Iran: Visual Poetries
Traversing Tehran and Its Images
Claudia Polledri, curator (Québec/Italy)
For our tenth anniversary, we have the privilege of presenting Iran: Visual Poetries, a circuit especially designed for Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie.
“Divided into four segments, Iran: Visual Poetries offers a journey through contemporary artistic photography in Iran by way of the work of seventeen photographers, including Bahman Jalali (1944-2010) and Yahya Dehghanpour (born 1941). Added to these figures of reference in Iranian photography are numerous artists established on the international scene along with emerging photographers. The thrust of the exhibition is to examine the poetic reach of the photographic image, between knowing and imagination.
“The Iran: Visual Poetries circuit has taken shape in the wake of the exhibit Iran, année 38 (Iran, Year 38, 2017). Presented at Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles in France by Anahita Ghabaian (Silk Road Gallery) and Newsha Tavakolian (Magnum agency), it concluded with a tribute to Abbas Kiarostami and his ‘poetic cinema.’ But whereas the poetic quality of Iranian film has already been considered at some length, what can we make of the relationship between photography and poetry? This is what we wished to explore.
“Far from being obvious, the expression “visual poetries” merits attention if only to open up the implicit association we make in it between text and image. Certainly, the reference that certain photographic works make to literary texts constitutes a first level of understanding of this exhibit, but not the only one. From the photographer-flâneur in Tehran (Fayez) inspired by Baudelairian texts we move to the ‘putting into images’ of the play The Butterly by Iranian dramatist Bijan Mofid to arrive at the allusion to T.S. Eliot under which Mohajer places his aerial photographs. The Persian poetic tradition, as ancient as it is modern, is also clearly evoked by the refence to Persian gardens, a literary and visual topos that Asfari refers to.
“Less explicit, but every bit as present, a second level of understanding is represented by reference to metaphor as a means of ‘transporting’ images. In addition to embodying that movement, the games of superpositions and transparencies that we find going on in Javadi, Jalali and Vosoughnia also become the opportunity to unveil the strata of history and Iranian visual culture in the twentieth century. We will see, finally, that the poetic dimension in photography is the expression of the register of sensitivity (Hedayat), of the ability to capture an atmosphere (Rezaei) or to transmit a contemplative or oneiric vision (Bassir, Naraghi, Sepehr), but also to formulate a thought through images (Dehghanpour) and to interpret the form shape of upheaval (Nadjian and Manouchehrzadeh, Kazemi). In that sense, while being the direct expression of a country’s culture conveyed by the numerous references to the Iranian social and political context – whose rough patches are measured, but so is the beauty that survives there – the reference to poetry bears witness more to the exchange between cultures than to the exploration of determined cultural framework. Which confirms, lastly, the po-ethic nature of photography, as a place to meet the other and to explore the human.
“This project has been carried out in collaboration with Silk Road Gallery in Tehran.
“I thank Hamed Yaghmaeian, Reza Sheikh and Germana Rivi for their support, and AG Galerie in Tehran for its participation. Special appreciation goes to Claude Goulet, director of Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie, without whom this project would not have taken place.”
Claudia Polledri, curator
The artists Bahman Jalali, Mehdi Vosoughnia, Jalal Sephr, Shadi Ghadirian and Babak Kazemi are represented by Silk Road Gallery in Tehran.
Ghazaleh Rezaei is represented by AG Galerie in Tehran.
IRAN: VISUAL POETRIES
Segment 1: Traversing Tehran and Its Images
Artists : Mehran Mohajer, Mehrdad Naraghi, Dadbeh Bassir, Arash Fayez, Hosein Davoodi
Poetry as image behind the images.
To get to Iran, we do not cross borders, but images.
Those we have and those we do not.
The photographs of Mehran Mohajer take us there discreetly, through the light blue of a partly opened window. Here is Iran: image behind the images, photographic encounter between sky and earth. Now move a little closer: do you see it, Tehran, on the horizon? Mehrdad Naraghi describes it surrounded by fog; a gray cloak envelops its profile as it does that of its inhabitants. Sometimes the atmosphere is heavy, but we need only look from another angle to notice, in Dadbeh Bassir’s mirror game, a city that floats above clouds and majestic mountains. Tehran, heavenly city? We have to follow Arash Fayez, photographer-flâneur, to capture details like the university entrance, the Azadi Tower, monuments between images and symbols. But what is true and what is false? Everything is blurred.
