Iran: Visual Poetries
in Percé



Claudia Polledri, curator (Québec/Italy)

For our tenth anniversary, we have the privilege of presenting Iran: Visual Poetries, a circuit especially designed for Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie.

“Divided into four segments, Iran: Visual Poetries offers a journey through contemporary artistic photography in Iran by way of the work of seventeen photographers, including Bahman Jalali (1944-2010) and Yahya Dehghanpour (born 1941). Added to these figures of reference in Iranian photography are numerous artists established on the international scene along with emerging photographers. The thrust of the exhibition is to examine the poetic reach of the photographic image, between knowing and imagination.

“The Iran: Visual Poetries circuit has taken shape in the wake of the exhibit Iran, année 38 (Iran, Year 38, 2017). Presented at Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles in France by Anahita Ghabaian (Silk Road Gallery) and Newsha Tavakolian (Magnum agency), it concluded with a tribute to Abbas Kiarostami and his ‘poetic cinema.’ But whereas the poetic quality of Iranian film has already been considered at some length, what can we make of the relationship between photography and poetry? This is what we wished to explore.

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“Far from being obvious, the expression “visual poetries” merits attention if only to open up the implicit association we make in it between text and image. Certainly, the reference that certain photographic works make to literary texts constitutes a first level of understanding of this exhibit, but not the only one. From the photographer-flâneur in Tehran (Fayez) inspired by Baudelairian texts we move to the ‘putting into images’ of the play The Butterly by Iranian dramatist Bijan Mofid to arrive at the allusion to T.S. Eliot under which Mohajer places his aerial photographs. The Persian poetic tradition, as ancient as it is modern, is also clearly evoked by the refence to Persian gardens, a literary and visual topos that Asfari refers to.

“Less explicit, but every bit as present, a second level of understanding is represented by reference to metaphor as a means of ‘transporting’ images. In addition to embodying that movement, the games of superpositions and transparencies that we find going on in Javadi, Jalali and Vosoughnia also become the opportunity to unveil the strata of history and Iranian visual culture in the twentieth century. We will see, finally, that the poetic dimension in photography is the expression of the register of sensitivity (Hedayat), of the ability to capture an atmosphere (Rezaei) or to transmit a contemplative or oneiric vision (Bassir, Naraghi, Sepehr), but also to formulate a thought through images (Dehghanpour) and to interpret the form shape of upheaval (Nadjian and Manouchehrzadeh, Kazemi). In that sense, while being the direct expression of a country’s culture conveyed by the numerous references to the Iranian social and political context – whose rough patches are measured, but so is the beauty that survives there – the reference to poetry bears witness more to the exchange between cultures than to the exploration of determined cultural framework. Which confirms, lastly, the po-ethic nature of photography, as a place to meet the other and to explore the human.

“This project has been carried out in collaboration with Silk Road Gallery in Tehran.

“I thank Hamed Yaghmaeian, Reza Sheikh and Germana Rivi for their support, and AG Galerie in Tehran for its participation. Special appreciation goes to Claude Goulet, director of Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie, without whom this project would not have taken place.”

Claudia Polledri, curator

The artists Bahman Jalali, Mehdi Vosoughnia, Jalal Sephr, Shadi Ghadirian and Babak Kazemi are represented by Silk Road Gallery in Tehran.

Ghazaleh Rezaei is represented by AG Galerie in Tehran.


Segment 3: Committing

Artists: Ali Nadjian et Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh, Shadi Ghadirian, Mehrdad Afsari, Jalal Sepehr, Babak Kazemi

Poetry as uprising

“A tree is alive more in the way of a people than of an individual; lightning alone should be charged with felling it.” (Erri De Luca)

