September 2023
Pearl In The Oyster #10 © Fatimah Hossaini

To know you better, could you tell us about you and your first steps in photography? 

To know me is to understand where it all started. 

My grandparents fled from Afghanistan to Iran in 1918, during the Soviet war. My parents also grew up in Iran. Even though the new generations started in Iran I could not be an Iranian, You must have Iranian parents, it is blood-related.

Pear In The Oyster #5 © Fatimah Hossaini

When I was 14, I started going to painting classes. Art was serious for me but not in an academic way. I didn’t think it could change my life. When I started mathematics in school, my parents wanted me to be an engineer so I started engineering studies for 4 years: the worst years of my life. In the last year of my studies, I started photography classes. This medium allowed me to be faster than with painting and I thought that maybe it could get me the result I wanted. After those classes and so many struggles especially with my family, I got a scholarship at Tehran University. 

I started my second bachelor degree in photography. I was the failed engineer just starting photography from zero, it was a big deal for me and my family. I am the first child in a Middle Eastern family: Can you imagine? Then I was working in Iranian ateliers, I exhibited my work and I decided to go back to Afghanistan after my graduation.

Pearl In The Oyster #32 © Fatimah Hossaini

After my third time in Kabul, I decided to stay. I started teaching at Kabul University in the photography department. After the Afghanistan civil war, the level between the Kabul and Teheran universities was so different. I used to take books to Kabul from Tehran. At the same time, I established my organization Mastooraat Art Organization for Women and Art, the empowerment of women through art and photography. 

The concept of being a woman is so beautiful.

As it relates to your organization, we would like to discuss the importance of women’s issues in your life and work.

For me, it is really important because of the context I come from. When you see in Paris how women are decision-makers here, I’m only dreaming we could have the same one day in Afghanistan. Maybe in 100 years. The concept of being a woman is so beautiful. When I think about Afghanistan, it was always because of men. They started the wars, but the victims were always women. When a country never sees a peaceful situation, it’s always because of disrespectful behavior towards women.

When a country never sees a peaceful situation, it’s always because of disrespectful behavior toward women.

Pearl In The Oyster #11 © Fatimah Hossaini

When I was in Tehran, I didn’t have a clear image of women in Afghanistan so I started « Beauty and War », a photo project that I really wanted to do. My sister and my mum were the first Afghan women who I photographed. When I went to Afghanistan, I realized how much colorful and beautiful it is and how nobody talked about it. I think that sometimes images like photos are stronger than words, and it was for me a way to express my feelings.

In Kabul, I made real friendships that allowed me to ask these women to take their pictures. I think you have a very clear and honest perspective when a woman is in front of you. As an Afghan woman, I went through the same struggles as these women, hence I could understand them well. 

As an Afghan woman, I went through the same struggles as these women hence I could understand them well.

Pearl In The Oyster #8 © Fatimah Hossaini

How did you distance yourself from documentary photography or photojournalism? 

Some of my pictures are natural and spontaneous. My work is a mix of staged and unstaged photography.

I always had an imagination and a vision about the Kabul streets or the mountains. My work is not real but it also is. These women are real, these shops and textiles are real, everything is real. But when I was looking at these shops, these mountains, it was always women’s history and objects made by the hand of women I could see, even though all the shoppers were men. In Afghanistan, as a woman, my brother or husband would have to buy me the things I wanted. The women make the textile, the men buy it for the women. Taking pictures of women in front of shops is staged photography. This was all my artistic imagination.

It was real because of my artistic imagination, but not real, you couldn’t see women shopping in Kabul.

Pearl In The Oyster #18 © Fatimah Hossaini

How difficult is it to talk about the women’s issue in Afghanistan? 

After the Civil War, many things have been taken away from us in Afghanistan, even colorful and positive things about our heritage and history. When you see in my new project with beautiful textiles and jewelry, is about heritage pieces made by women. Women made the cultural heritage, it is also a women’s story. When they were posing in front of my camera, there was a shame, a result of a special code of behaving that I could find in Afghanistan. We have many restrictions from society. I come from a very religious and traditional background; so it’s still not easy for me to reveal myself in front of the camera. I’m still uncomfortable with my body.

