Quite soon after the invention of photography in Europe it arrived in Iran. According to Tahmasbpoor (Photographer Naser al-Din Shah, 2002), as early as 1844 (1260 in the Iranian calendar) an Iranian, for the first time, stood as the subject for a photographer. The family portrait was made by the Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah.
In 2004, I visited the Golestan museum and worked on my archival research for 2 years. The Golestan Archives are located in central Tehran, which was once a home for Qajars, the king’s wives, Harem women, and their relatives. I decided to use some of these old historical photographs from the Qajar period and chose a number of photographs from the King’s kingdom, which I used as masks.
In my practice, I decided to tell my story through others, others who lived in the past and whose lives and stories still exist in the present. I recalled the past to realise who I am today.
Which faces would have to be concealed behind these historical masks? I started taking photographs of people around me, whom I saw every day. My family. My kingdom. The masks of the past mythologise the absence and presence in my work. They are a testament to the ones I had in my life and memory.
Today, after 10 years, I am editing these images, my memories and my life.
The desire to be home and the sorrow of separation create a new narrative, 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.
Amak Mahmoodian is an artist born in Shiraz and lives in Bristol, UK. In 2015, she completed a practice-based doctorate in photography at the University of South Wales, having previously studied at the Art University of Tehran. The artist’s work questions Western notions of identity, expressing personal stories that pertain to wider social issues which draws on her experiences in the Middle East, Asia and the West. Her previous project, Shenasnameh, has been widely exhibited internationally and the accompanying artist photobook won many awards and critical acclaim in publications as diverse as Time magazine, Lensculture and Foam magazine. In addition to her own artistic practice, Mahmoodian is a curator and through the Ffotogallery touring exhibition Bi nam – Image and Identity in Iran she provided first European exposure for emergent Iranian artists and photographers, presenting work previously unseen outside Iran.