In Iran, societal norms tell a woman to live under the family roof until she marries. Those trying to break away from these constraints face backlashes.
“There is no room for mistakes when you know that just for being a woman you are judged unfairly,” says Tehran-based photographer Negar Yaghmaian thoughtfully. It’s a strong statement, one that sums up a sentiment shared among women for centuries. With regards to Iran, Yaghmaian’s home country, it cites an awareness that permeates everyday realities for many women. Especially those choosing to live independently, as captured in Yaghmaian’s photo essay, The Blind.
Over the past decade, Iran has seen a major increase in young women tackling life on their own, opposing cultural norms that limit their personal freedoms. They fight the notion that their choice is an immoral deed. With over sixty percent of the population being under the age of 30, Yaghmaian doesn’t find it to be a surprising development. “The youth has shaped a new face of the country, often oppressed by hardliners inside Iran and overlooked by those who reduce a sophisticated, layered society to its captivating contrasts,” she says. However, instead of encouraging the movement, Yaghmaian notes, many politicians and clerics consider this lifestyle a threat to the traditional family fabric and have implemented policies to encourage people to marry at a young age.
Yaghmaian, who is 34 years old, experienced the obstacles and prejudices first hand. Her curiosity to meet other women in the same situation, however different their backgrounds might be, inspired the project. “When I was supposed to sign the first contract for my apartment, the real-estate agent told me to ask my father do it on my behalf. It was so embarrassing for me,” she recalls. Has the situation improved for women? Yaghmaian thinks so. She believes that her society will come to terms with female’s longing for independence sooner rather than later.
“I go for subjects that I’m attached to by some means.”
But many still turn a blind eye on them, which led Yaghmaian to portray them with the window blinds open. The daily troubles of one woman in particular inspired the title: “She told me that it made her so sad when the woman next door asked her to cover her apartment windows with blinds or pull the curtain because the neighbor thought it would be a threat for her family if their children knew a woman was living alone in a ground-floor apartment,” she explains. “This story deeply affected me and made me more determined to carry on with my project. I wanted to show there’s no shame with living alone and it’s just a personal choice.”
In Yaghmaian’s series, there is no room for shamefaced behavior. Deeply intimate and natural, the images are incidental reflections of everyday scenes. “I prefer a straightforward approach to photography. I like telling stories with sincere pictures and normally avoid staged photos,” Yaghmaian states. It’s a collaborative effort. She describes her 15 subjects as friendly and relaxed in front of the camera. Before taking any shot, Yaghmaian would spend hours conversing with them, sometimes even staying overnight. The results mirror just that and reflect her keen interest in social issues on personal scales. “I go for subjects that I’m attached to by some means. I believe that I can take better pictures when I have a better understanding of that matter or have experienced the same feeling,” she says.
“When I was supposed to sign the first contract for my apartment, the real-estate agent told me to ask my father do it on my behalf.”
It’s therefore unsurprising that Yaghmaian remains true to her roots. She studied photography at Tehran University before completing a documentary course at IED Madrid, where she fully immersed herself in the direction. Women’s rights and her home country have since remained prominent topics in her work. “Being a woman photographer has its own difficulties but it also gives me the privilege to access and work on subjects that can be complicated for male photographers to do,” she pauses. “For instance, in a traditional and religious country like Iran, it’s easier for me as a woman photographer to be close to women and children and work on issues related to them.” Yaghmaian’s point of view is that of a contemporary woman who has her homeland’s best interests at heart, someone who clear-headedly recognizes both beauty and ugliness. “The situation isn’t so stable and promising in terms of political and economic matters but I love my people and hope for changes to a better life.”