Women made the cultural heritage, it is also a women’s story.

Fahima Mirzaee © Fatimah Hossaini

Afghanistan is a state of men. In my photo projects, I had many problems with the publication of these women’s photos, even with the process of talking with them. Standing in front of the camera is already really complicated for these women.

By telling the stories of these women, by telling untold stories, I can give them a voice. I think I am responsible for telling the stories that I captured with photography through my activism. Women’s life under the Taliban regime is quite, at least I captured those last years of little freedom.

By telling the stories of these women, by telling untold stories, I can give them a voice.

Pearl in the Oyster © Fatimah Hossaini

I have regrets, If I had more time and freedom I could have done more.

Why did you choose a portrait to represent women? What were the consequences? 

Portraits are more intimate, I want to give my perspective on women’s history. The identity of my models is women, not Pashtuns, Hazara, or Tadjik. Being a woman can be my identity, being Afghan can be my identity, and being Iranian in heart can be my identity. I mix these identities. In the series taken in  the Zahak mountains in Bamyan, a Hazara area, the model is Tadjik from Badakhshan wearing traditional Hazara clothes. The red of the textile is a response to the genocide of the Hazaras.

Being a woman can be my identity, being Afghan can be my identity, and being Iranian in heart can be my identity.

Pearl In The Oyster #4 © Fatimah Hossaini

In my work, you could see beautiful women in the streets but there is more to be told. Their stories are central because of the Afghanistan context. I was a minority, a Hazara, hence I was more of a target with my almond eyes. Ethnicities have problems with each other especially Pashtuns, they think Afghanistan is for them, Hazaras are Mongolians, and Tadjiks are from Tadjikistan. It is not an easy problem. I put a Hazara woman next to a Pashtun woman, I got so much hate from these photos. In the first look, you can’t get it, the true narration is deeper.

You are in exile, disconnected from your roots and identities, how do you create?

I started my photo project in 2015 in Teheran, unfortunately, it stayed unfinished after the fall of Kabul and I was forced to live in Afghanistan in an American military aircraft. It was a very sad journey because I couldn’t believe one day I would be forced to leave my country as my grandparents did. I’m continuing to work, I’ve got a scholarship from the French Ministry of Culture. In a war context, exile is an easy choice but it’s a very heavy burden to bear. 

In a war context, exile is an easy choice but it’s a very heavy burden to bear.

Pearl In The Oyster #28 © Fatimah Hossaini

I took five pictures of women in exile to complete my project. Women in exile have stories about beauty, resilience, hope, and femininity. I found a new way to tell my story and the one of others. You can even see that the color of my photos has changed, I couldn’t find the colors of Afghanistan.

I’m now struggling with this new way of life, even though I had many opportunities and met amazing people. Exil is sad. I was just crying in the streets the first months I got here. Now I want to change the narrative. At the end of the day, it’s still not home. 

At the end of the day, it’s still not home.

Are you always your model while in exile?

Yes, self-portraits. It is a big change for me. I did not make a lot of public self-portraits.

In my new series, I picture myself with Hazara gloves and a Hazara hat which was the only one I could take with me after the Kabul fall. I’m now my model. I find things here that take me back to Afghanistan, the small things. I find Afghanistan in my father’s music, his playlist. My last project is linked to a Hazara music played by my father. In my new series, I still can’t look at the camera.

I find things here that take me back to Afghanistan, the small things. I find Afghanistan in my father’s music, his playlist.

Next projects?

Now, I have zero connection with my main photo project, and that’s why I want to stop working with the Afghanistan concept. I will close it. I started new projects with central Asian women, in both Asia and MENA regions. It is still about telling the stories of heritage, roots, and connections. It will be a challenge. At the end of the day, it is the same as Afghan women but in another context. It is always women. 

Fatimah Hossaini is the winner of the Habib Sharifi Prize x Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 2023.

Coverphoto (Home) : Fatimah Hossaini
Photos: Fatimah Hossaini
Text: Raphaël Levy
Fatimah Hossaini’s website

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ESTELLE HANANIA, The ambiguity of beauty

ESTELLE HANANIA, The ambiguity of beauty

Estelle Hanania is constantly playing with an intriguing ambiguity in her photos mixing de raw with the soft, the magic with the realistic, the ordinary with the extravagant.