Finally, how is Iran to be photographed? “Take a look, I’m a country. (…) I’m a second embedded with joy, pain, sorrow and mirth. (…) Take me as I am. Take a thousand years in a second.” (Hossein Davoodi)
Claudia Polledri, curator
Born in 1964 in Tehran, Mehran Mohajer lives and works in Iran. He received his MA degree in general linguistics (1994) after a BA in photography (1990) from the University of Tehran. Since then he has worked as a lecturer in photography and additionally as a translator. The dual character of his concentration – the semiotic nature of photography and the photographic act per se – is reflected in his works.
Mohajer has participated in several group exhibitions, including “Regards Persans” (Paris, 2001), “Far Near Distance” (Berlin, 2004), “Lion under the Rainbow” (Athens, 2008), “165 Years of Iranian Photography” (Paris, 2009), “One Day, a Collective Narrative of Tehran” (San Francisco, 2009), “Recalling Future” (London, 2014) and “Iran Year 38” (Arles 2017). He has also had several solo exhibitions in Tehran, at Golestan Gallery, Silk Road Gallery, Azad Art Gallery, AG Gallery and Dastan +2 Gallery. Three monographs of his photographs have been published under the titles Tehran Undated/Displaced (2014), Between and Non-between (2017) and Air of the Land (2019).
Mehran Mohajer, Air of the Land (2019)
Air of the Land (2019)
And where you are is where you are not.
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets.
“These are photographs of the earth and the sky. They are small fragments of the earth and the sky. The earth is the map of the Motherland (Iran), and the sky is the air over the land. The camera has hovered over the map and been struck dumb under the sky. These suspended photographs are the traces. May they utter a word on the sky or on the land. May they ask of the sky or of the land. May the sky turn the earth to a better state, might the earth go round and turn our mood around. And suffice it to say.”
Mehrdad Naraghi, born in Tehran in 1978, is a graduate in engineering from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. In 2001 Naraghi left science and engineering to pursue the arts. He has exhibited internationally, including in “Iran Year 38” (Arles, France, 2017), Unseen Photo Fair 2015-16 (Ag Galerie, Amsterdam), Grand Prix de la Découverte 2013 (Le Salon de la Photo, Paris), ”165 Years of Iranian Photography” (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, 2009) and “That Shimmering Beast” (Empty Quarter Gallery, Dubai, UAE). His “Japanese Gardens” series received the 2014 PHOTOQUAI Residencies Award from the Musée du Quai Branly. His works are part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France collections, and have been published in several magazines and books, among them in “From Japanese Gardens to New York Towers” (Huffington Post, 2017); La Photographie Iranienne: Un regard sur la creation contemporaine en Iran, 2012; Different Sames: New Perspectives in Contemporary Iranian Art (2009); and Connaissance des Arts (No 21, 2008). In 2017 Naraghi moved to New York City to live and continue his work.
Mehrdad Naraghi, The City (2014)
The City (2014)
“In the series The City, the pollution in Tehran, which is very visible and suffocating for anyone who lives there, ironically has characteristics in common with the country’s political repression. ‘My city is one ravaged by the storms, an unrecognizable city, with undefined inhabitants concealed within its grayness. Dazed and confused, with gaping mouths and struggling to breathe. Neither breaths sighed return to be breathed nor are desires fulfilled; grayness overwhelms. My city is the endless rule of gray.’”
Dadbeh Bassir was born in Tehran in 1978. During his years at school, he developed a passion for photography. In 1999 he was accepted at Azad University of Art and Architecture in Tehran, in the field of photography. During his five years at university he was fortunate enough to study with progressive professors and photographers like Yahya Dehghanpour and Bahman Jalali, who rank with the most celebrated Iranian photographers in recent decades. His thesis, with the subject “Self-Portrait,” was based on the book Five Hundred Self-Portraits published by Phaidon; in it he wrote about his own impressions of six self-portraits by these artists. He also studied special effects and film editing at Tehran Institute of Technology from 2008 to 2009, at the same time teaching courses in photography at the same institution.
Dadbeh Bassir has taken part in many exhibitions around the world, including at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); IFA Gallery Stuttgart and Berlin (Art and Architecture Foundation); Arles Festival, France; Rogue Space | Chelsea, New York; Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; the 2017 Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival, Xiamen, China; Galerie Royal, Munich; De Santos Gallery, Houston; La Caja Blanca Gallery, Palma de Mallorca; Aaran, Silk Road and Assar galleries, Tehran; and Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Brisbane. He also has participated twice in Paris Photo, in 2004 and 2009, and his works have been published in several books and periodicals. Dadbeh Bassir lives and works in Tehran.
