats were imposed in 1929; the monetary currency was unified in 1930; laws of marriage and divorce were reformed in 1932; official metric scales and measures were in place in 1933; having surnames became a law in 1934; and above all, Persia became Iran —the land of Aryans — in 1935, which was followed by the bloody law of unveiling women in public in 1936, as an act towards building a secular society — all in all, a set of biopolitical strategies intended to tame a society in transition.
The surviving domestic objects of our house are documents that not only justify the urban transformation of our city, but also the physiological transformation of our bodies. The GE home appliances represent the rising of the nation from the ground to the standard of Western kitchen countertop. Electric fans stand against the vernacular cooling values of sardabs (water basins) in basements and the cool floor upon which sleeping arrangements were made. Fans, once again, represent the rising of the man from ground to the standard height of a bed. European utensils, wine glasses and kitchen equipment reveal the story of a modified digestive system; a system that gradually became compatible with the consumption of Western goods. European locks stood for modern Western standards of exposure, in which visibility and an exteriorized living format conflicted with local ideals of privacy, control and protection. Bedroom storage units interrupted the free flow of interior spaces and led to creation of standard “spaces” where temporal functions transformed into permanent functions. In these spaces, walls were not the storage units any more and events were not defined by temporary actions and objects. Instead, these clean and separated spaces were filled with mobile yet permanent objects that introduced a theatrical function within the domestic realm; a well-managed theatre, within which new roles were played to create new family scenes. Office accessories, pens, pencils, typewriters, lighters and ashtrays transformed the masculine space of the home into an office space that was an extension of work into the domestic realm. Suitcases raised the concept of globalization and malleability. Money boxes hinted at new notions of saving, investment and consumption; purses advocated feminist home management.
The concept of “home management” is one of early modern concepts that entered domestic debates in Iran through Western education. While pre-modern concepts of household were male-dominated doctrines, imported Western systems of education brought a picture of the empowerment of women. Prior to the arrival of German modernity in Iran, the process of educating Iranian girls gained momentum as American Presbyterian missionaries established the first school for girls in the northwestern areas of Iran (close to the Soviet border) funded by The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Subsequently, other American and British missionaries established additional schools for girls in the cities of Tabriz, Isfahan, Tehran, Ghazvin, Kirman and Sultanabad during the late 19th and early 20th century . The missionaries at first worked primarily with the minority Christian communities of Iran; but even when they began to educate Muslims, priority was not given to making converts. The bible was simply used as a textbook for “right ways” of living and not a profession of faith. This was true to the extent that one of the earliest and most important women’s magazines, Alami-I Niswan (Women’s World), was published by Annie S. Boyce, a missionary, from 1921 to 1936, with an emphasis on the connection between morality and cleanliness . The missionary houses of Iran and the spatial transformations they underwent in order to create a “standard home” out of the disorderly domestic life of Persians offers good evidence for piecing together the correlation between modern ideas of hygiene and living spaces. This health-driven obsession, in conjunction with a German ideology of racial enhancement in favour of productivism, resulted in interesting sets of reforms as Persia or, later, Iran underwent modernization.
Needless to say, this obsession with hygiene was not unique to the promoters of Protestant faith. It was an ongoing process that revealed itself in multiple stages and in relation to matters beyond the domestic realm. Even when later enhancements appeared, they often seemed incongruous. In his 1947 book, Pictures from Persia, Cecil Keeling who was a correspondent for BBC, wrote: “One swiftly gains the impression that the architects of the new Tehran had returned from a rapid tour of London, Paris and Berlin full of new, wonderful but barely comprehended ideas, and in a whirl of enthusiastic indecision. Poring over the picture-post-card view of the European capitals, they could hardly believe it possible that they had been so lamentably lagging behind the times, fussing about with those silly old Islamic designs when people in Europe had produced such a fund of new, click, smart ideas. And such an abundance of style! It was really difficult to know where to begin. But, begin the must, at once, without losing any more time … . And so out into the streets, to tear down the domes and colonnades and get the foundations down and the scaffolding up, of what was to be a brave Tehran. The result has been, to say the least, enlivening. A building would begin in a swirl of French baroque and end up austerely in Third Reich Classicism … . But people would be living quite comfortably within these … walls ¬–– betterthan (in) … cave(s,) anyway!”