She has won the photo prize at the Hyères Festival in 2006 and since then her work can be seen in the most renowned fashion magazines and prestigious clients such as Hermès have collaborated with her giving her carte blanche.

Graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Paris you won the photo prize at the Hyères Festival in 2006. Why did you finally choose photography as your means of expression?

During my studies of Applied Arts and at the School of Fine Arts I always used a lot photography. But the real turning point was when I meet the french photographer Camille Vivier. She’s a fantastic person and her fashion photography has something free and independent. Her work encouraged me to become a photographer without renouncing my artistic freedom and requirement.

I’m someone rather instinctive, my photos are some kind of visions of different shapes composed within a certain frame. I love the flatness of the light that was used in old Eastern European movies.
There is also the psychological dimension in my work. Who is the person that I’m shooting? What in particular do I want to reveal in my picture?

In your book “Glacial Jubilé” you’ve gathered 6 years of work focusing on Eastern European pagan cultures and winter rituals. What is so fascinating and interesting for you in those ancestral rituals?

I’m a huge fan of Folk Art, art made by self-taught artists or even untrained people. There is something very spontaneous in these kind of creations, something utilitarian, decorative, naive.
10 years ago I saw the exhibition ” L’Esprit de la Forêt” an there was this image of a mask in the catalogue that in particular intrigued me. I’ve made some research and I finally managed to find the tiny village in Switzerland where it came from. I decided to go there and take photos during their winter solstice celebration. Since then I haven’t stopped taking photos of these kind of winter rituals in Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland, Basque Country.

“What is fascinating to me in this subject is that during this winter celebration ordinary people become performers, become somebody else, get out of themselves in order to come back calmer and purified.
It’s a kind of exorcism.”

However my photos are less precise than an anthropological research. I like to keep a certain kind of mystery.

Masks, costumes, drawings on bodies, painted faces are themes that are constantly returning in your work. In your book “Happy Purim” you’ve shot children dressed up in costumes celebrating this Jewish holiday.
Why this obsession for disguising, masking?

I’ve shot the “Happy Purim” series in Stamford Hill, an orthodox Jewish headquarter in the North of London. I’ve been there several times to take photos of those kids celebrating “Purim” and dressing up in the weirdest costumes.

These photos combine not only my fascination for masking, disguising yourself, to get out of yourself, but also the “siblings” theme, my other subject that I’m fascinated about.
I have a twin sister, so there is also a very personal approach and background behind my fascination for sisters and brothers who look the same and dress the same. This kind of resemblance can be perceived as something creepy or as something funny, depending on the each person’s personal perception.

Besides your anthropological approach in your photography, you’re working also on fashion shoots for magazines such as M magazine, Another Magazine, Wallstreet Journal, Pop, Dazed and Confused or clients such as Martin Margiela, Miyake or Hermès. Does fashion inspire you?

With my sister Marion, we were always interested in fashion. We bought all the fashion magazines and knew everything about every designer and fashion photographer.
Our mother was drawing and painting a lot, and transmitted us this passion for art and being creative. My grand-mother was sewing a lot and passed us on her love for doing manual work.

“To me fashion is something very inspiring, clothes and accessories are like objects. It allows you to create characters, tell a story.”

I’m also interested in the human body and the way it can be presented. So fashion photography is a great opportunity to express all this.

Do you prefer to work alone or do you like to collaborate with other artists and blend different means of artistic expressions? A good example for pushing the boundaries was your collaboration with the French artist Christophe Brunnquell.

I love to work with Christophe. We’ve met in Berlin and have organized a working session together for the magazine “Sang Bleu” casting several dancers. During 8 or 9 hours we were improvising and creating.

“Collaborating with Christophe Brunnquell is extraordinary, almost like a performance.”

It’s a fusion of his work and my work, leaving behind all the constraints of our usual creative process and creating something new together, without knowing which result we’ll achieve. He is constantly pushing the limits, breaking boundaries, I’m more attentive, focused on the model that I’m shooting.

