June 20, 2005

Mr. Ahmadinejad's Women



In previewing the Iranian election last Thursday, what drew my attention were the number of stylish news images depicting female supporters of the liberal to moderate candidates.  In the aftermath of the outcome, however, it is interesting to see how the visual coverage has shifted.

In a result that was a surprise to everyone (except perhaps, to the Guardian Council), Tehran’s mayor and hardliner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was announced the second place finisher and will face a run off with Hashemi Rafsanjani.  Clearly, a victory next Friday by Mr. Ahmadinejad could spell the demise of a more open and expressive way of life for Iranian women.  (In today’s coverage in the NYT, for example, a spokesman for Mr. Ahmadinejad raised this prospect in coded language saying that if Ahmadinejad were elected, the country would return to "conservative social practices.")

In the aftermath of these development, I thought this two image sequence — taken the day after the election — created an interesting counterpoint.  Apparently, the photographer parked himself near a wall displaying torn away images of Mr. Ahmadinejad.  The caption for the top shot begins: "A veiled Iranian woman walks past torn campaign posters of Tehran’s hardline mayor Mohmoud Ahmadinejad."  The caption for the bottom photo starts out: "Iranian women walk past torn-out presidential candidate campaign posters for Tehran’s hardline mayor Mohmoud Ahmadinejad." 

Because the photographer specifically created this comparison (and because both
shots were also floated on the news wires), I feel it is fair game to
compare them side-by-side looking for symbolic differences. (For the
sake of full disclosure, I should say I cropped the top image for
height so it would exactly match the dimensions of the bottom picture.
The widths, however, were identical.)

Looking at it, there are a couple ways the photographer might
suggest the symbol of the "veiled" woman is taking precedence over the
image of secular women in Iran at the moment. For example, the "veiled"
woman is further along the way than the other two. Also, the more
"religious" image reduces the women to a solitary figure. The
expression of the "veiled" woman, with the closed hand extended across
her chest, is also more ascetic and constrained. Finally, note that the
posters of Mr. Ahmadinejad are more intact in the top image giving him
more credence.

As interpretations, of course, these observations could easily be
completely random. As associations, though, they do speak to a radical
shift in mood.

(image 1: Vahid Salemi/AP. June 18, 2005.
6:05 AM ET. YahooNews. image 2: Vahid Salemi/AP. June 18, 2005. , 6:23
AM ET. YahooNews)

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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