Another well-known example of such criticism revealed itself in Wendell Willkie’s book, One World, where he referred to Iran as an international shame due to its lack of water plumbing and sewage systems. In the same book, he asserts: “Winning the war is not enough. To win the peace, three things seem to be necessary: first, we must plan for peace on a global basis; second, the world must be free, economically and politically, for nations and for men that peace may exist in it; third, America must play an active, a constructive part in freeing it and in keeping its peace.” In this way, years later, Iran became the target of an American set of programs__known as Truman’s Point Four Program__seeking improvement in healthcare, education, housing and urban planning of underdeveloped countries. As mentioned earlier, Truman’s Point IV Program was a direct intervention that targeted Iran by series of programs that fed to home-economics schools.
It is in the mist of such interventions that our house and its domestic objects come to play. As the family members enjoyed drinking their Pepsi-Cola on the terrace in one hot summer afternoon of 1956, a group of girls were being trained at school to learn how to roast beef in an American oven and serve it to their future husband while sitting on Western manufactured chairs around dining tables that had nothing to do with the Sofreh (dining cloth) their mothers used to spread on the floor to their fathers while serving the Iranian rice and stew. It is through this domestic transformation that the house in question bridges the German modernity of an industrial city to American dream of a consumer city. The house becomes a catalyser in comprehending the history of modernization in Iran.
CHAPTER 4 / PHOTOGRAPHY
The camera; this magical dark box, has a short yet eventful history. In every epoch it has cast a distinct effect on people and inspired them to create photos with various conceptual layers; from Naser-od-din Shah who gloriously stared at the grandeur of his reign in Francis Karlhian’s (1859) camera to 97 years later when a man gloriously stared at the horizon and asked a photographer to take his picture while he was standing upon the land he had decided to build his house on.
After WWII the newspapers began including photos in their articles. There was now the possibility of printing the photos in different sizes. At the time the government of USA enhanced the modernization of Iran through Point Four Program. Those who loved photography managed to buy a camera depending on their budget. As modern appliances and gadgets such as radio, television and other utilities entered the country, the behavior and habits of the people changed. In the 1940s the people began to gradually let go of their classical posture in front of the cameras and take more casual stances. Depending on their taste and temperament, everyone experienced some form of creativity in front of the camera and made a picture that she was craving to see.
Now in 1957 it is time to build that house for a family of four. The father who admired photography and was aware of the importance of documentation, asked the photographer to document the process of building the house. The stages of constructing this house was documented in 41 black and white frames with a medium format camera and after the end of construction the interior was photographed in 135 colored slide film; Just as Naser-od-din Shah had first given the idea of a photo reportage to Jules Richard through the excuse of commissioning him to photograph the structures of Persepolis, which was abandoned due to some reasons (1850). The order of such a commission coming from a young king during the first years of his reign in the age of 19 is very innovative and avant-garde and undoubtedly one can appreciate his intuition as the founder of document photography in Iran. During 1960s the production of photography gadgets such as cameras, substances and printing material developed. In his book Motarjemzadeh believes that “Photography in Iran followed the world’s consuming pattern during 1960s and 1970s and shooting with 8 mm cameras were also promoted for public use.” Therefore during the reign of the second Pahlavi the middle class had access to cheaper and easier photography means and managed to document their family lives and their experience of modern living and the developments of a city that went forth towards rapid modernization.
Now as a young man under the influence of his father’s love of photography and archiving, the son of the family gathered a camera, an enlarger and other needed materials and turned the kitchen storage to a dark room.
The young man who was in love took photos of his beloved inspired by the art of 1960s and 1970s, the new wave cinema and movies such as Antonioni’s Blowup, reading through magazine’s such as Playboy and different TV shows. He made photos that may remind us of the ones Naser-od-din Shah took from his wives. Ghebleye Alam (One of the titles of Naser-od-din Shah meaning “The Center of the World”).also updated the poses of his wives according to the photos of European photographers he saw. One clear example of his attempts to go beyond photography with ordinary view is the photo he took of himself and his wives in the huge mirror of the Mirror Hall of Golestan Palace. In both cases the photographers printed and archived the pictures in their personal dark rooms and just as it is still an enduring habit of photographers they noted the time and place in a corner.
