10 Moving Portraits Of Dads & Daughters That Show Real Family Life In Iran

Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
Nafise Motlaq was living in Malaysia when she got the news that her father was ill.

“I heard from my family that my father is not in a good health situation,” she said via Skype. “I couldn’t be there in time. Unfortunately, he [fell into] a coma.” He recovered, but Motlaq said that she noticed a change in him. “His relationship towards his family was more tight,” she recalled. “I never had a problem with my father, but I never used to receive regular calls directly from Iran, from his phone, to ask me what I’m doing now, or what I had eaten for lunch or dinner,” she said.

“It was very touching for me, after over 30 years.”

While in Iran during her father's recovery, she started taking photos of her family at gatherings. She noticed that she kept capturing moments between fathers and daughters. “And then suddenly this idea came to my mind.”

She realized that no one had really explored the relationships between fathers and daughters. “They usually focus on mothers. Or even fathers and sons. Or mothers and daughters. But people were very interested,” Motlaq said. She wanted to show the diversity of families and relationships in her home country.

She said that even in her own extended family, experiences varied. “Some of them are very religious, some of them are not religious at all,” she said. “Some [have a] very modern lifestyle, some of them are very traditional. Some are very mixed,” she added, giving the example of a daughter who chose to cover her hair, while her mother did not.
Motlaq said that daily life in Iran was often overlooked in favor of political agendas. “The real picture of Iran is still not covered because of the political situation inside Iran and outside Iran,” she said. “Even talking about daily life is with a political lens.” When she moved abroad, people asked her what she calls “weird” questions about life in Iran — whether people go to university, or if women can drive. She decided she wanted to show the Iran that she knew, highlighting the father-daughter relationships that she rarely saw portrayed.
She began by photographing her own family, and then the project expanded. Some subjects she encountered at random, like the farmer and his daughter she saw while driving through the countryside; others, she actively sought out, like the twins she knew through her brother. She said people liked to be asked to represent their families and communities.

The most difficult ones to connect with, she said, were the religious men. “They're never approached by [nonreligious] people like me. They're only approached by very religious people or very political people.” She approached several clerics at a local shrine before she found someone who was willing to be photographed.
Ahead, 10 portraits of family in Iran.

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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
Motlaq asked each of her subjects to tell her something about their fathers. The answers sometimes surprised her.

Motlaq recalled Fatemeh saying to her, “I don’t know why people think that I don’t have freedom because my father is very religious. I have freedom." Motlaq said she responded, "What kind of freedom do you have?" And Fatemeh told her, "I visited a book fair with my friends. He let me go to an international book fair in Tehran with my friends when I was 15."

"She was very happy that she has a very open-minded father who let her go to the book fair alone with her friends," Motlaq said.

Fatemeh and her father, a cleric.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
“I divided it into three sections,” Motlaq said of the project. “One was religious background, one is cultural and lifestyle, and another one is the relationship. How tight and close, or not close, is the relationship. And in between, I opened myself to whatever I could get.”

Fatemeh and her father, a clerk.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
“I wanted to have this intimacy between the viewers of my work and the photograph, and the people inside,” Motlaq said.

“You are in Iran, and see them in their house,” she explains. “I do believe [in] the similarities, and highlighting the similarities [brings] people close together. What is happening in the world is we are highlighting the differences.”

Arezoo and her father, a carpet salesman.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
Motlaq made a point to not ask for family names or the names of the fathers. “I found it great for trust-building [to not ask names]. When you don’t ask them personal questions, they are fine. It’s easy,” she said.

Zahra, and her father, who is unemployed.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
One of the women in this photo — Motlaq won't say which one — is the ex-girlfriend of a cousin.

“Maybe it's better not to mention this,” Motlaq said, laughing. She thought the photos her cousin posted to Instagram of his then-girlfriend were beautiful, and so she asked to photograph her. From their lifestyle and appearance, Motlaq said, she expected a “very modern house.”

“But the first thing I saw were big verses of Quran at the beginning of the house,” she said. “Okay. That is very contrast[ing]. I took some pictures, but I didn’t dare to publish it. I thought maybe it would be offensive or something.

“In their heart, they were [such] religious people, or spiritual. But their lifestyle was quite far from typical believers.”

Shima and Lina and their father, a civil projects manager.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
While driving through the countryside, Motlaq met a father-daughter pair who insisted she come back with them to their house as a guest.

“This is what I miss about Iran a lot,” she said. “Going to small cities and seeing the pure hospitality and the real, real genuine people. I know that whatever they have, they may offer.”

Zahra and her father, a shepherd and hunter.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
The fathers and daughters project has touched people in a way that Motlaq never expected.

“Some [people] even send me their photographs with their father. I didn’t ask anybody to do that,” she said. “Some of them send me their picture with their daughters, [to ask] if I can include it. They wanted to be part of it. In all the photographic projects I’ve done, I never received such intimate feedback.”

Tooran and her father, a caterer.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
The photographs have gotten varied feedback. Some people feel that their photos represent them, but others don’t like the way she portrays Iranians. “They said no, this is not Iran,” Motlaq said.

Negin and her father, a retired taxidermist.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
Motlaq said that what people take away from her series depends more on what they bring with them when they view it: “People try to pick up what they want, and highlight their own agenda.”

Golshid and her stepfather, a factory manager.
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Photographed by Nafise Motlaq.
“Beyond all the stereotypes, we have lots of things in common.” Specifically, the similarities between families around the world, Motlaq said. She intentionally shoots her photos straight ahead, at a natural eye level, to emphasize the emotional connection.

“It’s like human eye to human eye,” she said.

Negin and her father, an architect and university lecturer.