Anthology: Peyman Hooshmandzadeh

Working between the realms of photography and literature, Peyman Hooshmandzadeh’s (b. 1969, Iran) images are as vivid as his writings are visual. The fabric of his stories are woven from the complex political and cultural history of his home country, Iran.

Q. You are not only a renowned photographer, but also a well-regarded writer, and your most recent book, The Pleasure in Question, is a collection of autobiographical stories about photography. Interestingly, it contains no actual photographs. What are the differences in your approach to these different creative methods?

A. In my book I did not to use photographs, but chose to describe them in detailed text because I believe that a description of a photograph can be very powerful – the reader is able to imagine the best possible iteration of the image without any limitations on their train of thought. I always say that I don’t believe my photography and writing necessarily influence one another, but others claim that my stories contain countless images that are conveyed through text, and that my photographs possess complex stories absorbed through sight.

Q. Your photographic oeuvre is incredibly diverse, and you have worked both as a photojournalist and as a conceptual artist. Where do you draw inspiration from, and how do you balance your work between documentary storytelling and conceptual photography?

A. During the Iranian Revolution my family moved into the home of my uncle, a painter, when I was ten years old. I was immediately influenced by his creativity and practice, and when I wasn’t posing for him, I was sitting next to him watching him paint his other subjects. I know that his practice impacted my own, particularly in the way I deliver my stories. Later on, when I became a photojournalist, I used photography as more of a social or political tool that presented issues clearly and tangibly – I was not afraid to use slogans or to present specific messages. This changed in later years when censorship of the press increased in Iran. As a result, a lot of photojournalists turned to art galleries for collaboration and the creation of new work. At galleries, there was less censorship, and the patrons preferred more complex and delicate narratives. This, along with my early desire to become a painter like my uncle, is what motivates the balance I have between documentary and conceptual photography in my work.

Q. Your new series, Got A Light? contains photographs of matchboxes from the 1950s and 1960s, covered with social figures and Western slogans, representing a time when Iran was using propagandist imagery to Westernise the country. Where did you find these matchboxes, and why were you compelled to photograph them?

A. The matchboxes belonged to one of my aunts who had them in storage for years. I initially found them when I was working on another project about recycling materials, and when I removed them from storage, what immediately held my attention was the mould that had begun to grow on them. Placing all the tiny boxes next to each other seemed to expose and perfectly represent the history of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1950s and 1960s Iran. I decided to concentrate on these two main elements – the mould and the imagery – to present these themes of nationalism and decay.

Q. How do you think this new work is set apart from your past projects?

A. In my previous project Banknotes, I played with fiction and representation following the 2009 election in Iran. The first thing a government does after they take over is change all the figures and symbols used on the currency notes and coins. Instead of the faces of politicians and leaders, I used portraits of my family members to create a new, idealistic currency. This series is personal, but still bears a political message by referencing an unattainable future. In Got A Light? I reference the past in a more direct fashion. The matchboxes represent my message without needing any creative alteration. All of this work is similar in a political sense, but focuses more on the existing traces of human interaction and organic degradation.