Dadbeh Bassir, Untitled (Tehran) 2005 – ongoing, by courtesy of the artist
Untitled (Tehran) 2005 — ongoing
“These arresting images of the Tehran skyline are part of a larger project by Dadbeh Bassir documenting the city’s ever-changing and expanding urban landscape. As with much of his work, which employs physical manipulation, the photographer here constructs a disorienting and dreamlike environment by placing a mirror perpendicular to his camera lens. In Bassir’s metaphoric cityscapes, skyscrapers and urban sprawl are cut off abruptly by clouds and mountaintops that incongruously descend from an ambiguous horizon line. This composite imagery reverses the familiar hierarchy between the natural and the built environments, the former asserting itself over the earthbound megalopolis by dominating the composition and creating a new, seemingly celestial city.”
Linda Komaroff (Curator of Islamic art, LACMA)
Arash Fayez, sometimes Faeiz, is an artist and curator who is stateless and without location at the moment. Spanning live situations, video, and objects, his practice intertwines to create parafictional and multilayered projects informed by notions of displacement, distraction, and bicamerality. Through storytelling based on partial memories and notions of interstitial space, his works confront sociopolitical issues while engaging the role of found footage and archival materials in constructing these narratives. Fayez has exhibited and performed internationally at venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; the British Museum, London; the Queens Museum, New York; and the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco.
Arash Fayez, Ramblings of a Flâneur (2008-2011)
Ramblings of a Flâneur (2008-2011)
“For some time now I have been roaming around the city without having either an objective or a map. What’s interesting is that I was born here, but I feel like a traveler on its streets, disoriented and curious. The visual behavior of the city takes me by surprise. It is always in the process of changing, like a shape-shifter; you wake up one day and the main thoroughfare, which has always been a two-way street, turns into a one-way corridor. Enghelab Square, which was once a symbol of the Revolution, is adorned with colorful flowers.
“In these ramblings with a camera, I took pictures of anything that left an impression on me, scattered sets of images of a megalopolis, from each section that I visited, of things that I liked or didn’t like, similar to pictures taken by a traveler on a years-long journey, of a place that is foreign to him, as this city is to me. Despite all the memories that different parts of this city invoke, these Polaroid photographs, be they real or fake, form a picture of an endearing and jumbled city, which I am putting before your eyes here.
“Ramblings of a Flâneur is dedicated to the works of two photographers: Walker Evans, who was the master of the ordinary, and Mehran Mohajer, who recorded Tehran datelessly, as he did photography.”
Hosein Davoodi was born in Tehran in 1991. After earning a degree in engineering at Amir Kabir University in that city in 2014, he completed a master’s in photography at the University of Tehran in 2019. He has participated in a number of group exhibitions and festivals: “The Third Experience,” Aria Gallery, Tehran (2019); University of Tehran Third Annual Photo Festival, Tehran Gallery, (2018); the 10th Fadjr International Festival of Visual Arts, Iranian Academy of Arts, Tehran (2018); “A Window onto Contemporary Art Photography In Iran,” Fotografia Europea 2018, Reggio Emilia, Italy / University of Tehran Second Annual Photo Festival (2017).
Hosein Davoodi, Iran, Seconds (2018)
Iran, Seconds (2018)
“Look at me. Take a good look. Tell me what you see. I’m not a dead frame nor a piece of paper. Look at me. What am I? A prize-winning photograph or an intellectual ostentatious artwork? Don’t go there. Look at me. I’m a one-second entity. I’m a moment cut from centuries. Centuries of lives, works and hands of millions. It only takes a moment. One frozen moment of hundreds of lives and emotions and one moment of dreams and nightmares. Take a look, I’m a country. I’m a country before your very eyes taken to make a one-second history. Look at the plurality as well as the unity. I’m the soul of a nation. I’m a second embedded with joy, pain, sorrow and mirth. I am many, created in a flash of time. Take me as I am. Take a thousand years in a second. Who knows what we’ve been through in that moment? Who knows what we’ve become? Don’t fare me well, sometimes it takes years to define a second. I lived a thousand times. The thoughts and images. I’m the unborn child which never was conceived. You’ve got to believe me.”