http://www.excellencesmagazines.com/Arte/English/a(366057)-Show-face.html

Show your face

Texts: Laura Ruiz Montes Photos:

On the bottom left there is a little map of Cuba. It could be covered with the thumb. Floating below it there is an inscription in Bulgarian announcing the Cuban collection. I don’t know a word in Bulgarian. Despite the emotional recollection of scented oils from Bulgarian roses whose aroma baptized nearly everyone in the island more than forty years ago, I was never able to withhold the language at all. The Saint George Cathedral and the beautiful Sophia were stamped in trip journals by Cubans from the old times when they used to travel across former Socialist countries for such a low price that could be afford just with their regular worker’s salaries.

What could be hidden under the thumb is quiet visible in the title: Faces, Bodies, Personas. And even more so in a kind of subtitle: Tracing Cuban Stories. It is a book of photographs by Babak Salari published by Janet 45 Print and Publishing1 with an opening note in two languages (English/Bulgarian) by Thomas Waugh2 and a praiseworthy introductory text by Norge Espinosa.

Babak Salari was born in Shiraz, in 1959, but he studied at the Concordia University and Dawson College. He became a specialist–so to speak– on black and white documentary photography. He has lived in Canada for more than twenty years; from there, he thoroughly studies Diaspora identities and marginalities. His work showing the effects of the occupation of Iraq on women and children, his photographs of Palestine refugees, his documentation of the Afghan reality made him a cultural activist capable of living under any kind of social tension and of turning his images into metaphors, incarnation and supporting ground of the philosophy of that that can’t be further postponed.

Faces, Bodies, Personas… groups two series of pictures. It opens with the Bodies and Personas pages which, at the same time derive from the Queer at the Margins of Society series bringing together snapshots of gay and travesty people in Havana. And then comes Faces, full of portraits of Cuban writers and artists.

Thomas Waug is happily surprised by the mix of this being together, of this vis-à- vis: “And it is amazing how felicitously the two sub-groups come together”. It is this beautiful rareness what moves viewers. It is the beautiful and dangerous rareness. The surprise factor itself gives away a mechanism that is not functioning well. There is something that doesn’t fit, but not in Salari’s collection of photographs, but in the viewers.

It shouldn’t be weird; it shouldn’t be amazing, this new positioning of margins and patterns. But being used as we are to hierarchies and exclusions, certain balance gives way to amazement. Babak Salari brings things to a balance, levels them up, makes justice. He turns what’s left out visible and without exoticism and publicities he photographs the face behind the mask. Or the mask beating almost at the same pace as the face.

The skin clean, recovered from the exhaustion by so much make-up, is what he shows. What is still repeatedly censured and stoned looks at the camera and lets itself be seen. It is the marginality reflected on the lens of the also marginal

Search on this magazine

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Iranian.

Sometimes, in one of the pages of the book very appealing young men with delicious firm lips break in and move around to look at the lens with the feminine and sensual beauty exhibited in the Caribbean night. Gays and travesties are photographed in the intimacy of the makeup time, in their pure act of cross- dressing; in the intimacy of suggestive caresses and naked torsos. Such intimacy is not broken at the last step because it can still be made public and shown in the pictures, owed to the documental and urban style of Diane Arbus and, in some way, from the same trend followed by Walker Evans during the Great Depression who took important pictures in Cuba in 1933 related with the revolution against Gerardo Machado.

In the other pan of the scales are writers and artists who came down from the Olympus, part with patterns. All in the same level, placed in their right place: together with other bodies and personas, Salari brings them back as people. He bedims the aura of mystery and attraction shed from their books, their periodical appearances, their important awards, their chairs in academies and also–why not– eases their lives freeing them from so big and sacred responsibilities arising from their public existence.

This group includes artists who we can’t tell if they were selected at random or after a search to reflect the intentionality of the images. We don’t know if there was a previous registration, or if a field work of an anthropological research was made, truth is that many of the photographed faces have years of work with, close to or within marginality hanging over them. And they embody lives that at different times have deeply gazed at bodies, desire and identities.

The portraits I specially recommend pass by my rereading of intertwining coordinates, I can’t do it in a different way. That’s how I look at Margarita Mateo and hear in the silence of her photograph the confession: “I don’t know where this vocation of mine for the marginal, the peripheral comes from. Truth is that I tend to find “centers” boring, the established turns monotonous, and many times I feel more comfortable turning to the dark and hidden paths of Marginalia.”3

Anton Arrufat, elegant, standing, with only one part of the face illuminated by the light coming through a window that seems to assist his own writing “Faith Tournament”, delicate, terribly sad and shaking poem falling within the line of the best Cuban homoerotic poetry.

We were lovers but sometimes we were friends. Or we were such friends that sometimes we used to love one another./ To add a new ring to our wedlock, we decided to duel. We went to pick weapons: two swords of equal length and cast./ We got set since dawn, adjusting helmets and gantlets, riding on horseback as we stood face to face./ We are still so:/ timeless, fierce, inexorable, trying to beat with just one stroke and for the other for forever more.4

Rocio Garcia is sitting on the floor. To her left, there is a closed door on which, with a pencil, thin crayon or pen, “The beast. The animal” has been written. This painter, scathing in her art, brings to light deep conflicts of men’s imaginary. Her men, machos, seamen, tamers (sort of characters that appear in her paintings) jump out from the marginality and the periphery, settling in the realms of the power that for centuries has belonged to the heterosexual posture. Knife sailors, card players gathered at a bar, firearms holders, military chiefs, army squads are her key words. The voyeur, the punisher, the beauty of pain and the pain of beauty; the theories and masturbations; the mirror and the mask; the density of tradition and the detoxification of that same density; violence and repression; intimidation; power, the minute of glory; the change of identities are the marginal topics deployed in the creative work and are, undoubtedly, the background music of her face photographed by Babak Salari.

Norge Espinosa, author of the introductory study, was also photographed. Being both “judge and party” doesn’t cloud reasoning so as to appreciate his most valuable essence–and gifted with impartiality–, these pictures. Espinosa traces an interesting history of the different moments in the treatment of homosexuality in Cuba. He lays a fleeting (because the space doesn’t leave room for more) but enriching background of the incidence/presence of homosexuality in the Cuban culture until the visibility provided by the film Strawberry and Chocolate, and the true meaning of the Mejunje, a multicultural center created and promoted by Ramon Silverio in the city of Santa Clara. Espinosa has also covered with his work a route within marginality. He wrote, while still very young, the anthological poem “Vestido de Novia” (Wedding Dress), being absolutely aware that these verses are part of one of the most visible regions of his work:

With what mirrors/ With what eyes/ This blue-handed boy is looking at himself/

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Excellences Magazines – Arte por Excelencias – Issue No. 10 – Show your face 11-08-03 1:45 PM

With what umbrella he’ll dare cross/ The downpour and the ship trail into the moon./ How could he/ How could he dressed as a bride/ If his heart is stripped of breasts,/ If his nails aren’t polished/ If he only holds a dragonfly fan.

Following this way, we’ll have to stop in other faces beautifully photographed by Salari, which I insist–once again– shouldn’t be look at as photographsof independent variable but as the link between the portraits and the latitudes of their respective work. Rene Peña, of whom there is a picture full of great expressive strength, is, in turn, an important Cuban photographer. His marginal series: Man Made materials, from 1999 and White Things make up together with his photographed face a circulating whole aiming at the search of the black body, the quest in the sanctuary of the black skin.

