Return to 'press' menu


Published July 31, 2008
byline: Molly Murfee
Crested Butte Weekly


If I die in this war, this combat with you,
I won’t so much as sigh, for fear of troubling you.
I’ll die with a smile, like a flower in your hand
From the cruel charm with which you cut this wound. – Rumi

Her eyes are the most captivating, the most penetrating. Green, like deep pools of clear forest water, shored by dark, arching eyebrows. She smiles from beneath the scarf that covers her head and you are pulled by her beauty, her skin a light coffee, laced with milk. Her lips the color of pomegranates. The woman is Iranian. A student at the university wandering in the ruins of Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. It one of the few places where men and women can meet together. She and her group of women friends are studying engineering, computer science, Islamic architecture. Upon parting she pleads, “I just started the university, and I want to finish. Please don’t bomb us.”

The plea struck photographer Tom Loughlin with head blowing force. Here, he ponders with wide-eyed amazement, was a woman with the freedom and interest to study physics, a parallel in the American value of education, but her main concern was if the U.S. was going to destroy her country.

The force of the Iranian conundrum struck Tom at an early age. In the fourth grade in the early 80s, his young mind became cognizant of the Iranian revolution and the taking of the U.S. embassy. He recognized the anger the American people felt towards Iran. At the same time, he wondered what would motivate Iranian university students to plan such an elaborate demonstration, when American students could barely gather the gumption to go to class.

“It was one of the first things that really sunk in,” he recalls, “This is real. This is important. This is happening.”

The quandary sent him head first into studying public policy and Middle Eastern history. Through his newfound knowledge, he gained understanding and compassion for what would motivate a group of students to act so dramatically. He deemed the anger his own countrymen felt towards these people a classic misunderstanding and declared to himself that he would find the humanity in the Iranian people, the commonality they held with Americans, the shared values. The fact that Iranians were people, had been lost in the political debate.

Tom’s steel blue eyes flash intensely as he speaks, his words flying passionately through a recount of the political history of Iran and his drive to bring humanity into the broader picture. He remembers his grandmother, a woman fighting for voting rights in New Orleans in the early 50s, for housing rights of the middle class black population, restricted by prejudice building covenants. For her efforts, she received death threats, to which she simply responded, “It was the right thing to do.” For Tom, his grandmother’s actions gave him the permission and inspiration to do the right thing and orient his life towards one of compassion.

In college he studied filmmaking, searching for the modality in which he could make the world a better place. Upon graduating, he decided to pursue law school, to attempt to make change from the inside. Positive change he made, but upon his ten year anniversary, he yearned to seek a more creative outlet for his mission.

He followed his grandmother’s heritage to New Orleans, photographing the still devastating effects of Katrina, a year after the event. His still shots bleed an eerie green light of an abandoned home in the pre-dawn, a swimming pool overtaken with algae, weeds sprouting in the cracks of the cement, a pile of trash by the cracked diving board. His show of the images raised several thousand dollars for a rebuilding fund. Walking anonymously through the streets of Crested Butte, he heard people talking about the show, its power and movement, and he realized his photography was a way to reach out to massive audiences. In October of 2006, he headed to Iran to find the humanity of his fourth grade dreams.

He returned with images of people. Young lovers leaning into each other in a secret moment. A man on his way home from work, stopping to pray in the local mosque, his shoes and plastic shopping bag laid to his side. A young girl, playfully peeking from behind her flowered scarf. The pristinely white beard of a soft-eyed man in a turban.

Tom has gone back twice to Iran since that initial visit, collecting more photographs, interviews, ambient sounds of street life – of a moped squealing by, children laughing in the park. From this, comes “pictures of you: Images of Iran,” a dynamic exhibit of Iran, an interactive 3-D still movie of photographs with sound and light.

The octagonal dome reaches 26 feet into the sky and is laid over with fabric printed with Tom’s photographs. Royal blues and rich yellows swirl in complex geometric designs, actual photographs of Persian architecture printed on the fabric. The octagonal shape in Iranian culture signifies welcoming and it is through this dome that interactors might enter the exhibit. Inside, you may meet the young woman with the green eyes, the man at the mosque, women on the kayaking team, a group of mothers and sons rocketing in the plunges of a roller coaster.