But there are also other artiste that I admire and that I’d Iike to collaborate with such as the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, the artist Corentin Grossmann or the florist Thierry Boutemy.

You’re constantly playing with a certain kind of ambiguity in your photos which creates a very strong and intriguing ambiance and can sometimes be also even quite disturbing. Is this the feeling that you’re trying to evoke with your work?

I aways hated being categorized, the blond, sweet, gentle girl. We all have also our dark side. Even though we represent a certain image on the outside, there is so much more behind.

“In my photos of the winter solstice rituals I show this dark side that in the end leads to purification, to cleansing your spirit.”

Are there any films from your childhood that have influenced your artistic vision?

There are many, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Sound Of Music”, “The Never-ending Story”.

In “The Sound Of Music” I like the story around the siblings that dress the same.

In “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Never-ending Story” both stories start in an ordinary world and suddenly at one point switch into a strange and fantastical world.

That’s what I also try to obtain in my photos. So these films have definitely influenced my work.

What comes to your mind when you think about Iran?

I think of my friend Payam and his art collective “Slavs and Tatars”. He introduced me to Iranian culture.

All photos by Estelle Hanania
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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LINDA BROWNLEE, Unfolding the hidden beauty of the raw

LINDA BROWNLEE, Unfolding the hidden beauty of the raw

Linda Brownlee is an award winning photographer and filmmaker renowned for her documentary approach. She works with the most prestigious newspapers and magazines, has published several books and her photographs have been exhibited at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Intrigued by the romance of the raw, Linda Brownlee finds  inspiration in the unexpected beauty of details that are often overlooked. Unfolding moments of intimacy with a spontaneous sincerity her images are delicate, lose and airy with an elegant glow.

Anahita’s Eye presents her long-term project “i Zii”, a tender portrayal of a family in the Sicilian village of Gangi.

You’ve studied art and design after graduating from a communication degree at Dublin City University. What made you decide to become a photographer?

Photography was one of the modules in the art & design course, and I fell for for it that year, photographing anything and everything.

I loved it! I didn’t know any Irish photographers at that time and didn’t know how to begin to make a career out of it. It was simply a passion I decided to follow and see where it went.

I was very non committal about the whole thing, it just felt like a hobby. I was probably three or four years into things before I acknowledged to myself that I was actually pretty serious about it as a career.

And if not photographer, what would you have been? 

An equine vet, an actress, a sculptor, a lawyer… I wanted to do and be everything.

In your photos you focus on the real and intimate nature of people and their relationship to the environment they inhabit.
What is really important for you when you shoot a portrait ?

For me, it’s about capturing an energy and a mood, something that reflects the exchange, however fleeting that is.

So to capture this energy, how much do you direct your subjects? Or do you prefer to stay quite spontaneous?

My focus is always on creating a super relaxed atmosphere, working out the chemistry and finding some chat.

I try to keep direction to a minimum, preferring things to naturally unfold. I seem to get something a little more interesting, perhaps more intimate that way.

You’ve showed these moments of intimacy in several documentaries for Nowness: The series « Limber Notes », featuring performers of all ages and backgrounds with one thing in common, their love for dance. Or « In the Arena »  about the famous British model Edie Campbell revealing her passion for horse riding. 

Would you like to direct more documentaries?

Yes, I’d love to do more directing. I find it really exciting and satisfying.

I love the challenge of working with all the elements.  I studied radio with my communications degree and appreciate the awesome power of sound. Being interested in people’s characters, stories and creating a mood, it makes for a fairly natural transition.

I think there’s a big documentary film in me somewhere, I just need to find the time.

Any person or subject in particular that you dream of treating in this big future documentary portraiture project?

Not right now, but when I discover who it is, I’m sure I’ll find the time to do it.

As an award winning photographer renowned for your documentary approach, you also work for fashion.

What is so interesting for you in fashion photography?

I love working with beautiful clothes, collaborating with stylists, and I’m interested in casting. Its feels like a really nice place to play, experiment and push myself in different ways.

And whose style do you admire?

I don’t know if I would use admire, but I really enjoy Yayoi Kusama’s style.

Any photo in particular that inspires your artistic vision?

Definitely not.

