Farhad Bahram Tehran, Iran
Born in Tehran, Farhad began his photography practice as a photojournalist in 2005 and had a unique experience in this field as it strengthened his belief in cultural activities on grassroots as basis for social practices and photography. He has been part of more than 20 exhibitions and conferences in Tehran, San Francisco, Portland, Oakland, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai and Sydney. He started his MFA in photography at San Francisco Art Institute in 2011. He still works to share his research with the public and scholarly community through exhibitions and publications. As a graduate teaching fellow in the Department of Art, at the University of Oregon, he has been awarded Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (Sylff) for International Research.
Farhad Bahram was chosen by photographer Tristan Cai
Laatikkomo’s interview with Farhad Bahram October 11th, 2013.
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
FB: I am originally from Iran and I lived most of my life in Tehran. In 2009, few years after my undergraduate program, I started to travel to other countries, such as Armenia, Lebanon, UAE and Turkey, attending workshops and running some photography projects. Traveling to these countries had a strong influence in my photography practice. In 2011 I moved to San Francisco for obtaining MFA degree at San Francisco Art Institute and after receiving a teaching fellowship from University of Oregon I moved to Oregon State in 2012.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
FB: My earliest memory of photography is probably from my childhood watching our family albums as my father was always taking pictures from us since I was born! However my first memory of photography as someone who takes photos is from the time that I got my first cell phone with a small VGA camera on it. I started to take pictures from the small objects that were sitting around in my room!
L: The series you are presenting in Laatikkomo shows minimalist, snow-covered landscapes. Except for the snow, and without any obvious cultural clues, the images could almost be from anywhere. Is the identity of place important to you? Or what gives a place identity?
FB: I was always interested in the idea of ‘nomadism’, especially when I started to travel around Iran and also abroad; and by ‘nomadism’ I refer to what Nicholas Bourriaud explains as “positive experience of disorientation through an art form exploring all dimensions of the present, tracing lines in all directions of time and space.” During my travels I shot many photos according to that concept, by de-territorializing the landscape. In practicing the concept of ‘Artist as Nomad’ I tried to fill my frame with places that exist in time and space free of physical and conceptual boundaries and borders. This series of photos are coming from that idea and practice.
L: You began your artistic practice as a photojournalist and have now moved into more interactive work based in social action. What role does photography currently play in your work?
FB: In my recent practice the act of interaction is being conceived as a form of collaboration by providing new modes of connection beyond medium and matter. However photography is playing an important role in my works because for those who are participating in my projects, and are not necessarily artist, photography is probably the easiest medium to interact with since taking picture is part of our routine life these days. In other words, in my social projects, I usually use photography as a tool for opening up a dialogue with others which ends up in having a creative interaction.
L: How do you balance yourself between photography, a moment preserved from the past and your social practice which is very much concentrated in the moment of now?
FB: This is a very good question! In ‘Camera Lucida’ by Roland Barthes, he wrote about this dialogue between Kafka and Janouch: “ ‘The necessary condition for an image is sight,’Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: ‘We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.’ ”
A sight in your mind is part of your memory. It has a symbolic value which belongs to the past. But the moment you press the shutter on your camera you are actually removing that passive sight from your memory and bringing it to the present, a permanent active present.
I actually believe that photography is an interaction with your past. It is a reviving attempt for bringing a relieved dead memory back to the catastrophe of the present! Just like what we do in social practice, to bring the passive social elements, including people, culture and ethic, back into the active present.
L: Your projects are clearly well thought out and planned, and each series of images is accompanied by a written description. How do your projects begin: with an idea/concept or do they sometimes begin with an image?
FB: It really depends. I never start my projects with a vivid and fixed plan. It could start with an image or theory or even a text and then I try to evolve it in other possible directions. However, I always like to have a fluid plan, some sort of infrastructure to build my ideas on it. But as I said, this foundation is never fixed and inflexible.
L: Through your projects you involve different people in social practice and expose them to art. What is your most memorable experience interacting with strangers in the name of art?
FB: I have lots of interesting experiences and it is hard to name just one. But I guess one of the most dominant experiences that I always had in interaction with others is that how creative they could be. In social practice you are providing a context or a playground for people to play within by applying their imagination and creativity, or in other words, by thinking outside of the box. And it is always amazing to see how they could be so creative and unique even if this is their first serious attempt to engage with an artistic practice. In fact, I always hope that they could be able to use this creativity in their own routine life as well.
L: Could you list 5(or more) words you were thinking about when you made this work?
FB: Nomadism, Identity, Migration, Time, Space, de-territorializing
L: What is one of the most important questions that you ask, or would like to inspire others to ask, through your photographs?
FB: That’s a very hard question to answer! Actually as an artist, when I finish a work, or at least when I think that the work is finished and ready to be presented, by looking at it I realize that there are dozens of questions that I, myself, have which I didn’t think about them when I started to create that work! So it is so hard to expect specific questions or inspirations from my audience.
L: Part of the Laatikkomo project asks the artists to choose the next photographer in their link of photographers. What qualities are you looking for in the artist you will choose, what criteria will guide your choice?
FB: Actually part of those criteria are already specified by Laatikkomo project itself! I have to choose a ‘photographer’ from a specific ‘continent’. So I guess I am going to choose a photographer from a specific continent that I like her/his works!
L: Thank you so much Farhad!