When the book "Iranian Living Room" was self-published last month by Fabrica, the think tank and communication research center run by fashion company Benetton, the company was bracing for lots of media interest. After all, Iran is always in the headlines. But most of the publicity came from an unexpected direction: After the book was printed in a limited edition of 500 copies, and after the price was set at 30 euros and a dedicated Internet site was established to sell the book, Fabrica's management discovered that PayPal had blocked the possibility of purchasing the book. The reason, as strange as it may sound, was that the title of the book includes the term "Iran." This automatically put the book on the blacklist of the online money transfer giant.
In an interview published in the New York Times a few days later, Dan Hill, the CEO of Fabrica, said it took an entire day to receive an explanation from PayPal as to why the transactions had been blocked. The problem was solved after several days, enabling consumers to buy the book online.
"We are glad that, thanks to this book, the word 'Iranian' is not in the Paypal blacklist anymore!" Enrico Bossan, the head of photography at Fabrica and the editorial director of Colors magazine told Haaretz.
How did this project start? Who came up with the idea?
"The idea of a book about Iran came to my mind more than 20 years ago," Bossan, who oversaw the production of “Iranian Living Room,” told Haaretz in an email interview. "It was 1989 and I went to Iran after a journey through China and Pakistan. There was a palpable tension in those years and you sensed, without really understanding why, that something was preventing the normal passing of time. I felt the urgency to get in touch with the local people, get to know more about how they lived. But I had only two weeks to spend in Iran and I was travelling from one town to another. So I had no chance to develop this idea. But I kept it in the back of my mind and now, 24 years later, thanks to Fabrica, I could finally bring it to life."
The work on the book started toward the end of 2012. Fifteen young Iranian photographers documented the "Iranian Living Room," which lies outside the reach of most of the international press. The photography took until February this year and then the process of editing the images of Iranians in their living rooms started. The book was ready in June, and was made available for purchase from Fabrica's online store last month.
What can we learn from the book? How different is the daily lifestyle of the Iranian compared to that of someone in the Western world?
"The purpose of this book is to help to better know a fascinating country such as Iran, with its heritage of history and tradition. We used photography in a quiet, humble way, getting people to depict daily life in Tehran and other cities. It shows that, behind closed doors, people in Iran also fall asleep in front of the TV, eat, have fun, celebrate ceremonies, simply live. Their daily life is not so different from the Western world one. "
In these “living rooms,” both literal and metaphorical, we are privileged to discover multiple interpretations of Iranian reality: cultural differences and similarities, solitude and conviviality, relaxation and excitement, dressing up for an interior life versus dressing up for the street, the rhythms of religious ceremony and the patterns of everyday life.
What interested Fabrica in this book? Why did you self-publish?
"The book comes from a tradition of social journalism that we’ve been doing at Fabrica – especially with COLORS magazine - for almost 20 years, and especially from our interest in cultural diversity. Moreover Fabrica was born to foster young creativity. We think young artists/researchers have an innovative, fresh and genuine approach to the world around them and we want to enhance it, wherever they are.
We found that the mechanics of getting things into bookstores is very difficult, so we took the opportunity to have our own press. We designed and produced the book ourselves and opened an online shop: http://store.fabrica.it/
How did you find the people who are featured in the book? What were you looking for? What was their reaction before and after? Who took the photos?
"Surfing on the Internet, my attention was caught by the photos of a young Iranian photographer. I contacted him and he helped us get in contact with some interesting, very young photographers (all around 25). I selected 20 out of around 50 and delivered a three-day workshop for them in Tehran. After that, I made the final selection and 15 photographers were invited to be part of the project.
"I gave them a very wide and free brief: Portray situations that you usually don’t see in public and, through storytelling, help change the stories we tell about Iran."
Anything else important you want to add?
"I would like to add some information about Fabrica, hoping young people from Israel will send us their application for the one year scholarship we offer:
Fabrica is a hybrid space, comprising applied research, learning, and project/product work. We aim to create the next generation of creative leaders, capable of positively addressing complex but fundamental societal issues such as climate change, urbanization, migration and cultural diversity, demographic explosions, among others, as well as extending design and communications practice. The range of disciplines is very diverse, such as design, communication, photography, code, video, music, journalism and media, and so on. There are no annual courses, schedules or programs, no formal tuition or semesters; instead learning is through real projects for real clients. Researchers are invited here [to Italy] directly for a residency period of 12 months and they work under the guidance and mentorship of internationally renowned professionals."
For more information, see http://fabrica.it/apply.html