Where have all the people gone?
Who made time stand so still? Why is it so damn silent in these pictures?
Suspense, is a feeling best served by Mehdi Abdolkarimi in subtle but sharp contrasts of light and shadow. He conjures it up by distilling extreme contradictions in a single frame. In his series “Siah Vahsh” (see pictures below), there is drama, but nothing happens, there is movement but everything is still, there is excitement, yet everything is empty.
“Siah Vahsh”, is a Twin Peaksy photography series of animal statues captured with long exposure and occasionally a torch. The photographer had no crew, no extra lighting and definitely no staging.
The pictures have been taken at night, in and around Tehran.Yet capturing anything in Tehran at any time of day without cars, people, and generally all sorts of presence is akin to a miracle. I ask him how he managed to create these pictures that are so devoid of urban life in a city that is bursting at the seams. “It wasn’t easy. Being there on those very rare moments when everything was finally still required a lot of waiting, alone at night, often in the middle of a highway crossing, twice I had to flee robbers and dealt often with the inquisitive police.”
Why then work at night? “It all started with me walking the streets by night in the hope of more peaceful walk but also a different perspective. I started discovering these odd obsolete statues, neither here nor there, devoid of their original decorative intentions, out of place and in a limbo. At night they seemed to take on a life of their own. I found them very inspiring, a reflection of the mood prevalent at the time. So, I persevered, searched, and sought out as many of them as I could. I work alone and don’t choreograph my work, preferring to discover my subjects instead. All that I am looking for is out there, I just need to spend enough time tracking the streets at night (laughs).
Capturing stillness and suspense already became a hallmark of Mehdi’s work back in 2011 when he did a series titled Home (see pics below). Despite its name, the series feels impersonal, detached, like a roadside motel in a bad 70s movie. A place of transience, secret meetings but certainly no home.
He tells me more about the series: “A while back, I was forced to leave town and had to stay at this holiday home which didn’t belong to me, I was alone, couldn’t leave, had to stay put, but I also couldn’t change a single thing in the house. I was staying there but certainly not living there. I wanted to capture this feeling of being suspended. Neither here nor there.”
To me Mehdi’s work is filled with a melancholy driven by drama that can’t get out. He possess a sharp observant eye which captures contradictions, but also an uneasy silence. Until very recently, Iran was a county whose destiny and future was, at best, unforeseeable. It is no wonder that a feeling of limbo is the omnipresent backdrop to Mehdi’s work.
Mehdi Abdolkarimi is 30 years old and lives and works in Tehran. All photographs are courtesy of the artists and all rights remain reserved.