Researcher Tomas Fernandez Robaina, also photographed in Faces, Bodies, Personas… wrote El negro en Cuba 1902-1958 (Black people in Cuba 1902-1958); he is an expert on Nicolas Guillen’s work and his main concern is the constant of the black movement and thinking in Cuba. Once again the link is established, the pin fastens the cape.

I prefer not to make the list longer. I just wanted to refer to what I believe are implicit links between the two series of pictures, and which make up a solid poetic of image as generator and articulator of realities. There is something else uniting both series: the look upon the bottom, upon the environment. One example is Havana’s solares which are part of the background of Jorge Angel Perez, a talented writer whose narrative exercise goes deep in the different sides of the body and marginality. The social milieu, the environment and the daily life of the epic Cuban bring the parts of the documentary collection of photographs closer together.

But there is also something that brings the two series apart. In most of the photos of gays and travesties, they protect each other or act as their own bodyguard before a mirror of two sides that shows a split image or one accompanied by itself in the combination of both faces. However, writers, artists appear always and invariably by themselves, turned into lonely marginal people dedicated to the amazing art of the long-distance runner and to the perennial banishing isolation.

In any case, faces either alone or accompanied are photographs of bodies that live, die and renew themselves, shed their skin in the race to regenerate themselves later in today’s Cuba. They are fragments of a nation that Babak Salari put together to show the diversity and mixture, the variables and permanence. They are the bodies of resistance, the survivors of many crises. They are what Norge Espinosa so rightly defined as: “the only real possession, that, without shame, lets itself be seen, looks at the camera and offers itself”.

 

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yet another review about cuba

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A FACINTATION WITH THE LOST PAST

By Babak Salari

This coming Thursday, June 28, Bulgarian photographer Nikola Mihov is presenting his new book “Forget YourPast”, Published by Janet 45 at 7PM,  Plus Tova .

 

Forget your past

I met Nikola Mihov in January, 2008, at the opening of my exhibit Faces, Bodies,

Personas: Tracing Cuban Stories in Sofia. He was born in 1982, seven years before

the end of the regime. As a young boy he had wanted to become a football

player, but the political changes brought unexpected hardship. Nikola lived with

his mother and when she lost her job, he worked selling newspapers. At twenty,

he moved to Paris, where he was overwhelmed by the city’s art and culture, and

developed a special passion for photography.

Five years later Nikola returned to Bulgaria. Readjusting to his native country, he

began to see that there was an enormous gap between Bulgaria’s present and

its communist past. It was as if there was a collective will to forget or to pretend,

perhaps, that the regime had never really happened. Following in the footsteps

of his mother, a historian, he began researching the period.

Nikola’s interest in the communist-era monuments was ignited through his

contact with the platform Trace, initiated by a group of Bulgarian architects living

in France. Constructed at enormous expense, but now falling into ruins, these

monuments represent a strange crossover. Their existence testifies to the power

of the former state, while their decay is a metaphor of its failure. The monuments

are controversial. Many want them torn down, seeing them only as ongoing

propaganda. But others see them as part of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage, of what

was and no longer is. And indeed, they represent what the country went through.

Nikola was fascinated by these monuments. Not just by their hulking shapes,

but by their sociology. Not just by how they are seen today, but also by where

they came from, who designed and built them. He began traveling through the

country, talking to people, interviewing sculptors and architects, digging through

archives, and, of course, taking photographs. The results are the exhibition Forget

Your Past, numerous publications in the media and the eponymous book.

I first saw these prints exhibited in a little room at a festival in Northwestern

Bulgaria. The contrast between the huge scale of the monuments and the

diminutive size of the room gave the photographs an unusual, poignant quality.

I wondered what Nikola had to say with them and how he had captured the

spirit of these giant, soulless constructions.

Because of the straightforward, realistic style, it is sometimes easy to miss the

subtlety of Nikola’s compositions. Look at his photograph of the Memorial House

of the Bulgarian Communist Party on Mount Buzludja (page 9), for example.

© Nikola Mihov, Forget Your Past

© Nikola Mihov, Forget Your Past

The first impression is one of might and power: two giant fists tightly holding

two burning torches. But a closer look brings you into the image and reveals

the figure of a boy posing atop one of the hands. The diminutive size of the

figure ought to emphasize the sculpture’s scale, but instead it seems to ridicule

it. The eye then follows an almost invisible diagonal line to the top right of the

picture where the monument is seen in the distance. Once a mighty symbol

of the old state, it is now shoved off into a corner, a vestige of its former self.

And if that is a powerful metaphor of the past, the image of the 1,300 Years of

Bulgaria Monument in Sofia on page 91 is an ironic summary of the present. In

it, Nikola has had the impertinence to not actually include the monument itself.

The picture was taken from its top, looking out across the plaza. All we see from it

is its shadow, filling the square. It has a distinct, easily recognizable and vaguely

menacing shape. But it is only a shadow and it is retreating, fading away, like

the old state it represents. Then, following the shadow’s line, we see the new

monuments that have come to replace it, huge Coca Cola and McDonald’s signs

on the roofs of the surrounding buildings.

© Nikola Mihov, Forget Your Past

© Nikola Mihov, Forget Your Past

 

Nikola Mihov belongs to a generation of change. He has managed to turn his

portrayals of the communist-era monuments into a bridge between the past

and the present. I am hopeful that his photographs will help Bulgaria deal with

the complex issues surrounding these monuments and the enormous changes

of the past two decades.

Montreal, June, 2012

 

по следите на изгубеното минало

За първи път се срещнах с Никола Михов през януари 2008-а година на от-

криването на моята изложба „Лица, тела, персонажи: истории от Куба” в Со-

фия. Никола е роден през 1982 г., седем години преди края на комунистиче-

ския режим. Като малък иска да стане футболист, но политическите събития

от 1989 г. променят съдбата му. Скоро след настъпването на демократични-

те промени майка му остава без работа и той започва да продава вестници.

Когато става на двайсет, заминава за Париж. Културата и изкуствата го пле-

няват и той се отдава на едно от тях – фотографията.

Пет години по-късно Никола се завръща в България. Адаптирайки се към

живота в родината си осъзнава, че между съвремието и комунистическото

минало съществува една истинска пропаст. Макар да е роден преди проме-

ните, той почти няма спомени от това време. Струва му се, че днес има ко-

лективна воля миналото да бъде забравено и че обществото се преструва,

че комунистическият режим никога не се е случвал. Следвайки примера на

майка си, която е историк, Никола се захваща с проучвания.

Участието му в платформата „Следа”, основана от български артисти, жи-

веещи във Франция е първият му контакт като фотограф с паметниците от

времето на комунизма. Създадени с много средства, а днес изоставени, тези

паметници представляват интересен парадокс. От една страна те са свиде-

телство за мощта на режима, а от друга – за неговия крах. Днес те предиз-

викват противоречиви реакции. Мнозина ги приемат като пропаганден ин-

струмент, който трябва да бъде унищожен. А други гледат на тях като на част

от културното наследство на България.

Никола е заинтригуван не просто от самите паметници, а и от социологията

на създаването им. Не просто от начина, по който обществото гледа на тях,

а и от замисъла и реализацията им. Той пътува из страната, говори с обик-

новени хора, среща се със скулптори и архитекти, издирва архиви, събира

информация и, разбира се, снима. Резултатът е изложбата Forget Your Past,

многобройни публикации в медиите и издаването на едноименната книга.

За първи път видях фотографиите на Никола изложени в една от стаите на

бившето училище в с. Бела Речка по време на Фестивала на спомените през

2009 г. Контрастът между мащаба на паметниците и размера на помещението

беше особено въздействащ. Запитах се какво е посланието на фотографиите

и как Никола е успял да улови духа на тези бездушни гигантски постройки.

