Paolo Woods arrived in Tehran in 1999 with a bag full of black-and-white film. Like many photojournalists before him, he headed to the former American embassy, where the hostage crisis had begun 20 years earlier; a landmark of Iran’s tumultuous political past.
He was struck by the contradiction of what the building represented and what was actually occurring around him. Children passed with balloons. Women chatted loudly in groups. Taxis zipped past, emblazoned in vivid colors. The vibrancy of the city belied the historical heaviness of the symbolic building before him.
“I knew I was on the wrong path photographically,” Mr. Woods recalled. “I had first started photographing by what I had seen in other photographs of the country and what my colleagues were shooting. I recognized there was a way of dramatizing with black-and-white film, which I was not comfortable with anymore. I realized quickly that there was much more to Iran than just political turmoil and religious fundamentalism.”
On a hill overlooking Tehran, where families and friends gather weekly to enjoy the sprawling view of the city, Mr. Woods was at a picnic. A man walked over with a video camera and asked if he could talk into the camera and testify to what happening around him. Baffled by the question, Mr. Woods asked if this was for a news broadcast or a documentary.
“This is for my American wife,” the man replied. “She does not believe we do everyday-to-day things like this in Iran.” He explained that his wife had refused to visit Iran over the 10 years of their marriage because she equated the city with political violence and suppression. The moment underlined the importance of Mr. Woods’s goal: to overcome the stereotyped imagery of Iran.