Things, streets, buildings, places of entertainment and family gatherings were all excuses to photograph people whom in their eyes were the main subject. The two created portraits with all the concepts and peculiarities that is significant in this genre.In the technical aspect the photos might seem amateur or experimental; however general knowledge and awareness of the latest artistic concepts has undoubtedly made successful photographers out of them. Family photos and portraits of this collection will not be presented due to protecting the family’s privacy.In the fourth section of “A House” project titled “Photography” we may observe photos that can be divided into a number of categories:
Aqa Reza Eqbal Alsaltaneh was the photographer of Naser-od-din Shah’s court and was officially called Akasbashi (The Photo-man). There are pictures and documentations indicating that with access to the needed photography equipment he dedicated his free time out of the court to taking pictures of his family in his home. While it is probable that during the Quajar epoch the families close to the king would take intimate and family photos, these kinds of pictures were not common among ordinary people. Family photos becoming widespread alongside the Persian Constitutional Movement made way for certain photos in which several significant social characters are seen together in one frame. During the reign of the first Pahlavi in 1925 pictures are added to the birth certificates. As the financial situation of the people and their self-confidence develops they desire to have memorial photos of themselves and their families. In the Pahlavi era having a family photo album was something common. The people documented the happy moments in parties, wedding and trips and made them internal with small notes reminding them of all the little details.
Far from the classical forms of family photos, the son places the members of his family in frames of one or two, thus these photos can also be analyzed in the genre of portraits.
The portraits taken by the photographer indicate his admiration of fashion and cinematic pictures. While he is a self-taught photographer he manages to document his subject in his most natural way or see him/her in the manner of the cinema stars or fashion models. He loses no chance to take his portraits; whether it is the moment his fiancée is exiting the house, the time his mother is taking a nap or during a fun trip with his friends or even a lazy cat unaware of everything going around.
In some aspects making a difference between street photography and document photography is difficult and perhaps understanding the view of the photographer can shed light on this matter. Roots of this genre in Iran can be found in the photos taken in the Naseri era from different cities and various locations and from scenes of rituals, the vendors and even lashing of prisoners in the public places.
In the presented collection, photos are observed from the 1970s which were taken from wandering around the city. Different subjects attract his attention and just like the Naseri era the presence of people in his frames is notable. The characteristics of the time however gives him the advantage of taking photos that were not possible before; lighter cameras, easier print and various subjects. The cities then had busier days; colorful cars, lighter nights with sparkling buildings, nightclubs, bars, cinemas, parks and restaurants.
Photography and Architecture
Certain photos are from architecture and monumental structures. He has rarely documented them alone and has taken them with a human element involved. The historical or beautiful buildings have always been the center of attention of young photographers to aid them in learning the framing and understanding the significance of light in this category of photography and for tourists it is important in the aspect of documenting memories. In any case one cannot deny the historical, cultural and artistic importance of these buildings and their effect of all sorts and depth on photography. However more than the building itself in these photos we observe a picture of self or others merely for the purpose of documenting an existence. Once more we are faced with the photographer’s skill in portraits yet this time working on a dialogue between the model and the building; a mixture of the structure’s culture and history with the smarty and trendy appearance of the person; easy and carefree poses sometimes akin to an ignorant passerby in contrast with the classical poses much like the buildings; standing, straight and unbending
Some of these photos remind us of David Bailey’s modeling photos in mid 1960s. Others that have used people as a subject have a tendency towards street photography.
CHAPTER 5 / PUBLICATIONS
Had the woman, frustrated with her humdrum daily life, actually fallen in love again? Is this the inevitable course of every marriage to fall into the mundane, with the couple forgetting love and striving to find it once again? Is this pursuit possible only outside matrimony?