Demo, ‘people,’ is the title that Ali Nadjian and Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh chose for their series, which symbolizes, between staging and documentary images, the numerous uprisings in which Iranian society has been the protagonist, from the Islamic Revolution of 1979 to the post-electoral protests of 2009, better known as the ‘Green Movement,’ following the fraudulent reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 12, 2019. These are strong visions that reflect a collective spirit, expressed more symbolically in the pictures of Jalal Sepehr and his reference to Persian rugs. It was from the atmosphere and the concerns felt during the demonstrations and crackdowns of 2009 that the photo project of Shadi Ghadirian also stems, entitled Miss Butterfly (2011). Directly inspired by Bijan Mofid’s stage work The Butterfly (1974), it was dedicated by Ghadirian to his friend the journalist Nazanin Khosravani, imprisoned for a number of years. The same suffocating atmosphere hangs over the black and white photos of Mehrdad Afsari, where the topos of the garden, privileged backdrop of miniatures and protagonist of the Persian poetic tradition ancient and modern, becomes, by way of reference to the political and social context, a symbol of an inhospitable space. Also confined, the trees in Babak Kazemi’s unpublished series Captives evoke the repression currently being suffered in Iran by environmentalists. What emerges are delicate and powerful images to which the printing on the reverse side of gum bichromate photo paper lends a pictorial consistency.”

Claudia Polledri, curator



Ali Nadjian (born in 1976 in Tehran) and Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh (born in 1980 in Sanandaj) are both graduates of Tehran University in photography, and earned their master’s degree in photography from the Art University of Tehran. Their friendship began in 2000, when they started their academic studies in Tehran University, under the supervision of outstanding masters of art.

In 2006 Ali and Ramyar launched their joint activities by opening the ACO Studio, and for three years they worked together on different projects. Since 2009, and thanks to a shared interest in working on sociopolitical subjects, they have carried out their artistic activities as a duo.

Ali Nadjian et Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh, Demo (2018)

Demo (2018)

“Demo is an image of the generations who have lived through a series of recurring events in Iran. It questions the proliferation of the country’s events from the winter of 1979 to the summer of 2009 by representing the masses of people who have been struggling for democracy, for their rights, and expressing their emotions over all those years These exposed negatives are perhaps the story of hopes and beliefs that bring people together in every era to work for a better future. The pictures in the background are just part of an event chosen with no presuppositions from thousands of surviving images. Their passion, excitement, and of course their silence do not reflect all the realities of that era.”

Ali Nadjian and Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh


Represented by Silk Road Gallery, Tehran

Shadi Ghadirian was born in Tehran in 1974. She gained international recognition with her early series from the 1990s that explored the relationship between traditional and contemporary lives of women in Iran. Today she is considered one of Iran’s most celebrated and significant artists. Ghadirian’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout the world, including at the British Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian in Washington, and the modern-art museum Mumok in Vienna. She lives and works in Tehran.

Shadi Ghadirian, Miss Butterfly (2011)

Miss Butterfly (2011)

“Miss Butterfly, heading off to meet the sun, looking for an excursion and approaching the light, is taken prisoner in a spider web. The spider, feeling compassion because of Miss Butterfly’s grace and gentleness, makes an agreement with her. In exchange for an insect from the dark cellar, the spider will guide Butterfly back to the exit so that she can return to the light of day. However, she takes pity on the insects and comes back to the spider empty-handed, ready to let herself be eaten. After learning the truth, the spider decides to let Miss Butterfly go free after all and guides her to the daylight. Happy at regaining her freedom, Miss Butterfly calls out to her insect friends so that they can all celebrate the good news. But she gets no answer… Frustrated, she opens wide her wings and takes off for the sun.”

Summary of Bijan Mofid’s play Shaparak Khanoom (Miss Butterfly).
Mehran Mohajer, Mehrdad Nadjmabadi, Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, La photographie iranienne contemporaine. Un regard sur la création contemporaine en Iran, Édition Loco, 2011, p. 28.

English version: Bijan Mofid, The Butterfly, trans. Don Laffoon, Anchorage Press, 1974.


