Photographer Amak Mahmoodian (Iranian-born and Bristol-based) works on projects that highlight questions of identity and she very much expresses that through extremely personal stories, almost always pertaining to an important social issue at large. Zanjir, her latest book, is no exception.
Zanjir is a conversation imagined between the artist and the Persian princess and memoirist, Taj Saltaneh (1883 – 1936). It addresses loss, separation, family and homeland. The book draws on imagery from the Golestan archives in Tehran, texts and photographs by Mahmoodian, and excerpts from Taj Saltaneh’s memoirs. In 2004, Mahmoodian visited the Golestan museum in central Tehran to begin work on academic archival research. The museum was once home to Qajars (The Qajar dynasty was an Iranian royal dynasty of Turkic origin, specifically from the Qajar tribe, ruling over Iran from 1789 to 1925), and to the King’s wives and relatives.
The photographs in the museum’s archives, amongst others, include those taken between 1860 and 1896 by Nasr al din shah, the King during the Qajar Era, when photography first arrived in Iran. These archival photographs became a cornerstone of the project due to the multiple potential interpretations and readings of the imagery. Mahmoodian decided to tell her story through that of others – those who lived in the past and yet their stories still exist in the present.
In the past, Mahmoodian had enjoyed silent conversations with family photographs – creating memories within the image and inventing histories with the subject. Developing this further, Mahmoodian began taking photographs of those around her concealed behind historical masks – cutouts of the faces from the archival photographs. In some of these photographs there were so many masks that she would forget the real face.
“Today, as I edit these photographs after 10 years, the desire to be home and the sorrow of separation creates a new narrative within my images, which is now the narrative of my life. The hope of return transformed my pictures into people whom I love, miss and have lost. The subjects carry the masks of the past, but they are still there. They are present. The masks could be carried by anyone and anyone could become a mask”
The contemporary photographs in Zanjir were taken between 2002 – 2019, in both Iran and the UK. Although the project is rooted in Tehran – the Golestan archives and with Mahmoodian’s family – the sentiments in Zanjir are common to many who are separated from family and homeland.
Her previous project Shenasnameh, was widely exhibited internationally and the accompanying artist photobook won multiple awards and was featured in publications including TIME, Foam magazine and the Guardian amongst others.