Such questions were probably posed frequently through popular serialized fictions published in the periodicals of the 1960s, when the Iranian print media was at its most vital. Four decades later, however, they were the same questions evoked at the end of I Will Turn off the Lights, a novel by Zoya Pirzad, published by Markaz Publication in 2001. The novel recounts the story of Clarice Ayvazian, an Armenian woman living in Bovardé neighborhood of Abadan [in Khuzestan Province], in the mid-1960s —the legendary days of The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Half a century later, the whole decade is now shrouded in the mists of legends and historical allegories; in those rather cursory accounts written about this period, the decade is represented as the onset of the street protests that would lead to the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1979 Revolution. But in fact, thanks to a concurrent movement in Iranian cinema, dubbed as ‘Qaruni’ movement, the 1960s is also a period of peace and harmony: the conciliation of two outlooks, two life style, two worlds, that seem entirely foreign to and remote from each other. Despite the political hostilities of the time, attempts were made by several cultural movements to address all the conflicts of the period from a conciliatory perspective.
The special significance of the temporal and special setting of the novel might now seem plausible: perhaps for Pirzad, it was only in the context of minority subcultures that such questions could be addressed. She repeatedly returns to Iranian-Armenian characters in several of her short stories as well as this novel; but in the latter case in particular, this sense of otherness is further reinforced by the spatial setting: Bovardé appears as a distinct neighborhood of Abadan, far from the center of Iran, where people seem to lead a completely different lifestyle from the rest of the country.
Beyond these social interpretations, however, this perspective during the 1960s is mainly rooted in the immense volume of cultural productions which were often produced and consumed in relatively more limited forms than they are today. A few years before the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) started regular and nationwide transmission in the late 1960s . newspapers and magazines enjoyed an exclusive monopoly on mass communication as the primary national information and entertainment outlet. According to statistics, the 1960s saw a growth in cultural productions in Iran. The relative social and economic stability seems to have gradually allowed Iranians to pursue various forms of entertainment. The range of cultural entertainment forms available to an average Iranian urban citizen living in the mid-1960s was probably rather limited, covering radio programs, motion pictures, theatrical performances, as well as printed books, newspapers and magazines. It is only in the early 1970s that the Iranian television culture fully emerges (The first television station in Iran was started by Habibollah Sabet in 1958. However, the widespread broadcasting of programs would not begin before the 1970s.) Therefore, television had hardly become a part of the cultural scene in Iran of the 1960s.. Before that, Iranians could receive entertainment mainly through radio and printed media.
Thus, an Iranian city dweller found in printed media not only a source of news and information, but also a repository of entertainment material in various forms of narrative fiction and non-fiction, from popular serial literature to actual reports and short features covering criminal, scandalous, and tragic incidents, which were sometimes published in sequential installments, and followed the American journalistic tendency to dramatize and sensationalize such events. While many might prefer to regard this approach to media work as the corollary of the repressive context of political news coverage during the 1960s, three issues are worthy of note. First, the severity of censorship began to increase only in the 1970s, and it was not rigorously exercised during the previous decade when there was still no sign of armed conflicts. Second, this strong focus on primarily entertainment content patterned itself on a global, and especially American trend in journalism that appealed to many Iranians at the time. Third, during this period, the printed press was not even regarded as a proper outlet for political expression; this particular function of newspapers and magazines began to be foregrounded in the 1970s, at a time when other forms of entertainment were available to the wider public. Therefore, periodical publications served a far less significant role in providing entertainment, and their survival began to depend on prioritizing political coverage over trivial entertainment news.
Consequently, the transition from the 1960s to the following decade marks a shift in journalism in Iran and, of course, across the world. These periods are distinguished from each other by several factors; the latter decade, in general, saw increasing industrial, commercial, and economic developments, and an increase in public wealth resulted by the rise in oil price and the establishment of OPEC early in the decade. In cultural terms, it was the period in which the National Iranian Radio and Television Organization was founded, and due to a growth in communication technologies, global, cultural changes left a more immediate impact on Iranian culture. These circumstances naturally shaped the workings of local and international printed media. An obvious example is the emergence and widespread presence of magazines in the years immediately following the Second World War. Iran joined the trend almost ten years later, in the 1960s, through the publication of a host of new periodicals including Ferdowsi, Sepid-o Siah, Khandaniha, and Ettelaat-e Haftegi. In the following decade, however, the growth of television culture and the change in approaches to graphic design in printed media through the 1980s and early 1990s, lead to the emergence of magazines such as the weekly Tamasha.
