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March 5, 2012

Iran: The Harsh Light of Western Exposure?


I’m interest in what role the visual media is playing as part of the drum beat for war with Iran. I’m thinking about cropping, pulling out a single from a series, going full page, bumping the contrast, adding titles, that sort of thing.

For example, take the photo above, a story prize winner in this year’s World Press Photo awards. As the ninth photo in a twelve picture series by Iranian photographer, Ebrahim Noroozi, the image is one component of a story reflecting on Iran’s use of public hanging as punishment (as well as a deterrent)  for severe crimes. The victim in this case, Mehdi Farahj, was executed for the rape and murder of five women.

I don’t have access to the section of Murdoch’s Sunday Times photography feature. I believe the page above, however, was the inside cover. What I’m wondering is: what happens when you extract this single photo out of the series, you tweak the contrast and you crop it to highlight the act (rather than the backstory) of the hanging. (See original just below which you can click for larger size.) Also, how is the trajectory of meaning potentially expanded with this more generic anchor text: “The Harsh Light of Day”?

Overall, what I’m wondering is how much this treatment repurposes the photo to frame Iran, itself, as a pariah, the allusion to a day of reckoning casting a rope around the state more so than its extreme, if judicial treatment of citizens who rape and kill women.

(photo: Ebrahim Noroozi caption: Hanging in Iran. 26 May 2011.  Public hangings in Qazvin, 110 kilometers west of Tehran, where one of the executed, Mehdi Farahj, nicknamed ‘the driver of death’, raped and killed the first of five women. Public execution, such as hanging, is one of the Islamic punishments aimed at preventing such crimes as rape and murder and occasionally fraud. Official numbers for execution by hanging in Iran do not exist, but the country is alleged to have the second-highest execution rate in the world after China.)

  • Weldon Berger

    I’m not sure that this sort of image really incites much of a reaction from right-wing hawks. None of them were particularly incensed about Saddam’s hanging, that I recall, other than the lack of decorum associated with it, and I’ve had acquaintances on the right express admiration for the traditional Saudi punishments for thievery. And while we don’t stone adulterous or unmarried, sexually active women here, we do call them sluts and prostitutes, and legislate state-mandated medical rape as a preemptive punishment for abortion. When you get down to cases, there’s a considerable measure of kinship between their reactionaries, both political and religious, and ours.

    The image might have more of an impact on liberals, who generally oppose perceived barbarism and remain suckers for the “good” war, but one hopes they enjoy enough self-awareness to recognize that public hangings are no more fatal than discreet electrocutions or state-administered drug overdoses or Gary Gilmore’s firing squad. 

    I think the case for war has been undermined to an extent by the case for regime change on behalf of the good people of Iran, about whose desire for freedom and democracy we’ve heard an awful lot during the past half-decade or more. Many seem to recognize that waging war on the evil Iranians might not be the best thing for the good Iranians. It has taken an awful lot of dishonest rhetoric about the nuclear power program from administration officials and other reptilian sorts to gin up even the current tepid level of support for war. 

    So: different images are required. Unlike with Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s more than one face to Iran. We’ve seen nearly as much of the protesters as of Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs. They have cell phones and Twitter accounts and some of them speak English well. The women are lovely and brave, the men personable and earnest. Something horrid has to happen to justify blowing them up. 

    • Thor C

      You are clueless. The man has said repeatedly that he is going to wipe Israel off the map and he would gladly sacrifice half of Iran’s population to do it. Something ‘horrid’ will most assuredly happen unless he is stopped. Don’t be so naive. It was people like you who said Japan would never be crazy enough to attack the U.S.

  • Anonymous

    This image evokes an powerful push-pull attraction / repulsion for me. I’m initially pulled in by depth of the white-black contrast against a calming gray gradient. The lines are clean and well defined, organic. Then there’s the “is that what I think it is?” moment and a rush of very different feelings.

    The powerful aesthetic response works against the journalism content of the image. I’m just not interested in any social information this image may be bringing to me — it just doesn’t matter. Doesn’t come to mind even when I turn attention to social context explicitly. The scene I’m seeing is surreal. The scene captured in that light is very real.

  • bks

     Iran has the second highest rate of Capital Punishment (behind China).  The USA is number five, but we don’t allow ours to be seen by the public.


  • bks

     Iran has the second highest rate of Capital Punishment (behind China).  The USA is number five, but we don’t allow ours to be seen by the public.


  • Anonymous

    The regime’s not a good one — remember the protests a couple of years ago? — and if consistency was actually a concern for war-hawks, there’d be more about justice in Saudi Arabia.

    Juan Cole has some good posts about Iran, but I suspect part of the problem with getting anywhere with people is getting past the copmplexity of the situation as well as their own stereotypes (as someone who had the images from 1979’s hostage crisis engraved in my mind for years, I know something about this one)

    *the situation’s complicated because Iran’s gov’t IS autocratic, IS right wing, but neither of those things mean it’s building a bomb — it isn’t

    • psychohistorian

      But they have OUR oil.

    • Thor C

      How many times does he have to say that he is building a bomb until you believe him?

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