Why Iran? It’s not safe there. Is it a war there? Are you crazy? I would not go there even if someone paid me.
These are just some of the sentences and the reaction of the people close to me when I told them that I will go to Iran this summer. The influence of western, pro-American media took a tidbit, even in my country-Serbia, and people did not know the truth about Iran. I did not know it too until I decided to check if this was true. Other experiences in Iran sounded so good and totally the opposite of what is being served in the media, and it seems like a total paradox if you follow both sides.
Another reason I decided to visit Iran is photography. I watched on the internet all those pictures of colorful Persian carpets, desert roofs and the colorful mosques, and I simply felt that I had to visit this country, even if there really was war. Given my economic situation (student, and also from Serbia that is economically underdeveloped), I decided for an old and always useful way of traveling, hitchhiking.
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Frankly, I had a lot of jitters. I was afraid of two things, which at the moment seemed so banal and funny that I just cannot believe it. The first fear was stealing my photographic equipment. Do not judge me, but for someone coming from Europe to Iran, who thinks he is going to a remote country with different laws, I did not know what to expect on that issue.
The second fear was the misunderstanding of locals, because I was not sure how many people in Iran are fluent in English. I was afraid that I could stuck somewhere without communication, but I was prepared to risk it.
I entered Iran from Azerbaijan, across the border crossing in the city of Astara. To my astonishment, they did not ask me at the border what I carry in my bag. I expected rigorous control, but I received a warm welcome, while the customs officers came to see me because they had not seen anyone from Serbia before. They were happy because they knew the names of some athletes, and they bragged before me with a wide smile. After entering the country, I arrived in the town of Rasht, where I had a first contact with the local people.
What is the most fascinating thing about Iran? If I had to answer in just two words, it would be culture and people. Of course, the list of everything I like would be too long for this text, but I should never leave out food, architecture, and so much diversity that shifts from city to city. Since no state or culture exists without people, I feel an endless respect for this nation, which has created all of what I have seen there. All this diversity, culture, architecture, food, traditions represent only the mirror of one nation, their understanding of the world, nature, and human being as such. All these elements are embedded in a single image representing every portrait of a person from Iran.
My inspiration is people because they create magic. In their eyes I see more than in books, on the skin of their hands I see the scars that were created by defending their country even in the time of Persia, thousands of years earlier. In their smile I see pride, which defies the world. Non-insubordination, and respect are the attributes of most people I’ve met. Money is not on the first place for this people, but hospitality and love. Many times people called me to their homes, for lunch or tea. They stopped me on the street just to ask me where I am from, and how I was. Their sincerity and curiosity leave no one indifferent. So far I have visited about 35 countries, but I have never been to a place similar to this one.
Iran has attracted me as the perfect destination for photography. As a student photo, I want to find places that are not so famous. I want to find people who do not see each day on the street. When I strolled around Tabriz, I noticed a mountain running out of the city. I knew it was the perfect place for photography. Such a place is not often met. The view from Eynali Mountain was completely enchanting. It was enough just to see the lights of the city shining like in Monaco, and to fall in love. I was so excited that I did not know how to make a good photo. Also, the wind only made it difficult for me. It was so windy that day that I could not walk. My captain flew down the cliff. At times, I was attacked by panic attacks because it was difficult for me to breathe because of the high wind strength. My tripod with the camera shook constantly, and on several occasions it started to fall, but I managed to keep it.
If you find yourself in Iran, do not go without the camera. Although I was carrying the DSLR around the neck, I missed many moments because I did not react in time, or I was not aware. Cities like Tabriz, Tehran or Isfahan are surrounded by mountains. If possible, do not miss the opportunity to record incredible scenes from these places!
Another destination that you can not but note with your lens is the desert. The deserts have always been mystical, romantic, and somehow insufficiently explored. Photographs of sand could never bother me. If possible, visit the oasis and watch the sunset. It’s okay to even forget to make a photo because you’ll be stunned by the scene.
Portraits of people are personally the most interesting, but of course the most difficult for photography. I used to do it without notice, in order to avoid posing. Sometimes photography was preceded by conversations, and model relaxation. In both cases, the results were phenomenal, the only question is what kind of photo you want to get.
The kindness of people impressed me very much. What fascinated me is that I always had the feeling that these people really care about me. I felt like a star walking down the streets of cities older than a large part of Europe. The reason for this are people who have always approached me with the questions from where I am from, how I decided to come to Iran, whether I like their country. They often asked me questions about food, but every single person asked me “Why are you smoking?”. Even the smokers came to me with this question. I never thought of it before, and I never knew how to answer that question. But I would mostly tell them that I will soon quit, and they would say that it is not healthy. I got the impression that people in Iran think that people in another countries live so healthy, not to smoke cigarettes. In a way, it is unusual for them to see a stranger with a cigar.
Regarding Iranian cuisine, I was most surprised at how much they drink tea, and how much they eat rice. Tea is consumed probably as much as the Britons, and the rice eat as much as the Chinese. Every morning, when I got up, a ready breakfast was waiting for me. So small things left me with a huge impression, and when I came home, I missed it.
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Very soon after this visit, I will be able to feel the scent of the desert with every wind, and the taste of the sand that was wrapped in the wind ended in my mouth. For a long time I will remember the taste of saffron, the touch of warm desert winds. I will remember the sounds of their music, the sounds of the wailing wires of the Iranian traditional instrument. I will always remember the power of the wind that carried me, and almost crashed from the Eynali Mountains cliff in Tabriz. And that look, light, safety and happiness that I felt sitting late into the night at that place. Iran regards me on careless, on some luck that the local population transferred to me from day to day. On their hospitality, carefree curiosity. And for all this, I can only thank people I met. They made me really feel special as their guest.
In addition to all of these things that I have listed, one thing can never be left out. In addition to ubiquitous spiritual beauty, Iran is one of the countries where the most beautiful people live. I could sit on the streets for hours, and I only watch people passing by. The girls are endlessly beautiful. Often I could not take a look from their face as they passed by me. Their eyes looks different from the rest, they are gentle and tender, and some smile would make me think about it for the next few days. I think I’m unlucky because I was not born there, but I’m happy because I met this beautiful country and people.