Неговият реалистичен и донякъде директен фотографски подход лесно

може да отвлече вниманието от замисъла на композициите. Добър пример

за това е снимката на подхода към Дом-паметника на БКП на връх Бузлуджа

(стр. 9). Първото впечатление от тази фотография е за внушителност – две

гигантски ръце, здраво стиснали запалени факли. Но вглеждайки се по-вни-

мателно, забелязваме момче, което се е качило върху ръцете и позира за

снимка. Малката фигура би трябвало да подчертае мащаба на скулптура-

та, но вместо това изглежда, че момчето и‘ се подиграва. После погледът ни

се плъзга по диагонала към паметника в горния десен ъгъл. Някогашният

символ на комунистическата партия, изтикан в периферията на кадъра, се е

превърнал в сянка на самия себе си. И ако това е метафора на миналото, то

снимката от върха на паметника „1300 години България” в София (стр. 91) е

иронично обобщение на настоящето. Тук самият монумент отсъства от ком-

позицията, като единственото, което се вижда, е сянката му – разпознава-

ема и леко заплашителна. Но това е сянка, която се смалява и изчезва – като

държавата, която го е създала. След което погледът ни се спира върху два

от паметниците на новото време – огромните реклами на Кока-Кола и Мак-

доналдс по покривите на околните сгради.

Никола Михов е от поколението, което търси промяната, а снимките му на

паметниците от времето на комунизма се превръщат в мост между минало

и настояще. Надявам се книгата, която държите в ръцете си да спомогне за

осмислянето на тази връзка, както и на огромните промени в българското

общество през последните две десетилетия.

Монреал, юни 2012__

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Show Your Face, A review about Fcaes, Bodies..Cuban book by Babak Salari!

 

http://www.excellencesmagazines.com/Arte/English/a(366057)-Show-face.html

 

Show your face

Texts: Laura Ruiz Montes Photos:

On the bottom left there is a little map of Cuba. It could be covered with the thumb. Floating below it there is an inscription in Bulgarian announcing the Cuban collection. I don’t know a word in Bulgarian. Despite the emotional recollection of scented oils from Bulgarian roses whose aroma baptized nearly everyone in the island more than forty years ago, I was never able to withhold the language at all. The Saint George Cathedral and the beautiful Sophia were stamped in trip journals by Cubans from the old times when they used to travel across former Socialist countries for such a low price that could be afford just with their regular worker’s salaries.

What could be hidden under the thumb is quiet visible in the title: Faces, Bodies, Personas. And even more so in a kind of subtitle: Tracing Cuban Stories. It is a book of photographs by Babak Salari published by Janet 45 Print and Publishing1 with an opening note in two languages (English/Bulgarian) by Thomas Waugh2 and a praiseworthy introductory text by Norge Espinosa.

Babak Salari was born in Shiraz, in 1959, but he studied at the Concordia University and Dawson College. He became a specialist–so to speak– on black and white documentary photography. He has lived in Canada for more than twenty years; from there, he thoroughly studies Diaspora identities and marginalities. His work showing the effects of the occupation of Iraq on women and children, his photographs of Palestine refugees, his documentation of the Afghan reality made him a cultural activist capable of living under any kind of social tension and of turning his images into metaphors, incarnation and supporting ground of the philosophy of that that can’t be further postponed.

Faces, Bodies, Personas… groups two series of pictures. It opens with the Bodies and Personas pages which, at the same time derive from the Queer at the Margins of Society series bringing together snapshots of gay and travesty people in Havana. And then comes Faces, full of portraits of Cuban writers and artists.

Thomas Waug is happily surprised by the mix of this being together, of this vis-à- vis: “And it is amazing how felicitously the two sub-groups come together”. It is this beautiful rareness what moves viewers. It is the beautiful and dangerous rareness. The surprise factor itself gives away a mechanism that is not functioning well. There is something that doesn’t fit, but not in Salari’s collection of photographs, but in the viewers.

It shouldn’t be weird; it shouldn’t be amazing, this new positioning of margins and patterns. But being used as we are to hierarchies and exclusions, certain balance gives way to amazement. Babak Salari brings things to a balance, levels them up, makes justice. He turns what’s left out visible and without exoticism and publicities he photographs the face behind the mask. Or the mask beating almost at the same pace as the face.

The skin clean, recovered from the exhaustion by so much make-up, is what he shows. What is still repeatedly censured and stoned looks at the camera and lets itself be seen. It is the marginality reflected on the lens of the also marginal Iranian.

Sometimes, in one of the pages of the book very appealing young men with delicious firm lips break in and move around to look at the lens with the feminine and sensual beauty exhibited in the Caribbean night. Gays and travesties are photographed in the intimacy of the makeup time, in their pure act of cross- dressing; in the intimacy of suggestive caresses and naked torsos. Such intimacy is not broken at the last step because it can still be made public and shown in the pictures, owed to the documental and urban style of Diane Arbus and, in some way, from the same trend followed by Walker Evans during the Great Depression who took important pictures in Cuba in 1933 related with the revolution against Gerardo Machado.

In the other pan of the scales are writers and artists who came down from the Olympus, part with patterns. All in the same level, placed in their right place: together with other bodies and personas, Salari brings them back as people. He bedims the aura of mystery and attraction shed from their books, their periodical appearances, their important awards, their chairs in academies and also–why not– eases their lives freeing them from so big and sacred responsibilities arising from their public existence.

This group includes artists who we can’t tell if they were selected at random or after a search to reflect the intentionality of the images. We don’t know if there was a previous registration, or if a field work of an anthropological research was made, truth is that many of the photographed faces have years of work with, close to or within marginality hanging over them. And they embody lives that at different times have deeply gazed at bodies, desire and identities.

The portraits I specially recommend pass by my rereading of intertwining coordinates, I can’t do it in a different way. That’s how I look at Margarita Mateo and hear in the silence of her photograph the confession: “I don’t know where this vocation of mine for the marginal, the peripheral comes from. Truth is that I tend to find “centers” boring, the established turns monotonous, and many times I feel more comfortable turning to the dark and hidden paths of Marginalia.”3

Anton Arrufat, elegant, standing, with only one part of the face illuminated by the light coming through a window that seems to assist his own writing “Faith Tournament”, delicate, terribly sad and shaking poem falling within the line of the best Cuban homoerotic poetry.

We were lovers but sometimes we were friends. Or we were such friends that sometimes we used to love one another./ To add a new ring to our wedlock, we decided to duel. We went to pick weapons: two swords of equal length and cast./ We got set since dawn, adjusting helmets and gantlets, riding on horseback as we stood face to face./ We are still so:/ timeless, fierce, inexorable, trying to beat with just one stroke and for the other for forever more.4

Rocio Garcia is sitting on the floor. To her left, there is a closed door on which, with a pencil, thin crayon or pen, “The beast. The animal” has been written. This painter, scathing in her art, brings to light deep conflicts of men’s imaginary. Her men, machos, seamen, tamers (sort of characters that appear in her paintings) jump out from the marginality and the periphery, settling in the realms of the power that for centuries has belonged to the heterosexual posture. Knife sailors, card players gathered at a bar, firearms holders, military chiefs, army squads are her key words. The voyeur, the punisher, the beauty of pain and the pain of beauty; the theories and masturbations; the mirror and the mask; the density of tradition and the detoxification of that same density; violence and repression; intimidation; power, the minute of glory; the change of identities are the marginal topics deployed in the creative work and are, undoubtedly, the background music of her face photographed by Babak Salari.

