Born in 1995 in Tehran, Iran, Mahdiyeh Afshar Bakeshloo was introduced to art from a very young age. Without planning to pursue photography professionally, her path changed after a difficult event in her life which made her turn to the lens as a safe space. At her young age, Mahdiyeh has achieved international acclaim in the field of Fine Art and Conceptual photography, with articles in publications such as The Times and The British Journal of Photography, exhibitions throughout Iran and Europe, and a published Photo Book (Just like humans, 2020).
In our interview we spoke with Mahdiyeh about the influence of surrealism in her work, the power of a single black & white photograph, and why a piece of art can only be kept alive by the act of sharing it with an audience.
Hello Mahdiyeh, thank you for taking your time to answer my questions, it’s a pleasure to have you! For people who might not be familiar with your work, please shortly present yourself and tell us how you got into art, especially photography.
Hello, I am Mahdiyeh Afshar Bakeshloo. I was born in 1995 in Tehran (Iran). I learned photography in an academy for two years when I was 18 years old. I never thought that I would become a photographer or go into art because my family wanted me to go into a more serious profession like engineering. In my country, artists do not have many fans and are not supported. Maybe it can be said that they live a hard life. My mother introduced me to art since I was a child. I didn’t have many toys. My mother tried to make paper toys for me with simple tools. I also learned from her and made things that I liked. I remember I used to make the eyes of my paper doll with the plastic shell of pills, I used to make high-heeled shoes with cardboard, I made a telescope for myself with a shoe box, I made a solid with a yogurt bucket and…
I would not throw anything away! I loved strange things. I made things that could be seen in a new way with every day and with cheap items. My interest in disposable items started here because they were carefree, without intermediaries, and free. In my opinion, the beginning of art should be easy so that the mind can create freely. It started here for me. Although my father was against my entry into photography, I can say that he introduced me to cameras. Since I was a child, I showed interest in new photography tools and learned without realizing it. But not seriously! I didn’t want to be a photographer at all! But at the age of 18, after a difficult event in my life, I started photography. I was able to show my feelings where I wanted. (I mean photography). For me, photography was like a safe room where I could think, feel, imagine. So I took a photos.
The beginning of art should be easy so that the mind can create freely.
You are a Fine Art and Conceptual Photographer, and I read that you have been influenced by surrealist painters such as René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. Please tell us more about your work, what fascinates you about conceptual photography and what it offers you from an artistic point of view.
My photos are mostly in black and white because I think the absence of colours will create a new world that is unreal while being real. I mostly photograph single photos, because I think that a single photo is a completely different world and the number of photos reduces its story power.
In my opinion, what makes a connection with a work of art is the message we see in it. My view of art is a free and confusing view. I always like my audience to see what they like in my photos. Maybe someone will cry after seeing my photos and maybe someone will laugh! I love this quote by René Magritte: “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see…” Art for me is like a pit of unknown depth. Everyone will see some depth of this pit. Maybe that’s why I like surrealism because it is endless and uncertain. But it makes sense at the peak of confusion. A message that is tied to time.
I mostly photograph single photos, because I think that a single photo is a completely different world and the number of photos reduces its story power.
In your biography I read you saying, “Each of my projects describes human emotions such as sadness, loneliness, confusion. I try to make viewers find their hidden feeling in my photos.” Maybe for you it is obvious, but could you please tell me why that is important to you?
In my opinion, what keeps a work of art alive is the connection of time with that work of art. I always say “life is short, art is long.” For this reason, I like my art to flow in people’s lives, because I may die one day, but I like my art to flow in time, because the existence of art does not belong only to the artist, but to its audience who have kept it alive.
I don’t want my art to be only for me because here a dead end happens. There will be no dialogue between the audiences. It’s a one-way path and that’s why I want the flow and dialogue to happen by finding the hidden feelings of my audience in my works. This is where art will not only belong to me and will belong to people and time.
Life is short, art is long. I may die one day, but I like my art to flow in time. The existence of art does not belong only to the artist, but to its audience who have kept it alive.