I think my artistic vision is inspired by a mish mash of all sorts, films, paintings, the work of various photographers… And big long walks when I run out of ideas.

A part from being a photographer and director you’re also a mother of two small kids. Did motherhood change your creativity?

It has certainly made me more focused in what I give my creative energy to.
Being a mother halves your time, so you cut out doing the stuff that you actually probably should have said no to anyway. It gives you a certain clarity I guess.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

Hashem Shakeri’s photo series on climate change and its consequences in Iran.

All photos: Linda Brownlee
From her self-published book “I Zii”, EightyOne Books, 2016
Text: Anahita Vessier

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CAMILLE VIVIER, Surrealism and erotic tension

CAMILLE VIVIER, Surrealism and erotic tension

Camille Vivier’s photos carry you away to a world of romantic surrealism, a melancholic reverie mysteriously and softly blurred. Her free-spirit and sensuality in her artistic univers are intriguing and seductive.

Her photos can be seen in the most prestigious fashion magazines and galleries. She’s also working on music projects, shooting recently the portrait of Dita van Teese and Sebastian Tellier for the cover of their album.

The female body, its sensuality, its eroticism, its diversity are very important issues in your work. What is for you the definition of beauty?

I’m very sensitive to the poetry of beauty. The body is a very classical subject. In my work I question the definition of the word « beauty », of how it is perceived by history of art and also by society.

“In my photos there is of course an aesthetic research but I want that my vision of what is beautiful is above all a subjectif and open suggestion without imposing a definition of beauty.”

This vision can even appear awkward or bizarre. But I really like to go sometimes towards something more odd that might even create some discomfort.

I’m a woman who takes photos of women, expressing eroticism in a total different way than a man would do. I show it in a more abstract way.

Do you like to control and direct a photo shooting or do you prefer to go with the flow and give chance to « accidents » ?

I’m not directive, I let things happen in a climate of confidence.

“In moments of uncertainty and non-control, a lot of interesting accidents can happen.”

However before starting a shooting I already think of the picture and I prepare the references especially for the light which is very important element in my photos.

In your work you play a lot with contrasts, juxtaposing the rough with the smooth, the animated with the inanimate. What is so fascinating for you in the association of two things totally different from each other?

The disturbing bizarreness of the inanimate has always fascinated me.

I love playing with contrasts, bringing together shapes and worlds that are totally different from each other in order to stimulate and create a dialogue between these two objects, like for example a woman’s naked body lying on a sculpture made out of concrete.

This work consists of building a vocabulary between two elements that then communicate with each other.

Beside your personal projects you collaborate regularly with internationally renowned fashion magazines and brands such as Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, Martin Margiela. Hermès has given you carte blanche for a short movie.

Is there a photographer who you admire and his artistic approach of photographing fashion?

I still remember, it was in the 90s, I was working as an editorial assistant for Purple Magazine when this book of Wolfgang Tillmans came out.

“Tillmans’s vision totally blew me away! I discovered in his photos a complete freedom, an artistic expression that opened my mind, that encouraged me to take pictures, that helped me to overcome my difficult relationship with fashion and the way it was usually presented at that time. His way of showing fashion was more accessible, more spontaneous, free, less glamorous and sleek.”

I love Man Ray’s work too. He was working for fashion but was also working a lot on personal projects involving his recurring codes and themes.

He had taste for objects and for the association of different elements.

My relationship with fashion was not always very simple, but after all these years I have gained confidence as an artist that allowed me to finally impose my vision of fashion, a point of view that is influenced by my personal work. I don’t feel obliged anymore to photographe fashion in a certain way.

In your photos you can feel a kind of romanticism, a softly blurred reverie. Is there a particular source of inspiration?

“I love scenes where you’re carried towards something completely phantasmagoric, scenes that seem distant with this certain dramatic quality even though you can still perceive some fine traces of reality.”

I’m very inspired by classical art. I love the Dutch painters and the way they expressed light and shadow.

I also love to read and dive into an imaginary landscape.
I had a period where I was reading a lot of novels of the french writer André Pierre de Mandiargues. In his books there is this erotic tension set in a surreal universe.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

The contrast between the past and the present.