This tendency is partly owing to the introduction of international printed press in Iran, which gradually changed the pace of communication and exchange of trends, information, and influence. Foreign (particularly English-language) periodical publications started to appear in Iran during the 1950s. Beirut used to be a key commercial center in the Middle East, providing the region with a wide range of imported merchandise from Europe and the United States. These items included a limited number of English-language periodicals which were brought in Iran through the southern borders, in close vicinity to Abadan —home to a considerable population of British citizens working for the National Iranian Oil Company. For the senior employees of NIOC, a fair command of English was considered less an advantage than the tools of their trade.
Thus, the Abadan of the 1950s, provided a gateway to British culture, as is evident in the English words that entered the southern Iranian vocabulary, such as ‘engine’ or ‘tomato.’ Nevertheless, before the early 1960s, foreign periodicals were hard to come by in Tehran and other larger cities of Iran. The earliest instances date back to the 1950s, when celebrity magazines in the vein of Photoplay could be found in the newsstands around Lalehzar Street in Tehran. But early in the following decade, one particular newsstand located in the intersection of Lalehzar-e No and Shahreza (currently Enqelab) Street, started offering foreign magazines on a regular basis. Foreign (mainly French, British, German, and American) newspapers, however, took a few more years to become available in Iran. By the late 1960s, three facts led to the significantly stronger presence of foreign periodicals in Iran; first, the development of a stronger political relationship with Western European countries and the United States led to increased travelling to Iran for tourism, business, and cultural purposes. Second, the rise in oil price provided a higher level of public welfare in the early 1970s. And finally, following the foundation of Iran National Airlines Corporation (Iran Air) which started to operate daily flights to Europe and Beirut during the second half of the 1960s, cultural exchanges with other countries gained momentum and foreign periodical publications began to enter Iran faster and in larger numbers.
Particularly since the late 1960s, cultural and political exchanges with the United Sates had also played a significant role in shaping the market for a diverse range of products in Tehran. Keivan Supermarket located at the intersection of Takht-e Jamshid (currently Taleqani) Street and Zahedi (currently Sepahbod Qarani) Street opposite Atlantis (currently Atlas) Hotel within walking distance from the former location of the Embassy of the United States of America became the primary venue for the distribution of foreign periodicals in the city. During the 1970s, kiosks at larger hotels became another source of providing such publications; however, while they tended to offer more popular or, as the modern term goes, “lifestyle magazines” such as Reader’s Digest or Harper’s Bazaar, Keivan Supermarket often provided foreign periodical publications of all sorts, from newspapers (of the day before) to the latest popular American and European magazines such as the New Yorker, Playboy, Life, Time, Der Spiegel, Paris Match, and the Paris Review.
Nevertheless, the expanded political and cultural exchanges with the United States was not just due to the changing political climate, but also resulted from a major cultural tide across the world: the global dominance of American culture, which started with the United States’ victory in the Second World War and continued through the following decades. This cultural shift involved the gradual establishment of English as the global lingua franca, replacing French, whose command, up until the 1940s, was considered the mark of an affinity with Western culture. Thus, beginning with the British presence in Southern Iran, and then following the country’s increasing exchanges with the United States, English became the primary means of communication and cultural exchange across a social class of people who wished to maintain and assert their ties with the global community.
Would, then, a family of certain background (an employee of the National Iranian Oil Company) who also had a familiarity with (or perhaps a sentimental attachment to) English language, show a tendency for reading such periodical publications? Do the publications represent a certain type of living? Perhaps it is the life of a certain subculture whose echoes we can only hear through the memoirs or fictional autobiographies by Goli Taraqi about living in Mahmoodieh neighborhood [in the affluent north of Tehran] set in the same period. And it is a subculture that attempts to pursue a life between two types of lives, at the intersection of various cultures; a quest that the writings of the previous generation addressed, rightly or wrongly, as the conflict between tradition and modernity. Defying definitions, this form of life now seems to be only an attempt to choose a life regardless of any judgement, whether favorable or critical —a life that continues to survive in the remote corners of our city. Perhaps, it found a home in the 1970s, in a house in Mahmoodieh, and then, left it behind for good, as one does a dream.