You not only photograph, but you also manipulate your pictures. When and how did you start with photo manipulation and what does it offer you artistically speaking?
In my opinion, photography is a dream in the form of reality, because you can turn unrealistic dreams into reality with pieces of reality. I have been interested in creating new things since I was a child, and perhaps the easiest place to create them was in the form of photos. In my opinion, shifting the truths can create a new message. By changing the head of a person with an apple, you can give a new meaning to the apple and a new meaning to that person! This is interesting! It’s like putting a new page in the middle of a printed book and changing the story. It is the same for me. I like to make a new story of reality.
Is there any work that you’d like to talk about more in detail?
Yes, I’d like to talk about “Just like humans”
Man and his contemporary feelings have been and are one of my most important concerns throughout my life. How can I display the important human dimension called “Emotions”. Emotions that flow only inside enter the material world and show themselves mostly in inanimate objects. Let’s look at the story from the opposite point of view, taking emotions from humans and giving them to objects to bring them to life. Just like a human, it sits in the place of its body parts, blends with it and sometimes even becomes one with them.
I try to cut the bodies into pieces, combine them with objects and define them in a new and metaphorical way. The bodies that are fragmented share their position and reality with the surrounding objects through the photo. In this way, the body can be broken and penetrated to reveal the true meaning of “Emotions”.
Most of your pictures are black and white. What do you treasure about black and white photography?
In my opinion, limitation and dependence. In black and white photography, you need both colours to display an image, and these two colours make sense together. Black with white and white with black. In my opinion, the multiplicity of colours in the image destroys the meaning to some extent. Maybe having two keys is better than having thousands of keys to turn on a light. The subjects should be the main goal of a photo and the colours should define their message.
I think it is better that the messages are limited but strong.
Could you please share some of your creative process with me, how your pictures come to life?
Dreaming and mental imagery is one of the most important things that I usually do. I usually see or hear a part of the truth around me and then I close my eyes for a while and imagine it and try to change it or continue it. I write a kind of mental story. I always have a notebook with me where I draw my mental pictures. Sometimes I accidentally create pictures by combining several existing facts. In my opinion, the dream that we see in our mind is a series of infinite images that can accidentally create a story that seems real even though it didn’t happen. I also use the same technique.
First I fill my mind with images and facts around. Second, that allows them to be combined. Third, I turn them into photos.
You are very young and you have already been very successful with your photography; you have received many awards and praise for your work, published a book, participated in many exhibitions. If okay with you, I would like to look a bit behind the curtains: what does that mean to you and does that influence how you approach your work?
Many may think that I participate in competitions or exhibitions for fame, but in my opinion, in order for a work of art to be seen, it must be accessible, it must be criticized, it must be seen. I want them to criticize my work, I want them to discuss it because my art is not just for me.
Any current or upcoming project that you’d like to share with us?
One of my dreams is to connect my art more with time. As a result, I am looking for this connection in my photos and I am trying to show this in the form of a combination of photography and art.
Do you have any advice for emerging artists at the very beginning of their career, especially photographers?
I always suggest to young photographers that they first know themselves and try to photograph from within themselves like self-portrait. Because photography is a bridge between us and the outside world, and what will make us different is the difference between each other’s existence. I always say “I am made of my art and my art is made of me”, so you have to start from yourself first.
Any artists or photographers that you’d like to recommend?
As for photographers, I’d like to recommend Edward Weston and Man Ray. When it comes to non-photographers, I recommend Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali.
And last question: What are your hopes for the future?
I always wanted to be a part of history and influence it. That’s why I chose art because it is permanent. I would like to be able to leave my works as one of the most influential works in the world in museums and books. It is there that I will always be alive even if I die.
I hope photography will enter a new stage and change the world.
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All Photographs courtesy of Mahdiyeh Afshar Bakeshloo
Written & edited by Mahdiyeh Afshar Bakeshloo and Nina Seidel
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