All photos by Camille Vivier
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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MASOUD GHARAEI, Black and white street poetry

MASOUD GHARAEI, Black and white street poetry

Masoud Gharaei is a young Iranian photographer from Tehran whose main inspiration is everyday life, observing people and their manners in an urban environment. His work is a kind of a modern visual poetry of life in Iran. He loves to walk through the streets to capture with his camera his view of the city and its people.

“Sometimes I show people who I don’t know the photo that I’ve taken of them. They’re very surprised and their enthusiasm encourages me to continue.”

Masoud Gharaei was born in 1988 in Behshar, in the north of Iran, and has received a master’s degree in Industrial Management at the Azadi University of Tehran.

All photos by Masoud Gharaei
Text: Anahita Vessier

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NOAVI, The ultimate Kunst of Wanderlust

NOAVI, The ultimate Kunst of Wander Lust

My first encounter with Noavi was through her photos and I was immediately seduced by her vision, the sincerity and spontaneity in her work. Being born and raised in LA, with Yemeni Polish roots she’s a beautiful mix of both cultures with an incredible energy and boundless curiosity.

Being fascinated by Bedouin culture she travels from Abu Dhabi to the Arctic to study the Sami culture, from the breathtaking heights of Yemen to Luxour and down the Nile to the Nubian area always with her camera and her Moleskine notebook in her bag, constantly capturing her unique wondrous travel experiences all over the world.

You travel a lot to Middle Eastern countries, how did you manage to take photos as a woman in those mainly Islamic, male dominated countries?

In general it’s harder as a woman or a man to take photos of women in Islamic countries because they are very closed off to being open to the camera. Taking photos of men is much easier. It’s such a conservative culture, it takes so much more work to create a comfortable space to take pictures of women in Arab countries.

How do you make people who you don’t know feel comfortable in front of the camera?

Non-verbal communication is the most important thing.

“There’s so much that can be communicated without words, with your eyes, with a smile.”

It’s the most valuable tool to gage the sense of comfort of people that you’re working with. That’s why I often take photos of old people or children who are the most keen on non-verbal communication. Children because it’s so recent that they’ve acquired language, and old people because they’re old enough that you don’t always need words to communicate.

Being raised in a multicultural background, is it an inspiration in your work?

I feel it’s such a privilege and richness to grow in such a multicultural environment that it’s even more of an obligation.

From the beginning my parents gave me the desire to travel and to discover other countries and cultures. They were always backpacking, never travelling the fancy hotel kind of way. Me and my sister, we were always the babies in the backpack.

Is there an artists who inspires you?

I am very inspired by literature. There is something very imaginative where you can break the bounds of reality.
There is the author Lawrence Durrell who has lived in Alexandria. He was British and wrote the series of books called The Alexandria Quartet. The first novel of the four is called Justine and for me it’s the most beautiful piece of writing. I’ve never read a book so many times. It’s the book that I’ve used to travel with all the time.

Do you have objects that you always take with you on your travels?

I always have Moleskine notebooks with me. I’m on my 28th now. I’m constantly writing, sticking things into my notebooks like tickets, flowers, a paper cut out of newspaper, etc. It helps with moments in time. You can remember a day but you can easily forget intricate details which made the day so special and unique.

What do you think of when you hear about Iran?

From a language perspective I find Farsi the most poetic language. In general I associate poetry with Iran…And another place I want to go.

All photos by Noavi
Text: Anahita Vessier

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ROXANA FAZELI, Portray of Iran

ROXANA FAZELI, Portray of Iran

Roxana Fazeli is a talented Iranian photographer who lives in Tehran. She observes in her pictures the multi-facets of culture and society in Iran. Here a selection of photos that she has taken on several journeys travelling with Iranian tribes (Qashquaïs, Turkmans, Kurds) who have preserved their traditions and old way of living.

After a Bachelor degree in photography at Azad University of Tehran, Roxana has been working since then as a freelance documentary photographer. She’s working for Iranian and foreign newspapers and magazines.

Throughout her travel with the tribes Roxana met simple but generous people, farmers, shepherds who welcomed her in their house.

Iranians no matter which level of society they belong to are known for their excellence of hospitality.

All photos by Roxana Fazeli
Text: Anahita Vessier

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