Norge Espinosa, author of the introductory study, was also photographed. Being both “judge and party” doesn’t cloud reasoning so as to appreciate his most valuable essence–and gifted with impartiality–, these pictures. Espinosa traces an interesting history of the different moments in the treatment of homosexuality in Cuba. He lays a fleeting (because the space doesn’t leave room for more) but enriching background of the incidence/presence of homosexuality in the Cuban culture until the visibility provided by the film Strawberry and Chocolate, and the true meaning of the Mejunje, a multicultural center created and promoted by Ramon Silverio in the city of Santa Clara. Espinosa has also covered with his work a route within marginality. He wrote, while still very young, the anthological poem “Vestido de Novia” (Wedding Dress), being absolutely aware that these verses are part of one of the most visible regions of his work:

Following this way, we’ll have to stop in other faces beautifully photographed by Salari, which I insist–once again– shouldn’t be look at as photographsof independent variable but as the link between the portraits and the latitudes of their respective work. Rene Peña, of whom there is a picture full of great expressive strength, is, in turn, an important Cuban photographer. His marginal series: Man Made materials, from 1999 and White Things make up together with his photographed face a circulating whole aiming at the search of the black body, the quest in the sanctuary of the black skin.

Researcher Tomas Fernandez Robaina, also photographed in Faces, Bodies, Personas… wrote El negro en Cuba 1902-1958 (Black people in Cuba 1902-1958); he is an expert on Nicolas Guillen’s work and his main concern is the constant of the black movement and thinking in Cuba. Once again the link is established, the pin fastens the cape.

I prefer not to make the list longer. I just wanted to refer to what I believe are implicit links between the two series of pictures, and which make up a solid poetic of image as generator and articulator of realities. There is something else uniting both series: the look upon the bottom, upon the environment. One example is Havana’s solares which are part of the background of Jorge Angel Perez, a talented writer whose narrative exercise goes deep in the different sides of the body and marginality. The social milieu, the environment and the daily life of the epic Cuban bring the parts of the documentary collection of photographs closer together.

But there is also something that brings the two series apart. In most of the photos of gays and travesties, they protect each other or act as their own bodyguard before a mirror of two sides that shows a split image or one accompanied by itself in the combination of both faces. However, writers, artists appear always and invariably by themselves, turned into lonely marginal people dedicated to the amazing art of the long-distance runner and to the perennial banishing isolation.

In any case, faces either alone or accompanied are photographs of bodies that live, die and renew themselves, shed their skin in the race to regenerate themselves later in today’s Cuba. They are fragments of a nation that Babak Salari put together to show the diversity and mixture, the variables and permanence. They are the bodies of resistance, the survivors of many crises. They are what Norge Espinosa so rightly defined as: “the only real possession, that, without shame, lets itself be seen, looks at the camera and offers itself”.

 

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Show Your Face, A review about Cuban Book, Faces, Bodies, Personas!

http://www.excellencesmagazines.com/Arte/English/a(366057)-Show-face.html

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Texts: Laura Ruiz Montes Photos:

En la esquina inferior derecha hay un pequeño mapa de Cuba. Un dedo pulgar podría taparlo. Bajo él navega una inscripción en búlgaro que anuncia la colección cubana. No conozco siquiera una palabra en búlgaro. A pesar del registro afectivo que se remonta a aquellos aceites perfumados de rosas búlgaras cuyos aromas bautizaron a casi todos en la Isla hace ya más de cuarenta años, nunca logré retener nada del idioma. La catedral de San Jorge y la hermosa Sofía quedaron en el anecdotario de viajes de antaño, que conducían a los cubanos por los otroras países socialistas a un precio que sus salarios de obreros alcanzaban a pagar.

Lo que podría quedar oculto bajo el dedo, alcanza relevante visibilidad en el título: Faces, Bodies, Personas. Y más en una especie de subtítulo: Tracing Cuban Stories. Se trata de un libro de fotografías de Babak Salari publicado por Janet 45 Print and Publishing1 y que ofrece bilingüe (inglés/búlgaro) una nota de entrada de Thomas Waugh2 y un apreciable texto introductorio de Norge Espinosa.

Babak Salari nació en Shiraz, en 1959, pero se educó en Concordia University y Dawson College. Su especialidad –por llamarle de algún modo– es la fotografía documental en blanco y negro. Vive en Canadá hace más de veinte años; desde allí estudia y se adentra en las identidades diaspóricas y las marginalidades. Su trabajo mostrando los efectos de la ocupación en Irak sobre las mujeres y los niños, sus fotografías de refugiados palestinos, su documentación de la realidad afgana lo convierten en un activista cultural capaz de convivir con cualquier tensión social y hacer que sus imágenes devengan metáfora, encarnación y sustento de una filosofía de lo improrrogable.

Faces, Bodies, Personas… agrupa dos series de fotos. Abre páginas Bodies and Personas que, a su vez, deriva de la serie Queer at the Margins of Society donde se reúnen fotografías de gays y travestis de La Habana. Y a continuación puede ser vista Faces, colmada de retratos de escritores y artistas cubanos.

Thomas Waug se sorprende agradablemente de esta fusión, de este estar juntos, de este vis-à-vis: “And it is amazing how felicitously the two sub-groups come together”. Es la hermosa extrañeza que sacude a muchos espectadores. Es la hermosa y peligrosa extrañeza. El hecho de la sorpresa ya delata un engranaje que no va bien. Algo no encaja pero no en el muestrario de fotografías de Salari, sino en los espectadores.

No debería ser extraño, no debería resultar amazing, esta nueva posicionalidad de márgenes y cánones. Pero acostumbrados co-mo estamos a jerarquizaciones y exclusiones, ciertos equilibrios producen extrañeza. Babak Salari estabiliza, nivela, hace justicia. Vuelve visible lo relegado y sin exotismos ni publicidades retrata el rostro que está detrás de las máscaras. O la máscara que late casi a la par del rostro.

La piel limpia, recuperada después del agotamiento de los afeites, es lo que aquí se enseña. Lo que aún muchas veces es censurado y apedreado mira a la cámara, se deja ver. Es la marginalidad reflejada en el lente del también marginal iraní.

A ratos en una de las planas del libro irrumpen muchachos muy jóvenes de apetecibles labios deliciosamente afirmados que luego se desplazan para volver a mirar al lente desde la belleza femenina y sensual exhibida en la noche caribeña. Gays y travestis son fotografiados en la intimidad de su momento de maquillaje, en su acto puro de travestismo; en la intimidad de caricias sugeridas y torsos desnudos. Esa intimidad no está detenida en su último escalón porque aún puede hacerse pública y ser mostrada en estas fotos, deudoras del estilo documental y urbano de Diane Arbus y, en cierto modo, de la misma corriente que asistió a Walker Evans durante la Gran Depresión quien también realizó importantes fotos en Cuba en 1933, relacionadas con la revolución contra Gerardo Machado.

En el otro platillo de la balanza están los escritores y artistas bajados del Olimpo, desprendidos del canon. Igualados, ubicados en su justo lugar: junto a otros bodies y personas, Salari los devuelve como personas. Les reduce el aura de misterio y atractivo que proyectan desde sus libros, sus apariciones periódicas, sus premios importantes, sus sillas en academias y también –por qué no– les aligera la vida, liberándolos de tamañas y sacras responsabilidades emanadas de una existencia pública.

