grown up in an Iran where a woman is banned from singing alone on a
stage for a general audience. She has seen her country grow more
repressive throughout her lifetime; the morality police moving to
control more of women’s lives (womencannot go skiingwithout a male guardian as of last year orstudy English literatureor business as of last month). Ironically all this has occurred at the same time that women attend universities atunprecedented rates,outnumbering men at institutions of higher learning in Iran.
From this emerges, “Listen.” Before one even knows the back-story, the
emotion on these women’s faces is captivating. They seem to be trying to
communicate something; eyelids pressed together, mouths open in silent
Tavakolian’s subjects are all professional singers whose lives are
limited by Islamic tenet. Some sing only background vocals, another has
performed outside of Iran, and two others sing at women’s parties to
earn income. It took almost a year to convince them to be photographed,
so fearful were they about getting in trouble, Tavakolian explained over
email. She chose the sparkly backdrop to make it look as though each
woman was performing on an old Iranian television show before the
revolution, when such things were possible. Their mouths are open,
mid-song. But we cannot hear them.
Tavakolian, who has been working a as a photographer since age 16, is part ofRawiya, a collective of female photographers from the Middle East.