2017 - 'Meditation and Emancipation/Redemption', Shiveh Professional Magazine of Art (Aug & Sep), (Publisher: Iranian Artist Forum)

Meditation and Emancipation/Redemption

By Majid Akhgar [Art Critic]


A point, an event, or a visual reference is embedded within some of Mohsen Shahmardi’s photographs. It feels as if this point has been mentioned delicately, like a whisper, as an invitation, an attempt for revelation or observation. What I mean by “point” is by no means a reference, an implication or signification. What we see is generally present somewhere within the expanse of the image: a blurred arch on a hill, a gravel road, a part of a snowy mountain, the posture of a dog, and the disorder in the grass field, yet it is nothing like the visual or photographic “events” we encounter in other photos, which turn out as something fascinating or worthy of attention, a specific point of view, a special detail,an unlikely presence, or de-familiarization. Qualities, most of which can be seen from the point of view of Sontag in her On Photography as beautification of the world, the reproduction and reduction of the world to a collection of attractive objects, which is usually realized by amputation of the world and extracting things primarily from their visual background and the ntheir historical and ontological context.

Such an approach results in some sort of disturbance or invasion of the world’s visual reality, a kind of self-entitlement, irresponsibility, and egoistic inclinations. Shahmardi’s images -or let’s say the good ones- on the other hand, are accompanied with a certain sense of shame and humbleness towards the subject. A manly sense that roots in some sort of awareness of the limits, and the mortality of mankind. Shahmardi makes the nature both humanistic, aesthetic and spectacular,in contrast to a specific form of photography which we will discuss later.

Such Barthian concepts might have been used excessively, sometimes properly and at times totally out of context, yet the highlighted characteristics of Shahmardi’s photos can bediscussed according to Barth’s notion of “Punctum”; what gives us a sense of belonging to the image, or to something inside it.

A dog in a country side flatland with its shadow. The shadow is almost dropped down at his foot. It’s noon. We cannot see the dog’s face, the photographer has captured the image right at the time it was turning or changing its direction -but the singular shadow drawn at the foot of its owner, gives us a sense of singularity, of loneliness, and existence. Alone under a sky where nothing is new. We are reminded of Meursault [in Albert Camus’ The Stranger] under the sun.

Quite the same feeling is conveyed by seeing a young girl in her daily commute, the way she has tied her hair tells us a lot about her routine. Her hair strands -the asymmetry of the collar of her coat drawn to a side by her handbag’s band.

Yet, things change, in some of the images, Shahmardi gets closer to the standard methods of photography (a girl sitting by the sea, a table and chair beside the sea, a concrete cube in the view, a child’s hand and a mother’s leg). On the other hand, in some of the images –a child’s hand on a piece of fabric, a teenager with her head downward,a calf (baby giraffe), a dog -the humanistic sense turns into the most important elements of the photo, a genuinely deep affection.

It seems as if the main solution is this warm-hear tedness, but such which is not in any termshumanistic or psychological (on the contrary, this kindness is more thoroughly felt in photos with no human subject). He is not talking about cultural discourse, human rights, or political ethics. Here we are looking at an old emotion. Perhaps, the best word to describe the atmosphere of these photos is“spiritual”; a meditation upon a dog, a human, a piece of land, a rock or a corner. The divinely and poetic world of these photos is simple, old and refined. A world alone and isolated in which you should search for signs of godly benevolence. Signs which will never turn into faith for sure.

In one of the photos, we see afield of grass. Right in front of us, the grass is disturbed. It’s as if something happened there –something that could not be displayed- right before we came. The grass is warm gray. In the top corner of the image, the horizon is filled with trees, despite our being in an open space, we are placed in a closed and focused setting, and the disturbed grass feels warm and entangled, all of these elements excite the feeling we have for the image.

In two of the photos we see a child’s hand. A very soft hand which is not formed yet. Both of them located on a background, a background that certainly has not been the choice of the child.In one of them, the child is sleeping on the knees of a woman (the mother). An ordinary background that not only does not add anything to the hand but deprives it of some possibilities, and immediately matches with the presupposed expectations of the viewer. In the other photo, the hand is placed on a piece of fabric which might be a dress some stranger is wearing. The context provided for the life of the infant. The fabric is tightly knotted/woven, wrinkled at some points, you can find some spots and a strand of hair beside the child’s hand. Life has been going on before the child came to this world. The presence of this hair strand seems to be defining but clearly it does not mean that it’s been put there intentionally. It is a strand of hair which is not necessarily the mother’s, neither poetic and nor ugly. This strand being placed on the villus cloth is the sign of a certain reality to which the child has been recently introduced; a reality which is stretched towards four different sides, outside the frames of this photo, and has a certain form of connection with the mundane objective micro-realities outside. But the result of such specific realization,is not mundane at all. In fact, it is something unique; it is the necessary context for the potential active-energy in the child.

(In the street, the sound of the youth from Rouhani’s election campaign is heard. A little below Shariati Street in Soheil, a building attracted my attention years ago, a newly-built empty apartment that has been useless from the beginning, now has turned into a parking lot. Probably it won’t see such a crowd again, perhaps until the next election.)

But if we want to go back to the photos and enjoy the poetic atmosphere of them, we should talk about the photo in which a baby giraffe is locked up in a little room of its own. It is a very fine and meaningful image. Every detailed elements in the photo, as if having been staged, are situated right where they should be. The giraffe is standing beside the door trying to see the outside through a window that is taller than itself. The signs of this outside world can be seen on the giraffe’s body as well as the floor down its foot, like shining balls, enough to trigger the desire for the unknown outside world and seduce the calf.

A baby giraffe; the unlikeliest animal species to be caged, isolated and detached in our age. Let’stake a holistic view; such a complicated product of a long process of evolution, means a complete negation of our constructed civilization and its complicated network of technology as a parallel impenetrable product. We should not make a mistake: the point is not to stir up the viewer’s emotion towards segregated realities (nature vs. technology), neither is to step on or repeat the old and over-used oppositions. The point is to make wonder, revive the phenomenological view of the objects, and the restore their historical context.

Digital camera in front of a baby giraffe; the confrontation of two parallel natural-historical phenomenan coming from a shared background, which have been so separated from one an other that any resemblance between the two seems to be ridiculous, sensational or anarchistic and is not possible unless one side is totally omitted.

But if we go back to our first sensible references in the photos, it should be mentioned that this photo inits immediacy of elements and the relations within the frame, is a perfect image of the desire for emancipation and the promise of redemption. At Emkan gallery, the show begins with this image. Yet it can be seen as an ending, as a chance to escape from agitation, and a view towards possibilities and the future. 

Majid Akhgar

Translated: Taba Fajrak

2017 - Shiveh Professional Magazine of Art(Aug & Sep), (Publisher: Iranian Artist Forum)
2017 - Shiveh Professional Magazine of Art(Aug & Sep), (Publisher: Iranian Artist Forum)
2017 - Shiveh Professional Magazine of Art(Aug & Sep), (Publisher: Iranian Artist Forum)