En este grupo aparecen artistas cuya elección no sabemos si fue dictada por el azar o es la resultante de un proceso de búsqueda que refleja la intencionalidad de estas imágenes. Lo cierto es que muchos de los rostros fotografiados arrastran consigo años de trabajo con, cerca o dentro de la marginalidad. Y reúnen en sí vidas que en momentos varios han fijado con profundidad una sostenida mirada sobre los cuerpos, el deseo y las identidades.

Los retratos que recomiendo muy especialmente pasan por mi relectura de coordenadas entrelazantes, no puedo hacerlo de otra manera. Así miro a Margarita Mateo y oigo en el silencio de su fotografía la confesión: “No sé de dónde sale esa vocación mía por lo marginal, por lo periférico. Lo cierto es que los ‘centros’ suelen aburrirme, lo establecido se me torna monótono, y muchas veces me siento más cómoda recorriendo los oscuros y recónditos caminos de Marginalia”.3

Antón Arrufat, elegante, de pie, con solo una zona del rostro iluminada por la luz que entra por una ventana parece asistir a la escritura de su propio texto “Torneo fiel”, delicado, tristísimo y contundente poema inscrito en la línea de la mejor poesía homoerótica cubana.

Éramos tan amantes que a veces éramos amigos. O éramos tan amigos que a veces nos amábamos./ Para añadir un nuevo anillo a nuestra unión, decidimos batirnos. Fuimos a escoger las armas: dos espadas iguales en tamaño y temple./ Nos preparamos desde el alba. Ajustados lorigas y yelmos, montamos a caballo y nos pusimos frente a frente./ Así estamos todavía./ Sin tiempo, encarnizados, inexorables, tratando de vencer de un tajo y para siempre al otro.4

Rocío García, por su parte, aparece sentada en el suelo. A su izquierda hay una puerta cerrada donde con lápiz, creyón fino o bolígrafo ha sido escrito: “La fiera. El animal”. Esta pintora, mordaz en su arte, saca a relucir profundos conflictos del imaginario masculino. Sus hombres, machos, marineros, domadores (suerte de personajes de su pintura) saltan de la marginalidad y la periferia, instalándose en los predios del poder que durante siglos ha correspondido a la postura heterosexual. Marineros de arma blanca, jugadores de cartas reunidos en el bar, dueños de armas de fuego, jefes militares, pelotones del ejército son sus claves. El voyeur, el castigador, la belleza del dolor y el dolor de la belleza; las teorías y las masturbaciones; el espejo y la máscara; la densidad de la tradición y la desintoxicación de esa misma densidad; la violencia y la represión; la intimidación; el poder, el minuto de gloria, los trueques de identidades son los temas marginales que despliegan la obra de esta creadora y que son, sin lugar a dudas, la música de fondo de su rostro fotografiado por Babak Salari.

Norge Espinosa, autor del estudio introductorio también fue retratado. Ser juez y parte no le nubla el entendimiento para valorar en su más preciada esencia –y dotado de imparcialidad– estas fotografías. Espinosa traza un interesante recorrido por diferentes momentos del tratamiento a la homosexualidad en Cuba. Ensaya un fugaz (porque el espacio no permite más) pero aportador bosquejo sobre la incidencia/presencia de la homosexualidad en la cultura cubana hasta llegar a la visibilidad que aportó el filme Fresa y Chocolate y la significación real de El Mejunje, espacio multicultural creado y defendido por Ramón Silverio en la ciudad de Santa Clara. Espinosa también ha cubierto con su obra una ruta dentro de la marginalidad. Autor, siendo muy joven, del antológico poema “Vestido de novia”, es absolutamente consciente de que ese texto conforma una de las regiones más visibles de su obra:

Con qué espejos/ con qué ojos/ va a mirarse este muchacho de manos azules./ Con qué sombrilla va a atreverse a cruzar el aguacero/ y la senda del barco hacia la luna./ Cómo va a poder./ Cómo va a poder así vestido de novia/ si vacío de senos está su corazón/ si no tiene las uñas pintadas/ si tiene sólo un abanico de libélulas.

Siguiendo este rumbo, habría que detenerse también en otros rostros retratados talentosamente por Salari, a los cuales insisto –una vez más– acercarse no como a fotografías de variable independiente sino a partir de la vinculación de aquellas con las latitudes de la obra de cada quien. De René Peña, se muestra una excelente foto cargada de una gran fuerza expresiva. Sus marginales series: Man made materials, de 1999 y White things conforman con su rostro retratado un todo circulando que apunta hacia la búsqueda del cuerpo negro, la indagación en el santuario de la piel negra de este importante artista cubano.

El investigador Tomás Fernández Robaina (fotografiado también en Faces, Bodies, Personas…) ha escrito El negro en Cuba 1902-1958, es un estudioso de la obra de Nicolás Guillén y tiene como preocupación la constante del movimiento y pensamiento negro en Cuba. Una vez más el enlace se efectúa, el broche cierra la capa.

Apenas he querido detenerme en lo que creo son uniones tácitas entre las dos series de fotografías y que conforman una consolidada poética de la imagen como generadora y articuladora de realidades. Algo más une ambas series: la mirada sobre el fondo, sobre el entorno. Ejemplo de ello es el solar habanero que conforma el telón detrás de Jorge Ángel Pérez, talentoso escritor cuyo ejercicio narrativo se ahonda en diferentes aristas del cuerpo y la marginalidad. El entorno, la cotidianidad de la épica cubana circundante, acercan aún más las partes de este conjunto fotográfico documental. Pero también algo separa las series mencionadas. En la mayoría de las fotos de gays y travestis, éstos se guardan entre sí o son su propia escolta ante un espejo de dos lados que muestra una imagen escindida o acompañada por sí misma en la conjunción de ambas caras. Sin embargo, los escritores, los artistas, aparecen siempre e invariablemente a solas, convertidos en marginales solitarios, dedicados al extraño arte del corredor de fondo y a su sempiterno aislamiento desterrador.

De cualquier modo, rostros solos o acompañados son fotografías de cuerpos que viven, mueren, se renuevan, pierden la piel en la carrera para regenerarse posteriormente en la Cuba de hoy. Fragmentos de una nación que Babak Salari reunió para mostrar la diversidad y la mezcla, las variables y la permanencia. Son los cuerpos de la resistencia, los sobrevivientes de muchas crisis. Son lo que con tanto acierto Norge Espinosa definió: “la única posesión real, que sin pudores se deja ver, mira a la cámara y se ofrece”.

Faces, Bodies, Personas. Tracing Cuban Stories: Photografs by Babak Salari, text by Norge Espinosa, Janet 45 Print and Publishing, Montreal, Canadá, 2008.

 

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Remembering The People of Afghanistan By David Hopkins

 

In a fast paced world with media focussed on single, dramatic images there is the danger that extended documentary work like that of Babak Salari’s may be missed in the rush for the next great cover shot. Salari’s photographs, by contrast, require us to slow down and savour the moments he has rendered on film. Like any story, the best way to experience “Remembering the People of Afghanistan” is to be conscious of the telling and willing to let ourselves be affected by it. Salari’s photos form a rich, complex story told in a soft voice. It is the story of a people recounted with empathy and respect. At times, it is also autobiographical as Salari appears to relive moments and spaces of his own exile in the lives of those in front of his camera.

The story here is narrated in quiet silvery tones, bold heavy shadows, in the rhythm of repeating forms and faces, in telling layers, dusty floors, in the eyes of children and adults, in the turn of a person’s hand. Salari captures these elements with his typical understatement; done with such sleight-of-hand, we must be attentive, even revisit images to fully appreciate them.

