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This prominent day came unannounced to me and it was work as usual as far as I was concerned. The night before I joined my father in Tehran and the following morning we made our way through the city, heading to Karaj (the large neighboring city where we work). We didn't get too far into our journey before the people started moving faster than our car. In the warm sun we sat in traffic with me reading a book relaying the early days of Reza Pahlavi, the first of the Pahlavi dynasty who preceded the Islamic Republic. We were at a wedding in 1935 when my father's mobile rang with tragic news of a senior colleague. The days plans were to take new course, thus granting my wish to photograph where the crowds amassed.
I hopped out of the car that sat static on the motorway and joined the human traffic making their way to Azadi Square for the "Rahpeymayee" (demonstration). On the horizon I saw the Azadi tower, and switched to the right side of the long straight road, following the flow off people heading towards the banners and chants. A lot of traffic was moving both towards and away from the square so I quickened my pace to make sure I didn't miss any of the unknowned events ahead. I weaved in and out of the chudor and Basij bulk who held a creative array of banners whilst chanting with the customary slogans. "Death to America", "death to Israel", "death to Denmark" and then "death to England". I tripped in my step, I have not heard this variation since being here, even though history might make it the more appropriate choice. I then paused to estimate the crowd size, switched off my phone and increased the pace.
The exact crowd figures for this day are debatable as different sources said different figures for different reasons. Reports stated 100,000 both from inside and outside of Iran yet I heard "2,000,000 easily" from friends and family. I agreed with the letter, measuring this by my being among the crowd on the 15th February 2003, in London, regarding a preemptive attack on Iraq. There were apparently 2,000,000 there, making it a historic moments for many reasons. The crowds in Tehran seemed as large, if not more so yet certainly the masses throughout Iran exceeded 2,000,000.
After being distracted by my first touch of the Azadi tower I turned around to see smoke in the distance. It could only mean one thing. I raced over like the paparazi for Diana. With a lift of the camera I shot repeatedly, without the aid of the display, above the circle of chanting men. I was a shameless tourist, excitedly witnessing my first flag burning - Denmark's.
I passed the gates that filtered the women out and eventually stood on one side of a large gap between the people and their president. My side were so abnormally close to one another and for a rare moment we moved in unity, not necessarily by choice though. I shifted with the current of people who listened on as the president gave an impressively long speech that I failed to understand. Once again I was a tourist, guessing the distance between myself and the president and photographing, like a fan at a concert, at what turned out to be a spot in the distance.
As the activities drew to a close we made the usual Iranian, "every man for himself" scrabble back to the filter gates . While mature suited men climbed the fences I looked down to the floor gathering as much anti-western material as my pockets would allow. I waited for the crowds to calm and reflected on the day and even the week's events: it was all rather embarrassing: flag burnings, death chants, burning embassies and changing the names of Danish pastries - this behavior seems as productive as presenting the middle finger to your local MP, and just as juvenile.
As I made my way to the metro I spotted a family walking holding hands. They paused at one of the many circular plastic prints that carpeted the roads. These cleverly interactive prints show images of both the American and Israeli flag with a black foot print over the top. As if to specially complete my collection of tourist memorabilia they took it in turns - beginning with the father - to slowly yet firmly tread where the foot print was. My day was complete.