CHAPTER 6 / CORRESPONDENCES
Iranian nationalism began to rise rapidly in the late Qajar and early Pahlavi era. The epitome of this tendency was Reza Shah Pahlavi, the identity of whose reign relied heavily on championing nationalistic visions. The injection of this particular brand of nationalism continued to exist in various forms of ideological propaganda through the entire 53 years of Pahlavi reign in Iran. The Iranian phoenix seemed to have found its long-lost chance to emerge from the ashes. The opportunity had finally arrived for the first time since Iranians initially encountered the concept of ‘the West’ during the Safavid reign followed by over a century of Qajar rule. Historians often refer to the 1804–1813 Russo-Persian War during the reign of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar as a key historical moment when Iranians suffered historical humiliation in the face of a seemingly greater power that managed to outdo them.
Beyond the political changes in the wake of the assassination of Nassereddin Shah Qajar, the period following the Constitutional Revolution of Iran was marked by constant attempts by pragmatic bureaucrats to modify the bureaucratic system in order to at least reduce the gap with the Western developed world. In a country that had recently been introduced to modernity, establishing s new bureaucratic system was an attempt to modernize the state and ensure that it would keep pace with the latest developments and evolve consistently with the demands of modernity.
Tarikh-e Iran-e Bastan (lit. the History of Ancient Iran), a three-volume book by Mirza Hassan Khan Pirnia (also known as Morshir ad-Dowleh), published amid the socio-political turbulence of the same period, provided Iranian nationalism with a timely opportunity to explore pre-Islamic Iranian empires as perfect embodiments of the kind of supreme power and authority which many nationalists sought to revive. Such historical accounts allowed for referring back to a rich and glorious past where Iranians enjoyed the upper hand, both regionally and internationally. Perhaps, however, the interrupted or slack pace of developments towards modernity in Iran was, in fact, due to this very retrospective approach: captivated by a historical past where we dominated the world, we became incapable of looking ahead and moving forward.
Drawing on such historical accounts, Iranian nationalists would boastfully mention the workings of chaparkhanehs, a Persian royal system of postal communication developed 2000 years earlier, during Darius I, granting the Achaemenid kings a complete command of their entire empire. Years later, although some doubt was cast upon the magnitude of the Persian Empire, it was still considered a magnificent past where Iranians could play a leading role in many areas of innovation including the post. And this postal network consisted of chapars, mounted couriers riding their swift horses through the Royal road, creating and managing an express system of communication throughout the vast Achaemenid empire.
This is the reliable, or at least the official account, of the history of the post in Iran; according to the website for the I.R.I Post Company (Iran Post), too, the history of Iranian postal service dates back to the Achaemenid empire and delivery system created by a network of chapars and chaparkhanehs. However, as a modern system of communication, the new Iranian postal system was actually developed as part of the modernizing agenda pursued during the Qajar era. The distinctive mark of this more recent mechanism was even manifest in terms of the nomenclature: the new title included the word ‘post’ as opposed to the former term ‘chaparkhaneh’ which had commonly been used in Iran up to that point. Indeed, the new term also suggested the different origin of the new system, relying on bureaucracy as a Western phenomenon that had just emerged in Iran. This is further evident in processes of formation and management of the new institution: following an order issued by Nassereddin Shah Qajar, the Department of Post became the Ministry of Post in 1879. Although it was still almost 30 years before the first Iranian constitution was established, the foundation of the Ministry of Post was one of those new measures that signaled the emergence of a new, modern system that were to replace previous forms of bureaucracy. Beginning with the 1909, the Department of Telegraphic Communication which served independently started operation under the consequent Ministry of Postal and Telegraphic Services. In 1929, during the first phase of the Pahlavi reign, the Ministry of Postal and Telegraphic Services bought out the stock of Telephone Company, thereby incorporating this organization as part of its institution that continued to operate as the newly formed Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone. The next developmental step occurred years later, in 1988, with new changes in the workings of Post Company as well as the evolution of the very system of the ministry offering a series of new services in various forms. Nevertheless, particularly due to the accelerated pace of developments in telecommunication technologies, the function of the ministry underwent several changes over the following decades, eventually leading to the establishment of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technologies which included the broader range of the latest services offered by this institution, such as mobile phone networks and the internet.
