Journalist and photographer Iason Athanasiadis has set out to alter how Westerners perceive Iran with his photo exhibition “Exploring the Other: Contemporary Iran” at L.A.’s Craft and Folk Art Museum, today through March 29.

“I wanted to use this opportunity to show how varied Iran is -- what it’s really like,” said Athanasiadis. “A lot of people don’t know that Iran is the birthplace of the most lenient form of Islam.”

Now based in Tehran, Athanasiadis was born and raised in Athens. The Oxford graduate and Harvard Nieman Fellow has spent the last 10 years covering the Mideast as an independent journalist.


When he enrolled in Tehran’s School of International Studies, Iran’s only graduate program open to foreign nationals, he was shocked when he found the country to be radically different from what he had imagined.

The nearly 60 photos on display capture rituals and customs as well as everyday life. One photo shows multicolored rowboats lined on the shore of Lake Zarivar in western Iran’s Kurdistan Province. What the viewer doesn’t see is that Athanasiadis had just finished a tour of villages hit by poison gas two decades earlier by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. The journalist had been talking with people still struggling with the gas’ effects when he came upon the lake, with its kitschy plastic swan boats. “It was strange to see all this beauty,” he said.

Nearly 70% of Iran’s population is under 30, and the majority of subjects in his photos are in the third generation of the Islamic revolution, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.

One photo shows two youths wearing an Iranian flag and a Metallica T-shirt at a Reformist rally during the country’s 2005 election. “It shows that they can be both a heavy-metal fan and fervent Iranian nationalist,” said Athanasiadis.

-- Liesl Bradner