In his series, Paradise City, Belgian photographer Sébastien Cuvelier shares his journey to Iran, inspired by a manuscript written on his late uncle's trip to Persepolis almost fifty years ago.
The Iran depicted in his uncle's writings and photographs – which later surfaced in a briefcase – was far removed from what Cuvelier found. The revolution of 1979 irrevocably transformed the country into a state in which citizens' lives became restricted. The country's young and connected population has had to constantly adjust its way of living to circumvent the limitations imposed by the government. As a result, the youth yearn to leave – they seek "paradise" but are unsure where to look.
Cuvelier attempts to reflect this pursuit of paradise in his photographs – metaphorical, fleeting and elusive – each image appears like a piece of an intangible jigsaw puzzle combining what once was or could be, with the present. The images depict views, gardens, people or buildings, often physically hidden or veiled by material, foliage, darkness, vantage point or shadow. They show glimpses of contemporary Iran through the eyes of Cuvelier and the people he met – at times romanticised, nostalgic or even utopian.
Now available in a new photo book, published by GOST, Cuvelier says of the series: "The sheer concept of paradise is inherently Iranian. The word paradise comes from old Persian Parida Ida – meaning walled garden. It is therefore only natural that this word resonates in all corners of a country where history is full of nostalgia, people are deeply romantic, and flowers are everywhere.
"Contemporary Iranian youth have also developed their own notions of paradise, and for most, it is anchored in Persia. Its existence is linked to hope, the quest for change, the desire for a new beginning. These feelings bring with them an ever-present hint of nostalgia, seen in family tales, photo albums or through the fading memory of distant cousins who emigrated to find their own paradise city."