Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has developed its own image culture, with public space serving primarily as a transit zone and a screen where state-sanctioned religious ideology is projected. Pride of place is given to memorials to the first Gulf war (the Iran-Iraq War of 1980–88), which is part of the founding myth of the Islamic Republic. Between 2011 and 2014 Oliver Hartung produced a work on Iran, typological series of images depicting monuments, murals, architecture, and war cemeteries. In it he creates a portrait of an exceptionally photogenic country that is nevertheless largely unknown in the West: in Damghan a colossal ear of wheat acts as a street lamp and in Isfahan a hand grenade with an Internet symbol suggests the potential risks inherent in the world wide web. The names of the places where the photos were taken are provided in English.
Between 2007 and 2009 Oliver Hartung travelled in the Middle East, photographing signs and monuments in Syria that had been put up in honour of the Assad regime, in power since 1971. His book Syria Al-Assad is a loose typology of these once-omnipresent objects of regime propaganda, both loved and hated by the population, that dominated Syria’s visual culture. These signs, most of which Oliver Hartung photographed from moving vehicles, were located in what are now combat zones, meaning that they probably no longer exist. In his book all the photos appear on tear-off pages, which can be removed like a leaf from a calendar. The Arabic writing on the signs has been translated into English. The series Syria Al-Assad was first presented in 2012 on the New York Times Lens Blog.