Your American shoulders brush those of the Iranians, the delicate and transient fibers of the fabric. You squeeze past your neighbor in the textile hallway, look into your lover’s eyes through those of a teenage boy and his mirrored lens sunglasses. Instead of observing the photographs on a wall, you walk among them as through a crowd, listening to the colloquial and spiritual meanderings of a people in a country far away. A Persian man with a Dixie Chicks t-shirt and the admiration of Americans’ freedom of speech. A 26 year-old gay man’s reverence for Samantha in Sex in the City and her freedom to express her opinions and desires. Seven hundred year old Iranian poems are interlaced throughout – their words as pertinent now as they were then.

For Tom, the point of the show is to have Americans respond, to have a reaction.
“Many Americans have strong feelings and intuitions about Iran,” he speculates, “and many of their ideas have developed in an environment tainted by ignorance and suspicion… I hope that the show will ultimately transcend the issue of Iranian/American relations. It will illustrate how Americans exercise their freedoms and privileges – including the privilege to remain uninformed about other nations and cultures without suffering any significant consequences. We’re all made of the same flesh,” he continues, “And that somehow got lost. I want this show to make that point viscerally through the humanity of Iranian citizens and the beauty of the Persian culture. The show is a mirror.”

It will be taken to the Democratic Convention, but not the Republican, who marginalized the show by only giving a permit for a space with no parking lot and cars whizzing by at 50 miles per hour, says Tom. But he wonders – what happens when you take it to unlikely places – a NASCAR race, an outdoor venue where people not normally exposed to art, are suddenly face to face with it. The audience, in short, is America, in what Tom hopes to be a 30-venue tour around the country.

“If you are a serious artist, you are aware of what’s happening in this world. It gives you an opportunity to examine what your role is on this planet, what your values are,” Tom says of the role of art in political change, “For instance, you can take a picture of a wildflower, but if you are not choosing to be active in Mt. Emmons you are making a political choice. Taking beautiful pictures, documenting landscapes has value. But as an artist you have the capacity to add even bigger issues that simply what that flower looks like.”

When Tom left his law firm, he realized that his pending future clients would be represented, and represented well by someone in his firm. There are other projects, he believes, that push themselves to happen, that need representation. While Tom’s mind is constantly teeming with ideas, it is almost as if the Iran project chose him.

“We are at a real risk that our government will do something horrible in Iran,” Tom pleas vehemently, “We need to make this project happen in an imperfect world. This project could stop if it doesn’t receive support and other people’s energy. This is a chance to do something.” Even without a major campaign to solicit support, Tom has already received donations from architectural prowess and construction savvy to financial contributions to add to his own personal commitment. Without further support, he notes, the project won’t go past Denver.

“As it turns out,” he says leaning forward, a fervor in his eyes, “This project had to be done by an American, and I happen to be the guy that has to do it.”

The Sons of Adam are the members of a whole
Each is created from a greater, single soul
Wherever Fate to one of them brings pain
No other can without distress remain.
You who for other’s torment do not care
Can not the name of “human” rightly bear. – Saadi

“pictures of you: Images from Iran” will be displayed next to the BMX park next to the bridge of the Rec Path during the Crested Butte Arts Festival (Teocalli Ave & 9th St.) Interactors will have the opportunity to be interviewed about their reactions to the show, or to leave comments at the show or through a website.

Molly Murfee is a full-time freelance and copy writer with articles featured in Powder Magazine, Telemark Skier, Backcountry Magazine, the Mountain Gazette, Cross Country Skier Magazine, Solar Today and Patagonia-Japan as well as being the regular feature and profile writer for the Crested Butte Weekly. Her passion lies in penning creative non-fiction and poetry, which focuses on wild places with their inherent metaphor and the extraordinary commonality of the human experience. Molly can be reached at


view article in its original context at (includes images)



Donate now! 'pictures of you: images from iran' is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of pictures of you may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.