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'Treasure trove of stories': Iranian photographer to showcase art in Hillsborough

Sia Yazdanfar, a native-Iranian photographer that is displaying an exhibit of his photographs at Thomas Stevens Gallery in Hillsborough, poses for a portrait on Sunday, March 26, 2023. The exhibit, named "Restless Anahita," features pictures of traditional Iranian clothing and Iranian women's daily lives that he captured during his most recent journey back to Iran.

Sia Yazdanfar, an Iranian freelance photographer, will be exhibiting a new collection of photographs from his most recent journey back to Iran at Thomas Stevens Gallery in Hillsborough.

The exhibit, named "Restless Anahita," will run from March 31 through April 23 and is centered around women from remote corners of the country. The photographs specifically feature traditional Iranian clothing and document the women's daily lives.

"Still I Rise" In a country where tradition, climate, & function dictate much of the clothing, female beauty oftentimes is expressed through garments, as faces & hair are usually covered up. Focusing on the unique & colorful traditional garb of Iranian women in different localities, the images in this exhibition weave a kaleidoscopic tale of fabrics & patterns, highlighting the timeless tapestry of regional & tribal dress in my motherland. Photo Courtesy of Sia Yazdanfar.

Yazdanfar said the focus of the exhibit is to honor the women of Iran and pay homage to the country's "mothers, sisters and daughters."

He said he has been traveling back to Iran every year since 2017 to visit his family and explore his craft.

While he was initially more focused on photographing buildings and the physical history of his country, Yazdanfar has become more comfortable interacting with people and telling their stories through photography.

“Putting the people in the context of the places is a lot more interesting in photographic storytelling,” Yazdanfar said. “Wherever I go, I try to seek out the people from that place.”

The entire collection of images ranges from the mountains in the northwest corner of Iran all the way to the Persian Gulf.

Yazdanfar said photographing women in the remote places he traveled to was only possible after getting to know them, asking permission and respecting their customs.

Photo Courtesy of Sia Yazdanfar.


A couple of images in the exhibition are from a village named Chenesht. For the past 500 years, colorful and sparkly handmade clothing has been a part of the everyday attire of women living in the village, according to Yazdanfar.

Despite the elaborate outfits he was able to see, Yazdanfar said he was not allowed to photograph any women unless their face was not visible.

Yazdanfar said his favorite place he visited was the island of Hormuz, which the locals call "Rainbow Island."

“Not only are the women covered in this colorful garb from head to toe, but the entire island is like that,” he said. “The soil is blue, green, purple, red and orange, and so it matches the people there.”

Thomas Stevens, the former mayor of Hillsborough, is the owner of the Thomas Stevens Gallery and a longtime friend of Yazdanfar.

Stevens said this will be the third time he has invited Yazdanfar to be a guest artist at his gallery. He said he is very excited for the exhibit and feels that "Restless Anahita" is a perfect fit for the gallery. 

“When we were talking about themes a year ago, he said one of the projects he was working on in Iran was photographing women in these wonderful, very colorful costumes and traditional garb,” Stevens said. “And I said that would just fit in with the gallery so well.”

Photo Courtesy of Sia Yazdanfar.

Yazdanfar’s most recent visit was funded in part by the 2022-2023 Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists Grant for Photography.

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According to Margaret DeMott, the director of artist services at the Durham Arts Council, the grant was given through the DAC to help Yazdanfar financially while traveling to Iran's remote villages.

DeMott said the grant is meant to propel artists' careers forward.

"It can be directly involved with making art, but there's also going to be part of that — the business of doing art — which really doesn't get supported," she said.

Stevens said artwork like Yazdanfar’s can help others learn about places of the world they are unfamiliar with and maybe even find commonalities between unfamiliar realities and their own.

Yazdanfar said he is grateful to be able to experience such a unique place and share it with others.

“Iran is a treasure trove of stories," he said. "A country that's got at least 6,000 years of history has so many untold stories. So, I'm fortunate enough that I have a glimpse into some of these, and I'm trying to tell their stories and share them with a larger audience through my lens.”

More of Yazdanfar's work, as well as other information, can be viewed on his website.


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