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 realised 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 favour 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.