Despite not being a religious person, José Luis Barcia Fernández has long been fascinated by the rituals, rules and uniforms of faith. After photographing the hooded capirotes of Seville’s Holy Week, and Jews, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem, the Spanish photographer travelled to Iran four years ago, where he took this shot of a woman in a hijab silhouetted against a tree and a sky filled with birds. He already had the shot he wanted in mind when he came across the woman, who was standing by a stunning mosque in the Tajrish neighbourhood of Tehran.
“There were lots of birds and a beautiful tree,” he says. “I saw this woman and got the shot, which seems to show her headscarf, with its floral motif, continuing up into the tree. And then you had the birds, which I like photographing because it’s fun.”
Barcia captured the image, titled Question Mark, on his iPhone XS Max as he only bought a camera two years ago. In any case, he adds, a phone is smaller and far less intrusive. The only editing he did was to change it to black and white. The picture has acquired an additional resonance in recent weeks as demonstrations against Iran’s compulsory hijab law have been brutally suppressed.
“Despite the protests, it feels as if things haven’t changed,” Barcia says. “I hope everything that’s happening serves to open things up and give women the choice over whether they want to wear the hijab or not. Of course, it’s just a piece of clothing, but that piece of fabric stands for a lot of things.”