Mehrdad Afsari, born in 1977 in Khoy, Iran, is a photographer and video artist who lives and works in Tehran. He received his BFA in Photography in 2000 and his MFA in Photography from Tehran University of Art in 2006, where he has been teaching for 16 years. He has been an honorary member of the Iranian Visual Arts Society since 2002. Afsari has held 16 exhibitions and auctions and taken part in more than 100 showings – such as the Venice Bienniale in Italy, Paris Photo in France, and Contemporary Istanbul in Turkey – and exhibited his work at the Queens Museum in New York, the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia, and the University of Westminster in London. Afsari won first prize at the 10th Photography Biennial held under the auspices of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and was invited to be part of the International Arts & Artists ArtBridgeprogram in the U.S. cities of Washington, New York and Charleston. Afsari has also been a jury member, lecturer and curator of many national and international festivals and exhibitions. His works have been published in numerous domestic and foreign publications.

Mehrdad Afsari, Iranian Garden (2010)

Iranian Garden (2010)

“The Iranian garden has always had a prominent place in Iran’s art and literature, where it is presented with significant features: it is a place of visual delights, full of trees, flowers, greenery, and birds. The Persian poet Omar Khayyam describes the Iranian garden thus: ‘As the nightingale, drunk with love, found its way to the garden, it found the flower and the chalice of wine with a smile.’ Apart from literature, gardens have been widely used in Iranian visual art. For instance, they can be found in Persian paintings (miniatures), illuminations, kalamkari (hand printing on textiles), and not least in Persian rugs. They are depicted in pure, vivid colors, signifying times of happiness.”

Mehrdad Afsari

Represented by Silk Road Gallery, Tehran

Jalal Sepehr is a photographer born in 1968 in Tehran. He started out as an industrial and advertising photographer in the 1990s, but went on to co-found Akse Fanoos (Lantern’s Picture), and today is renowned for his fine-art photography. His work has been exhibited at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Paris Photo Fair and Vienna Art Week and in numerous other settings. Two works from Sepehr’s series “Knot” were recently purchased by the prestigious Fondation d’entreprise Hermès in Paris. Sepehr lives in Tehran, where he continues to work, and teaches at the University of Media and Applied Sciences.

Jalal Sepehr, Knot (2011)

Knot (2011)

The colors’ silent whisper
The wool’s palpitation of blood
Through the knot’s vessels
And the finger’s sweet souls
Which are trampled…

Ahmad Shamlou

This series was taken in Yazd, a city in the desert region of central Iran. Yazd is one of the oldest cities in Iran and a source of Persian rugs. I was aiming to show the traditional life of the native people. I have used the rug as a symbol of the ancient and traditional life of Iranians, who are not sure whether to preserve the rugs or let them go.


Represented by Silk Road Gallery, Tehran

Babak Kazemi is a self taught photographer born in Ahvaz, Iran, in 1983. In 2012 he was awarded the Magic of Persia residency at the Delfina Foundation in London. Kazemi explores the history of the province of Khuzestan in which he grew up, focusing on the impact of oil production on the region. His work has been featured in collections at the Maraya Art Centre, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of War in Tehran and in the private collection of the Sheikh of Sharjah in the UAE. He lives and works in Tehran.

Babak Kazemi, Captives (2013-ongoing) – by courtesy of the artist and the Silk Road Gallery, Tehran

Captives (2013 – ongoing)

“This series is a result of my research into the expansion of urban construction in Tehran, which has transformed the city into a big workspace where trees and buildings must coexist much like unexpected guests who trespass into private space and invade your privacy. The enclosures represent the urban wound that the uncontrolled and unguided urban developments have inflicted on the city. Also, many important things happened to a group of environmentalists in Iran while I was working on this project. These people, who were serving their country with all their heart and love, were convicted in court for spying and imprisoned, but in reality their only crime was a love for nature and an attempt to protect the environment. In fact, the environmental challenges in Iran are reaching a crisis point. All the trees represented in this series remind me of those selfless people who are suffering in prison. Yes, it’s true: it’s a crime to love nature in my country!

“This in an ongoing project, begun in 2013. All the prints are unique, I used the gum bichromate technique and exposed in the warm sunlight of Iran.”

Babak Kazemi