This is my great-grandfather Hessan and it is the only image I think ever existed of him. I just recently came to view it when my mother sent the picture on my phone. Probably she saw the photograph also for the first time. Who knows where she discovered it after all these years.
Looking at this picture I am again amazed how much we are the person we descend of. The son of my cousin who is the result of a unification of that man’s other great-grandchild and a grandchild is just the spitting image of him. (Don’t worry my cousin didn’t marry her uncle. My great-grandfather produced more than one offspring. The Iranian family… vast and complicated. It’s ok, then it was not frowned upon marrying family members as long as they were not too close.)
Now, I tried to make out the time this picture was shot and counting age and so I concluded first roughly that it must be around hundred years ago.
Fortunately the long years of history education at uni set in at time and I realized that I could estimate the time period via his clothes. As it is a headshot we can’t see very much of that. Fortunately he wears a very significant clothing piece on his head which is the hat, of course. I mean look at the photograph doesn’t the hat sit weirdly on this man living in a country which just had stopped called itself Persia after a thousands of years? A country right at the Middle East and in many ways still very medieval especially in its fashions.
Would you rather expect a turban or a fez like the Ottomans used to wear it? Maybe he would have worn a turban but no, he couldn’t. And just for information, he wasn’t a conductor though the hat looks like the one of a conductor.
During the 30s the Middle East was living through a very turmoiled period where governments tried to sustain their sovereignty before Western Powers. Just like the Japanese in the Meiji period they did it by adopting Western standards in education, style of politics, military tactics and also very important in fashion.
Partly the believe was in dictating new clothing habits they could form citizens after their wishes and also loosen the grip of religion which naturally had a lot of influence on the appearance of people.
In 1927 the government of Reza Shah ordered a special kind of hat for the Iranian men to wear. It is now known as the Pahlavi hat. The form was based on the french military hat, a cylindrical main shape and cap in the front.
In hindsight fashion wise a questionable decision which was made to set themselves apart from Turkey which had made the same step two years prior but at least Kemal Atatürk did have enough sense to go for the Panama or Fedora style. Bear in mind that through all the history of mankind wherever in the world headgear was always an important aspect of appearance. Be it for women or men, very seldom there was a culture where nothing was worn on the head. This has roots its in practicality, life was once much more outdoorsy. While now wearing a hat or cap has become optional and therefore lost importance for dignity and status of the wearer it is hard to understand why such a clothing piece was a state matter. If you look at it also interesting the fact that men were forced to wear a head cover while women were to remove theirs and go unveiled. All topsy-turvy in comparison to contemporary Iran.
The Pahlavi hat was highly unpopular as was the ban on women’s veiling but that is another story. So Reza Shah abducted it already by 1935 and opted instead for the more practical style Turkey had gone before.
So we have a very short time period when this hat was worn, therefore the image of my great-grandfather must be made in-between. The date of his birth is unknown, the date of his death, too. Knowing at least this much satisfies me more than enough. My father told me that it must have been made when he started military service. Another invention in the reign of Reza Shah. He introduced compulsory military service. And seemingly then a photograph of the novice was taken.