But does this account allow for a comprehensive survey of the evolution of communication in Iran and across the world? Although the bureaucratic system in Iran, particularly over the recent years, has been accused of exhibiting a slow-moving progress, such developments indicate the evolutionary course of the communication processes and systems over all these years. The word ‘post’ is now replaced with the broader term ‘technology’ to represent the new changes in the communication industry and therefore, the fundamental change in the way we live; still, the longstanding presence of the former word in the title of the ministry for 110 years, indicated the great import of the postal system as well as the writing and exchange of letters in Iran and all over the world.
At the risk of repeating the obvious, it must be noted again that, the relevantly recent, rapid changes in communication technologies have significantly altered communication methods and mechanisms in the world. Therefore, at a time when the emergence of diverse phenomena such as video chats, E-mail, and social networks and messengers has completely altered our lifestyle and form of living, letter-writing has become more of an idyllic gesture that carries an aura of nostalgia. It seems to belong to a far-off past, evoking notions of a deeper and more serious kind of relationship that many nostalgics consider to be fading away. This decline in letter writing might be due to the very nature of the medium itself: paper is not likely to survive the current, enormous growth in digital means of communication. On the other hand, one must bear in mind that the relative difficulty of communication in those days rendered it synonymous with anticipation, and since various forms of emotional relationship have often been associated with a sense of longing and anticipation, communication in the age of letter-writing and snail mail gives the impression of a more truly passionate form of contact. Furthermore, the literary canon features many works relying on epistolary forms; thus, letter-writing appears, first and foremost, as a form of romantic gesture or an outlet for expressing tender and profound feelings. The considerable number of the letters at hand, however, indicates the amount of time dedicated by members of a family to maintain emotional constact over several decades. Today, we probably spend no less (if not more) time to maintain contact with others, but few evidence of this process would remain in the form of letters and other similar documents for posterity.
However, it should be remembered that examining this rich repository of letters and stamps is, in fact, exploring the private life of these people as brought to us by each document, meticulously preserved by the father. Is letter-writing, compared to our current means of communication, a more private way of exchanging messages or expressing emotions? At least as long as the concept of an ‘open letter’ exists, a ‘letter’ is believed to be a private form of expression, and only the sender and the receiver are privy to its content.
But do the more recent means of communication allow us to erase the boundary between the public and the private? Have the more recent forms of social exchange in various virtual networks and communities have blurred this boundary, rendering it more fluid, if not completely erased? Perhaps they have; and that is why one might feel awkward going through these letters, as if one were sneaking a look through someone else’s private life —a life we should approach with great care and caution.
Nevertheless, this is an encounter with the most significant and clear traces of a powerful desire to collect and keep what seem to be the symbolic tokens of a family’s sense of unity. Indeed, this almost manic desire to collect was not peculiar during the 1960s and the subsequent decade, when there were many instances of such obsessions. In any case, the present collection consists of two subsets: the stamps and the letters. The letters seem to suggest the paternal inclination to maintain familial integrity at any cost, even if only symbolically. The stamps, on the other hand, appear to emphasize a collector’s craze. Stamps have often been one of the most popular items for collectors. Therefore, postal service companies all over the world have provided certain resources and procedures to serve the demands of stamp collectors. The introduction of postal stationary by Royal Mail, for instance, is one such attempt that offers special facilities to regular customers. Here, the use of those stationary items also suggests, once again, the family’s fondness for British culture.
From the letters to the stamps, the childish sketches to diaries, the present series offers a symbolic portrayal of an era cut short not only by political conflicts, but also by “the heavy passage of the wave of time,” in Ahmad Shamloo’s words. What might now be considered a mere nostalgic period for us was, in the recent past, an actual, normal way of life whose precious legacy still endures thanks to this laudable passion for collection. It seems highly unlikely that we would be able to leave behind a similar legacy.