Some pictures are tapestries of information with multiple focal points. The market scene in Kandahar (pages 152-153) is a photograph that I have returned to several times. Salari has timed and framed the photo so that its nine primary figures are connected by a subliminal resonance, one that ties them to each other and forms the compositional fabric of the photograph. Despite their interconnectedness, each of these elements suggests a unique story: the upturned toes in the shade of the parasol; the men finalizing a transaction; the women in burquas crossing the frame, one heavyset, the other slight; the tented profile overlooking the street; the shadow occupied by a man who has noticed the photographer; the youth sitting against the shade on the wall; the passer-by with a folded blanket on his shoulder; the dark opening punctuated by a white hat and clothes. These protagonists lead us through the image, a single story.

Khandehar old market

In reality, the subjects were at various depths in the scene and Salari has contained, frozen, flattened and connected them in a two-dimensional space. The figures are spread across a flat plane in a considered, aesthetic pattern: the sweeping hand of the man with the blanket now almost brushes the parasol of the man with the upturned toes. Yet Salari keeps this transformation discreet. He chooses to remain faithful to the original scene, chooses not to draw attention to himself or the photographic process.

Hands play an integral role in this collection. Salari consistently incorporates them: look for them in portraits, in gestures, at the edges of a frame. Salari is conscious of how they complement faces and expressions, and is careful to include them and the insight they offer. In the makeshift cemetery (pages 16-17), the rigid hands that break through the burial shroud are contrasted with the supple forms of the hands attending the dead.

Body of border crossing

To appreciate the skill and eloquence of Salari’s photography is to appreciate his telling of the story. But Babak specifically invites us to look beyond the language of his photography to the story itself, the people. We are invited to connect with the Afghans, witness them as actual people instead of the generic background figures that populate daily news clips. These pictures are intimate and personal, open. They show us the character, dignity and strength of civilian Afghans who live, play, work and study in a dire physical and political landscape. These pictures motivate.

David Hopkins

Department of Professional Photography

Dawson College

David Hopkins is the former chair of the Department of Professional Photography at Dawson College. He has been an active teacher for over thirty years and is a recipient of the college’s Director General’s Award for Teaching Excellence. He has written numerous articles for magazines in Canada and the United States and maintains an extensive blog dedicated to photography and education in photography.

 

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© FROM SHIRAZ TO HAVANA BY Babak Salari

 

© Babak Salari, My Street Cuban Stories

FROM SHIRAZ TO HAVANA

– 1 –

FLASH BACK: NOSTALGIA

Tomorrow, February 11th, is the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. Since 1979, I have been travelling and living in many streets, in many places around the world, including my own city, Shiraz, the City of Secrets. Since leaving Iran, and not counting my eventual immigration to Canada, I’ve moved almost 27 times and I’ve been questioned, over and over again, about my idea of home, displacement, and the emotional effects of being far from the place I used to belong.

It is difficult to give an image, I’ve discovered, to an idea as complicated as the idea of “home”. I have stayed in various streets in many countries but still I have a hard time saying: This one is mine. I still cannot figure out a place of my own where I don’t fear being abandoned by society. Yet, in spite of this feeling, I’ve enjoyed every single moment of my life anywhere I’ve found myself up to this moment.

In September and December, 2009, I flew with the Bulgarian journalist, Diana Ivanova, to Cuba to start the project My Street. Both of us were amazed by the lively interest of the Cuban participants in our proposal, and by their willingness to tell us about the street in which they live. And I have to admit that my involvement in their views, histories and stories stirred up memories that had been buried inside of me for a long time.

Travelling with Ms. Ivanova and our assistant, Ulises Quinta de Armas, from La Havana all the way to Santiago de Cuba gave me the chance to take part in a series of workshops with local people and to hear their very personal stories. We asked each person to describe the street they live on, and to describe it to someone – like us – who had never been there before. Their writings could be about buildings, neighbours, shapes, colours, recollections… Each member of the project was also given a digital camera. We asked them to take 10 to 15 photos that could illustrate their respective stories.

Each group, consisting of no more than five people, returned later on to read their narratives to each another. The idea of my street turned out to be, for the Cubans, an easily accessible topic. The street was a micro-model of the larger society that they had in common, regardless of their external differences. By reading, listening and discovering common points, a space for mutual understanding, questioning and curiosity opened up before us.

“My street is a mirror where nobody wants to see himself, fearful of finding an ugly face,” one participant says in his contribution. Ulises Quinta de Armas (“A Box of Memories Nobody Opens”) remembers the journeys, hopes and sorrows of several generations of his family, and these memories serve to link the street to his history and identity. This strong sense of belonging, of nostalgia even, in Ulises’ account proved to be a common feeling in many of the micro-histories we brought together in Cuba.

– 2 –

FLASH FORWARD: MY STREET

I spent many hours contemplating the stories and photos that the participants so generously created. And all the time I was thinking about what the metaphor of a street actually is—about its role in stimulating intelligent questions in any society, and in gathering these questions into a whole. A street allows us to consider collective memory in addition to individual memories. It becomes a choir where each individual voice contains its own qualities and power…

Tomorrow, millions of people with different views and backgrounds will celebrate, in the streets, the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. But I will be thinking about a street that has been completely lost in the events of history.

Ever since 1982, I travelled the world and desperately, right or wrong, couldn’t find a place that I would call home. Thirty one years later, in the crystallized memories that this Cuban experience awoke in me, I saw a forgotten street that was, and still is, a very important part of my family’s life. I hadn’t been there in decades.

My street was about one hundred meters long, muddy in both winter and spring, unpleasant for children to play on. My street, or – as we’d say in Persian – kocheh, consisted of four houses only, and it lay at the outskirts of a small village two hours from the city of Shiraz, in the south of Iran. The village was surrounded by mountains, oaks and wild almond trees, and a river that ran dry at the beginning of autumn. Our house, a big one with a huge wooden gate, sat in front of a garden that belonged to our relatives. This was a favourite spot for me and my three brothers, the place where we enjoyed pomegranates all summer long…

Now I am going through a box of things which I carry around with me, a box full of precious photos from my family album. In a snapshot, I see myself, three other young men, and somebody’s hand that is coming into the frame. The hand belongs to Abbas, my cousin, who was few years younger than us. In the background of the photo (taken by a Russian camera), are the mountains and wild, blossoming almond trees. The photo was taken in spring, the best time of year for celebrating. And indeed, we were celebrating, with our new clothes and our best smiles: March 21st is Nooroz (“new day” in Persian, and the start of the New Year for Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Tajikistan).

One of the boys in the photo is my younger brother Hadi. Back then, he was a gifted kid. Today, he is no longer here. On January 1st, 1982, my father buried him in the graveyard behind our house, the big house where we were born and raised. Today, my father, too, is gone. I was able to visit Hadi’s grave four long days after he was buried. I, too, am no longer there.

I always think of my brother as being like a butterfly who never dies. Now these crystallized memories, thousands of kilometres away, are coming back to me. On the 31st anniversary of 1979, I would like to pay a visit to my brother. He has been waiting for so many years in a grave only two minutes from the big house on the street that was once ours.

Babak Salari

Sofia, February 10, 2010

From  Book: My Street Cuban Stories, By Babak Salari And Diana Ivanova


 

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“OFF THE WALL” by:Matthew Hays


Salari explores the wall separating Israel & Palestine
ART / Montreal-based photographer’s latest exhibit opens in Toronto on Sat, Oct 24
Matthew Hays / National / Friday, October 23, 2009
OFF THE WALL. An image from Babak Salari’s upcoming exhibit. See the bottom of this story for a slideshow.

Babak Salari says the inspiration for his latest series of photographs began almost three decades ago.Then a refugee escaping the repressive regime that had taken over his native Iran, Salari managed to get to Pakistan. There, he was taken in by a Palestinian student, who sheltered and fed Salari as he gathered his wits and figured out what his next move would be. The Montreal-based photographer recalls that both the young men knew what it meant to be forced to leave their homeland: “Our shared experience of displacement, our sorrow at the loss of our cherished homes, meant we formed an instant connection.”

Since that time 27 years ago, Salari has emigrated to Canada where he now lives in Montreal, working extensively as a photographer. With two books under his belt (one in Cuba’s gay, lesbian and trans underworld and the other on the people of Afghanistan), Salari is now exhibiting a collection of images he culled during his trip to the Palestinian territories in 2004. “I always wanted to go to Palestine to experience intimately the life of Palestinians under the occupation of Israel. I wanted my photographs to bring awareness and solidarity to the Palestinian cause and help the peace process.”

His latest show, Off the Wall, focusses specifically on the wall built by Israeli forces to separate Palestinians and Israelis, and opens this Saturday (Oct 24) in Toronto.

Salari says he thought he knew the extent of difficulty in the region, but was not prepared for what he encountered on his trip. “I experienced a level of oppression in my own country but when I went to Palestine, after 22 years of living in the West, I was shocked by the strategies used by Israelis to colonize Palestinians. The checkpoints in particular. The level of Palestinian patience to the oppression and inhumanity of the Israeli forces. I witnessed the humiliation of the Palestinians in their own land. This was far from the picture we get from the outside world. I was most struck by the silence of much of the world about the suffering of Palestinians and the gradual genocide of an entire people.”

As impassioned as Salari is about politics, it was the personal, intimate stories he heard that moved him tremendously. “Aisha, an 85-year-old Palestinian woman told me the story of how as a young woman she owned a beautiful home in Ramat Gan, which today is an upscale Tel Aviv neighbourhood. Although she could not read, she was forced to sign a document to give up her house. She was promised another house in another area but lost it when she found herself in a rental house and was unable to pay the rent. She cried as she told me her story in her home, a leaky shack in a Tel Aviv suburb. Now the owner of the factory next door has declared that the ramshackle community she lives in is a security threat and she is being forced to leave.”

Using his photography has proven a potent weapon for Salari, a means to chronicling the troubles of the Palestinians he met and raising awareness. “Photography as a poetic medium has power but also limitations. The visual impact is profound; photography captures a decisive moment that will never happen again and allows the viewer time to contemplate it. There is a ritual — a conversation between the viewer and the photograph. But photography can not record the sound of a crying mother losing a child to war, or register the smell of rotting corpses.”

Salari insists that amid the hardship and sadness, he also found inspiration. “I was inspired by meeting a defenceless people who, after surviving 60 years of devastation of war and oppression by one of the world’s most sophisticated armies, are proud, resilient, patient and still hopeful to gain the rights to their own land. I was also impressed by the awareness of progressive Israeli citizens who struggle against their own government in solidarity with the Palestinians. They serve a crucial role in informing the international community.”

Babak Salari’s photography exhibit, Off the Wall, opens this Saturday, Oct 24, at 2pm at Toronto’s Arta Gallery, 55 Mill St. The exhibit will continue until Nov 6.

 

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Tracing the Collective Memory Through Photographs By Kalliopi Poutouroglou

©Babak Salari, Traumas and Miracles

For, when we will no longer exist, nobody will be able to testify on our behalf. There will be nothing left but the indifferent nature.(Roland Barthes, La camera lucida)

The great authenticity of Babak Salari’s photographic work derives from his experiential contemplation of human existence in exile – a human existence violently deported or simply living on the margins of the society. The charm of his pictures, however, stems from their narrative power, from the way they reflect in black and white stories difficult to tell without evoking a strong emotional charge.

The wandering of the self-exiled artist at places traumatized by the war, goes far beyond the simple testimony of a documentary photographer. His clear and penetrating gaze, acts as a mirror, and reveals aspects of the portrayed faces that he looks upon; it reveals wounds and fragments of their identity. The sense of a primordial realism, intimate and humanistic runs through the artist’s photographic corpus dispersed in a wider anthropogeographical map. From war victims in Afghanistan and Iraq to the uprooted people of Palestine and from the matriarchal communities in Mexico to the gay communities of Cuba, Salari is searching underneath the surface for the real face, and tries to reveal for us the unsaid, albeit discreetly. More than this he activates memories.

In the book “Traumas and Miracles: Portraits from Northwestern Bulgaria”, published by the Bulgarian publishing house Janet 45, with Babak Salari’s photographs and Diana Ivanova’s texts, the reader has the possibility to experience a sample of his new artistic project, which was also presented on Aug 2010 in the National Gallery of Sofia. This naturalized Canadian of Iranian origin, while moving away from his previous themes, has remained faithful to his deeply humanistic spirit. He has travelled along with the journalist and writer Diana Ivanova to the birthplace of the latter, a place traumatized by consecutive political and economic crises in the postwar era. This particular photographic work, consisting of more than 2000 black and white photographs, is the fruit of a series of meetings and interviews with some of the remaining dwellers in the area. In one of the poorest spots in Europe, faces aged by the ravages of time and history, “are offered” in front of Salaris’s camera in the most silent and unaffectedly touching way. Gazes and bodies, spaces and objects are presented in a state of loneliness and abandonment, loss and frustration.
In the published book the accompanying brief texts beside selected photographs, illuminate for us the life of the persons contained within them, sometimes via simple comments and at other times through the voices of the subjects, which touch us especially in terms of their simplicity and truth. Finally the dialogue between the two contributors and Ivanova’s introductory text clarify for us the motivation that led them to the concept of this specific project.

The faces

People of nine villages in Northwestern Bulgaria fill the camera lens of Salari. Female migration has exacerbated the depleted populations of these already ageing populations. These are places that carry the wounds of past with them, intensively. Under the burden of sweeping political and social change these forgotten “last guardians”, as Ivanova calls them, are filled with memories deprived of any kind of nostalgia while at the same time they witness a cruel reality: the gradual devastation of their villages and the end of an era.
In the “Portraits from Northwestern Bulgaria” the biographical element meets the psychographic one in a unique way. In every image we find human stories, and each story is a reflection that traces the trauma and afflictions of the persons contained within. Their gaze, an element expressed in previous works of the artist, reveals important aspects of their character. Additionally the tightened lips, the neck, the hands and the body posture are the detail that completes their substance and helps us to understand them better.
Salari as a visual poet shares with us the faces he shoots and their own depth. But his look here obtains a more intense sadness. A memory of life and even a suspicion of death run over most of his photographs. If poverty and material decay augur a certain death, it is the bright shadow of these bodies that makes them magnificent: the particular aura which accompanies these bodies in the various shades of grey reflects signs of a different kind, such as obstinacy and dignity, submission and abandonment, desolation and uncertainty. Most of all, we hear their deafening loneliness.

The places

In this series the scenic mastery of the photographer seems more mature than ever. The pictures of the faces have been shot in their natural environment, in house interiors, and even in yards or streets. Sometimes the scenery is even more minimal, a plain wall, a staircase, a window. In any case it is all about a standing place, which is filled with human absenceand memories. A place of silence, desolation and decay, where even life seems frozen in the time. Interestingly, in some photographs we can sense a kind of sociability, there is a yearning to heal and console at the same time.

The stories

As with Salari’s previous photographic series, the people narrate their own shocking stories. Faces worn down by hard labour have survived the collapse of two political systems, economic collapse and political crisis. The history is reflected in their bodies as a palimpsest of traumatical experiences: the ideological denial, the poverty, the migration, the gradual devastation and the end of their villages. On the other hand they hold a faith towards the mysteries of life that derives from an old tradition. Babak Salari’s photographs in dialogue with Diana Ivanova’s texts map the memories of both the individual and the collective, the frustration but also the hope of a society that is gradually approaching closure.

A world so close to us

According to Roland Barthes “a photograph is subversive not when stimulating or stigmatizing but when reflective… when it makes you reflect on life, death, or on the merciless extinction of the generations”. In these few inhabitants of Northwestern Bulgaria we can recognize the signs of a society familiar to us, of a gradually shrinking society as evidenced by many Greek villages every time we visit them. Such visits make us feel some temporary euphoria, but such visits also give us an identical lump in our throats and the same feelings of melancholy. The only difference is that in Babak Salari’s photographs we experience these signs in a more captivating way; the faces that stand before us, despite the feelings of tenderness and love that emerge from within, hold deep inside the scar of History.

Translation from Greek by: Domna Iordanidou
Special thanks to Sevastiana Mikrouli, and Anthony Montgomery

Kalliopi Poutouroglou is a film critic for the web magazine, Cinephilia.gr, and teacher of Greek language in Greece and abroad.

 

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A conversation with Babak Salari

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Babak Salari, a very talented photographer and a very dear friend of mine, to talk about his Afghanistan project, which has recently been published by Janet 45.

The first book launch for Remembering the People of Afghanistan, will be May 1st at 7:00 pm at Gallery Mekic in Montreal. If you are around go check it out.

Remembering the People of Afghnistan ©Babak Salari©Babak Salari
Remembering the People of Afghanistan

Babak Salari, native of Iran, is a Montreal based photographer and educator who chronicles lives at the margins of society. At the age of twenty-one, his political activities resulted in his imprisonment for six months by the Khomeini regime (in Iran). Upon his temporary release from jail, he fled to Pakistan and, a year later, arrived in Canada where he resumed his study and practice of photography.

What year were you in Afghanistan? And how long where you there?
I went to Afghanistan in 2002, just a few months after the invasion. And I was there for 2 months.

Why did you go to Afghanistan? Was it for a specific project?
It was an assignment for Medecins du Monde Canada. They wanted me to document their medical aid in Afghanistan. But I also had my own personal reasons for going.

What was the project with Medecins du Monde for?
Medecins du Monde wanted documentation of their mobile clinics and where they were active. I decided to also include the refugee camps as a whole for this project. They did not ask for it, but the people who are in the refugees are Afghans. They call them internally displaced people. Those camps were or possibly could be patients of Medecins du Monde, so I documented that as well.

Did you find it easy to photograph?
While working in the refugee camps, I had some assistance fromRAWA (Revolutionary Afghan Women Association). Working with RAWA was easy to have access to camps, schools, clinics and the surroundings areas. I always had somebody from the organization with me and being with Medecins du Monde also helped a lot to have access to the people. There is also a tie with Afghans and Iranians, I consider Afghanistan part of my own culture and background. A long time ago we were the same nation. I speak the language so that helped to communicate with the people there. It was not that difficult and I felt comfortable with the people.

Was RAWA part of the project with Medecins du Monde?
No, there was no connection. I decided to document the refugee camps, so I asked RAWA to help me and they did.

©Babak Salari©Babak Salari

How did the people receive you? and if you went back now, do you think it would be the same?
They received me very well. They were genuinely very helpful and receiving and so warm. I never got so much attention, it was great. Afghan people, despite the fact of war for the last few decades, they are extremely generous and kind. If I went back now, I think it would probably be the same.

What did you want to show with your project, what did you want your images to show?
I wanted to show the reality. I wanted to go beyond showing Afghanistan as a misery and poverty stricken land with war, disaster and destruction. I wanted to show, despite all those things, that people are fighting to live and lead a normal life and that they are proud. I did not want this project to objectify the Afghan people for the need of mass media or news. Basically this project was to raise questions and to show different elements of life in a war torn country.

Do you think the media is hurting the Afghan people?
They do not reflect the reality of the war and they do not reflect what is exactly happening there. There is a double standard. They do not concentrate on the main issue like: Why is this war on? What is the issue of the power there? You know in mass media, we hardly have the real news. Did you know that in 2007 while we spent billions and billions of dollars for military in Afghanistan, 2000 people died of hunger? But that wasn’t an important fact for the news networks. Also the whole issue of the reconstruction of Afghanistan, nobody is talking about one of the main reasons NATO allies invaded Afghanistan. What happened to the re-construction of Afghanistan? How many jobs did they create? How much money did they spend on the real reasons for entering into Afghanistan? I think the media only talks or writes about the issues that people want to hear.

At the end of your book, you’ve written a couple of pages about Afghanistan and your project. There are stories which you write about the horror and events that happened to some of the people you met. Knowing those stories and seeing the poverty and the misery, how did you keep going? What drove you to keep shooting and to keep documenting?
It was much easier at the beginning of the project. But at one point, I think it got to my soul and I couldn’t continue. It was at that point that I felt there was a limitation with my medium (photography) and my ability as a photographer. I couldn’t answer those needs, epically being able to communicate directly with the people, without anybody translating, it was affecting me really, really hard.

©Babak Salari©Babak Salari
©Babak Salari©Babak Salari

Would you go back today?
I would like to go back but I don’t think I could do it as easily as I did 7 years ago. Sure I would like to back and see the country again but I don’t know if I can go back now.

You said at the beginning of our conversation that part of this project was for personal reasons. Can you share those reasons?
Well, Afghanistan borders Iran and I think there was a need after 20 years of being in the west to get closer to home. I consider Montreal home but I felt that there was something that was calling me. I think that this was a reconciliation between me and my first home. I was very close to the borders of Iran but yet I was so far because I couldn’t go back to the country because of my political exile. What was really nice is that I was able to see my parents. They came and stayed with me in Afghanistan. This way a very big turning point in my life, because of my parents visit I felt that I was home. With all these emotional events, it was important to make Afghanistan a very personal project.

This was the last time Babak was to see or talk to his father. He passed away a couple years after their meeting. Remembering the People of Afghanistan is dedicated to his father and his family.

You were a political activist. Now, your work continues to focus on the rights of people at the margins and the turmoil of today’s society. So are you a lover or a fighter?
I could say I am a fighter but that’s just because I have lots of love in my heart for the things that I fight for.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book, which is a new project, with writer, journalist, cultural activist, Diana Ivanova from Bulgaria. The project is a look at the north-west part of Bulgaria, a kind of portrait of transformation from old system to new system. I also am working on a very personal project called the Colour of my Dreams.

©Babak Salari©Babak Salari

Janet 45 is a Bulgarian based publishing house. So how has the book been received in Canada and in Eastern Europe?
The book has been published less than a month ago, so it hasn’t been distributed in Canada yet. In Bulgaria they have already started to talk about the book and there has been some interviews. This is not an exotic book, it’s very specific in theme so we’ll have to see what happens.

Are there any travels or exhibits for the book in the near future?
I’m leaving soon to go back to Bulgaria, there will be a couple of book launches in May and June. The book will also be in the Balkan book fair in October and the closet event is a book launch in Montreal May 1st.

— by Aislinn Leggett on April 30, 2009. Filed under Black & WhiteInterview

 

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