Scenes Inside an Iran in Transition

Photographs by Vivienne Walt for Fortune

A reporting trip reveals images of lingering anti-Americanism—and a desire for Western lifestyles.

When I landed in Tehran recently, on my third visit to the country (to report “Iran’s Startup Spring”) it was clear that Iran was in great flux. That’s especially true for young Iranians, who make up two-thirds of the country, and who sense the possibility of huge changes ahead, now that Iran has signed a nuclear deal and that most Western sanctions have ended. Traveling around the pulsating city of eight million people, I caught glimpses of the old religious strictures, and the traditional anti-U.S. slogans, colliding head-on with daring personal expression that told quite a different story. Couples flirt in cafés, performance artists stage underground shows, and women drive with their mandatory headscarves tossed around their shoulders—while many other Iranians still adhere devoutly to the teachings of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

 

A revolutionary mural in Tehran shows bombs and skulls on the US flag, with the words, "We will not compromise with America, even for one second." The decades-old mural has remained, despite Iran's nuclear deal with the West.

A revolutionary mural in Tehran shows bombs and skulls on the U.S. flag, with the words, “We will not compromise with America, even for one second.” The decades-old mural has remained despite Iran’s nuclear deal with the West.

A mural in downtown Tehran shows President Obama with the 7th-century villain Shemr, who killed the Shiite Muslims' leader Hussein. The cryptic artwork suggests Obama cannot be trusted.

A mural in downtown Tehran shows President Obama with the 7th-Century villain Shemr, who killed the Shiite Muslims’ leader Hussein. The artwork suggests Obama cannot be trusted.

A giant billboard erected this Spring in downtown Tehran captures the extraordinary moment in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini arrived home from exile to lead the Islamic Revolution.

The Statue of Liberty as a skeleton, painted on the wall outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The embassy has been shut since 1979, when students took American diplomats hostage for 444 days.

The women's-only section on a Tehran bus. Since Iran's strict Islamic laws limit casual contact between the sexes, men and women ride separately.

The women’s-only section on a Tehran bus. Since Iran’s strict Islamic laws limit casual contact between the sexes, men and women ride separately.

A poster near President Rouhani's office honors a young Revolutionary Guardsman killed recently in the Syrian conflict.

A poster near President Hassan Rouhani’s office honors a young Revolutionary Guardsman killed recently in the Syrian conflict.

Signs of opulence in the Modern Elahieh commercial complex, which opened in 2011in an affluent North Tehran neighborhood.

Signs of opulence in the Modern Elahieh commercial complex, which opened in 2011 in an affluent North Tehran neighborhood.

Sign In

Get

Thank you for your interest in licensing Fortune content. Please find information on various licensing contacts below and choose the one that best suits your needs:

  • 1. To license Fortune articles, excerpts, or headlines for republication in various media (including books, eBooks, film, web, newsletters, newspapers, magazines and others), please email syndication@timeinc.com.
  • 2. To license a Fortune cover, order reprint or e-print copies of an article or cover, or license an accolade, please contact PARS International at www.timeincreprints.com.
  • 3. To license text only photocopies of Fortunearticles as print or digital handouts in academic settings, or in academic coursepacks, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center at www.copyright.com