2015 - 'Alone In An Empty Space', Interview, Contemporary Landscapes of Tehran's Catalogue (Publisher: Mohsen Gallery)

Alone in an Empty Space

Interview with Mohsen Shahmardi by Behnam Sadighi


In your previous collection, you had taken pictures of foggy landscapes generally outside the urban spaces. In this collection, however, you have worked partly on urban spaces. How did you begin to work on this collection that you have entitled “Contemporary Landscapes of Tehran”?

This collection is indeed continuation of my collective works on landscape photography I began since 2009. The collections included bare landscapes,nature, and panoramas with objects. At the same time, I was involved in documentary photography in Tehran, using digital photography techniques. I have even taken the first photos of this collection with digital camera. However, my interest had pushed me to collect some 120 old negatives until I found my medium range camera and retook the first digital photos. I continued taking photos to the end. In terms of content, due to my overseas trips, I came to know that in the majority of the cities there are occasional public gatherings where people can visit one another in a larger perspective. Observing the collective experience of people when they are resting, studying or exercising gave me a pleasurable feeling. However, in taking pictures from Tehran – either because of special urban planning or for other reasons – I did not find any place with such collective experience of diversified activities. This made me look after relatively large spaces with vast landscapes. The landscapes I found, were not the places for popular coming and going, reposing or recreation of the people.

There are many public parks in Tehran. Do they provide the sort of landscape you seek?

Not very much. Since Tehran parks are small in size and some are filled with dense trees. There is no open and vast space in these parks. They are either stone paved or enclosed with fences, walls or chains. These elements do not convey the delicacy of nature to me. This is perhaps why people move to the suburbs in their free time to enjoy the delicacy of nature. As an example, Naqsh-e Jahan Sq. in Isfahan is where the people can be seen in a single sight and it is also a place for social gatherings.

There are few photographers in Iran still working with analog cameras. Since you used to work with digital camera, how did you find working with medium range camera?

It is my opinion that in analog photography you can learn something new every single day. I decided to work with medium range camera since I had in my mind to make a big and high quality presentation. In the meantime, I used fixed lens to get a relatively uniform depth. In this style of photography the speed is low and precise calculation is needed. Sometimes I faced different light and color in places where I had to repeat taking photos. Although analog photography is relatively costly and you have to wait for some time to see the result, and although the negative may be lost during developing so as to make you repeat photographing, I liked to register my hometown in old negatives and by analog camera.

Why did you use expired negatives? As you know photographers prefer to use colors close to the nature in their works.

I intended very much to make a bridge between present and past through expired negatives and the sort of color they create. When Inoticed the negatives with expiry date of 15-20 years ago, I wondered whether they would take me back in time or not. I also wanted to know whether the collection of photos would make a new meaning or not.

What sort of meaning did you have in your mind?

The title has always been important to me. This is because the title is the first thing that attracts the viewer. Sometimes the title takes you deep into the work and you do not need to read the text or statement. In the meantime, the title helps the viewer to establish the first connection with the works. In selecting the title for this collectionI have tried to pay attention to the paradox implied in the comparison between the word “contemporary” and the landscapes belonging to the past. In line with my attitude I have pointed to the vanishing landscapes in the geography of Tehran.

Considering the fact that human eye is not landscape recorder despite the vastness of vision – since man grasps the details in movement rather than avast panorama and he needs silence of photographic type to view the landscape that is hard these days to find in contemporary life – what is the difference between a landscape photographer and non-landscape photographer?

Perhaps it depends upon the character of the photographer, on how past he likes to see the world, with open angle, everything together,and in his attempt to redefine the atmosphere for a certain subject matter. I think the most important point in landscape photography is paying attention to geography. By geography

I mean the place of photography the photographer prefers to take photosand his place of birth.

Your works suggest that you are following landscape photography to get a new meaning of the surrounding space. What parameters do you see when thinking about your photos that shape your collections?

It is a tough question since it is related to the inner being of man.Part of this relates to my experience during all these years. For instance,since seven years ago I tried to take photos of objects, space, man, animal,and nature to show loneliness. I included almost everything and the project is still going on. I think this loneliness coming out of me showed itself in the empty and vast spaces. Even the people in my photos can be seen in such spaces, alone in an empty space. Another point is this that before this project I used to work black and white photos but in this project I have employed color. This I need to show the cold and dust-clad atmosphere of the places and perhaps it will be the beginning for another project.

Photography guides photographers toward confrontation with palpable realities because of its close association with the outside world and with what is visible to the eye. With respect to the mental structuring of the photos by the photographer, are you more involved with yourself or the subject matter in the course of photographing?

I do not think about myself while working. The subject matter and my mental concerns occupy my mind. But my works are my reflection after all. I can say thinking about my self exists in my unconscious mind.