Wiedel, Janine - Iran 1976

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Janine Wiedel.
Iran 1976.

Southport, United Kingdom: Cafe Royal Books, 2020. 
Staple-bound softcover. 
36 pages. 
Black & White. 


In 1976, I was commissioned by a publisher to write and photograph an education book on Iran for children. The photographs used were mainly colour and related to the thematic preoccupations of the book. It is only in recent months that I have revisited my black and white negatives.

Working on my own as a woman and US passport holder was both challenging and fascinating. On entering Iran, I was required to register with the Embassy and inform them of all my movements. From then on, the SAVAK (Iranian secret police) shadowed me everywhere. Described as Iran’s “most hated and feared institution”, and dissolved amidst the Revolution at the start of 1979, they worked as a hidden network. While I never actually saw them, I was continually aware of their presence. The most noticeable sign of their vigilance was the fresh cigarette butts found every morning in the back yard of the place where I was staying. Over the weeks, though, I found myself in several tight situations in which somehow the tensions were miraculously dissipated. I can only assume this was due to outside instructions. 

Navigating the cities was challenging. Legally, cars had the right of way, so traffic lights and road signs were there to be ignored. There were daily listings of the those killed in motor accidents in Tehran. Travelling on the open road was equally hazardous. On hills drivers would turn off the engine to save fuel. I ended up in a dramatic accident when an out of control truck glided across towards us. My driver screamed, took his hands off the wheel and began to pray as both our vehicles ended upside down in the ditch. I was mysteriously rescued from the carnage by a passing car.

In 1976, Iran was in the final years of the Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime. This was a Western-oriented secular dictatorship, brought into power by a UK and US backed coup. Areas of cultural freedom were interspersed with brutal repression. Political opposition was quickly suppressed. Shops, businesses or individuals not prominently displaying the Shah’s image, would be closed-down or disappear overnight. Rapid, state-led industrialisation, and a period of land reform had exacerbated social and economic divisions. 

Two years later, in 1978, the stirrings of the Iranian Revolution began, with mass strikes and public demonstrations eventually bringing the Shah’s regime to an end. By 1979, the Shah had gone into exile and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. My book came out, but already belonged to a different historical epoch. 

Janine Wiedel 2020

Café Royal Books (founded 2005) is an independent
publisher based in Southport, England.
Originally set up as a way to disseminate art,
in multiple, affordably, quickly, and internationally
while not relying on 'the gallery'.

Café Royal Books publishes artist's books and zines
as well as a weekly series of photobook/zines.
The photographic publications are part of a long
ongoing series, generally working with photographers
and their archives, to publish work, which usually falls
into 1970–2000 UK documentary / reportage.