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Where is Iran?

Peress’s photographs are the puzzled, chaotic articulations of a self-avowed outsider looking for explanations in areas where other journalists, confined for months to their on-the-spot positions in front of the American Embassy, were unable to go. In this context the photographs are asserted as questions rather than answers, a strategy in keeping with a growing disbelief that it is possible to present conclusions without involving the reader in the photographer’s attempt to understand. The revelation of the image is located in the telling not just in the evidence of what has been told.

Fred Ritchin, In Our Time the World as Seen by Magnum Photographers, 1989

All of these women seem completely unaware that there is a gunman in their midst, or are they so used to guns they are not alarmed? The stairway where the gunman is stationed looks like a space reserved just for him, isolated in the center of dark, repeated shapes of the women on the left, and dark, deep space of the hallway on the right.

According to the editors of Gilles Peress’ book on Iran, photographs like these “do little to describe another people and place, but go a long way toward measuring the distance separating perceptions and cultures.” (Editors, Telex Iran, 1983) In other words, rather than show you another culture, they show you how far away you are from understanding that culture.

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts