Monday, 30th October 2017

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By Visual Arts - Soumitra Das
  • Published 22.03.14

Contemporary photographers of Iran are, by virtue of the constricting conditions prevailing in that country, debarred from shooting from the hip, so to speak. Photography for documentation is out of the question. So, as a corollary, is news and street photography, and certainly candid shots.

As a consequence, Iranian photographers have to create and capture the truth of a certain situation almost in the same manner that a theatre or film director does — that is, try to relive a certain incident by choosing the right location, the right time of the day, and indeed the right people to act out those scenes, not to forget the right clothes for these ‘actors’, so that the situation approximates life. With this big difference however. The film and theatre directors deal with fiction. These photographers are handling reality. Or the closest they can come to it.

The exhibition, PIX: The Iran Issue, The Interior, being held at Studio 21 till March 29, has 12 participants. This is a photography quarterly published by the Goethe Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan, and the prints on display appear on the pages of the August 2013 issue of this well-produced magazine, albeit with too many literals. All 12 participants create the texture of life in Iran as they perceive it.

Thus, Azadeh Akhlaghi reconstructs “eye-witness” images of certain explosive moments in Iran’s history of which news reports and accounts exist. These contrivances have the unreal quality of film stills but they do provide the only visual reference to such bloody incidents which may exist in Iran’s collective memory.

Ali Nadjian and Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh recreate domestic scenes fraught with tension as happens in a closed society. Even the simplest acts like shaving with a cut-throat razor (a nick is visible) or going to the market are loaded with anxiety. In Amirali Ghasemi’s photographs of partying youngsters inside a flat, the identities of the partygoers have been literally wiped out to pre-empt unpleasant repercussions.

A familiar trope in surrealism is the juxtaposition of the most preposterous objects. Ata Mohammadi takes a stab at this strategy with various degrees of success by bringing together an ewer used in lavatories (they were once quite common in India too) and a china tea kettle, and two stones ‘sewn’ together in his fine sepia prints. But one does feel the stress of living in a repressive society when the handle of a dagger sticks out of an umbrella, and a padlock hangs from the neck of a woman’s chador (picture).

Legends, too, are retold in Babak Kazemi’s huge and lush prints, and Gholam Reza Yazdani’s keyhole becomes a metaphor for turning truth inside out, as these photographers from Iran are adept at doing.