I guess I’m on a little bit of a photo-project kick lately. I keep finding thought-provoking photographs online that thankfully distract me from opening yet another Facebook tab. Maybe this is growing up?
Today, I stumbled upon a beautiful series by Hossein Fatemi for The New York Times. As is typical for the paper’s Sunday Exposures, “Veiled Truths” is gorgeously photographed and smartly designed. It depicts Iranian women through the fabric of a hijab, a head scarf that some Islamic groups require women to wear in the presence of men.
At first, I was struck by the beauty. The link opened on a full-screen image of an impeccably made-up woman in a hijab behind a film of red. The piece’s title cuts across her neck in a slash of bold white, seemingly separating her from the outside world. Her defiant expression is far from helpless — more like detached.
She and the women who follow look like dreams, caught behind a film of tradition and expectations. By showing them behind hijabs, Fatemi makes the statement that these women are rendered unreachable by mere pieces of fabric. Interestingly, most of the hijabs match the women’s makeup or outfits, depicting the garb as an extension of themselves. They are not complete without it.
Of course, some of the women choose to wear hijabs because of their beliefs. However, the other women are forced to live lives clouded by their government’s views.
The text explains the project was inspired by Fatemi’s friend who was held by police in Tehran because she wasn’t wearing a hijab, which is required in the country. She told him he shouldn’t just take war photographs but should show what life in modern Iran is really like. Though Fatemi explains that Iran’s new, more moderate president has said that women should be encouraged by education to follow clothing policies, women still face police action for their defiance.
Fatemi uses powerful imagery to show the reality of these women’s lives. He uses the fabric of the hijab to represent the governmental control that denies the women of Iran the right to choose to whom they reveal themselves. I have read about hijabs many times over the years, but this series really drove home the experience for me. The title says it all: These women’s true selves are a mystery, shrouded behind a collection of thread.