Artist's Statement

'Box 3' is Afsaneh Mobasser's journey told through official documents and Identifications.

Information on Afsaneh Mobasser:

Afsaneh was born on the 28th of March 1957 in Tehran, Iran. She grew up with her parents and her older brother Afshin (my father). Her father was an army general who had been Chief of The National Police between 1963 and 1970 and had proceeded to become Head of Civil Defence and Deputy Prime Minister of Iran until 1979. The children lived a happy and privileged life, going to the best schools and spending their holidays in their villa by the sea.

In 1979, The Islamic Revolution of Iran changed the course of their lives forever. Their properties and assets in Iran were seized by the new establishment and my grandfather went into hiding to avoid capture and execution. Afsaneh had returned to Iran from London where she was studying to be with her mother who was dying of cancer. My grandfather, risking his life, made a visit to his wife's hospital bedside to say his final goodbye before fleeing Iran. She passed away three months later at 47.

Afsaneh joined her father in the United Kingdom where they were to seek asylum. Neither were to ever return to Iran. My father arrived in London in 1983 (having separated from my mother). In the summer of 1985, at the age of eight, my mother sent me to London from Mission Viejo, California where I had been living. Afsaneh and my father raised me in Afsaneh's two bedroom flat in Putney, south-west London where I was to share a room with my father until leaving home at eighteen. 

To my grandfather's disappointment, Afsaneh never found her own partner and was to never have any children. I would often feel guilty about this as I knew my father and I had inadvertently replaced that part of her life. She became my mother and was selfless in her devotion to us. Afsaneh and my father remained living together in Putney until 2013.

On August 11th 2013, Afsaneh Mobasser suffered a brain haemorrhage. It happened while my son, wife and I were on a visit to Putney to see her. She passed away three days later. She was 56.

Interview

Ali Mobasser’s photographic series is simple, yet powerful, utilizing the mundanity of identification photographs to tell the story of one person’s journey through life. We were curious to find out more of the story behind Afsaneh’s experience and Mobasser’s representation of it.

I left Iran when I was only two and have never been back, I cannot tell direct stories about Iran but I do use my yearning for my homeland and my feelings of displacement as inspiration for my art. The more personal and inward my work becomes, the more Iranian it seems to appear.

I first became interested in photography at the age of 8 when I picked up my father’s 35mm Canon with a telephoto lens attached. I would birdwatch on Wimbledon common, without any film in the camera, pretending to take pictures when I saw something I liked. Up to that point, I remember being obsessed with binoculars (for spying purposes, mainly!) so the camera seemed like a natural progression.

When I was getting a degree in Fine Art, I was always bouncing between photography, film, video, installation work, performance and various print making processes. After seeing the dreamy and surreal work of Duane Michals and watching La Jette by Chris Marker, I realized how I could effectively tell my own stories using staged moments and photographs. In addition, I was definitely influenced by Hiroshi Sugimoto’s way of using photography in a much more poetic and meditative manner to visualise his thoughts. His work opened up my mind to the idea that light can be applied like paint to create something that is more than just a photograph of a moment in time.

There was also a certain camera that pushed me towards photography. In 1955, my grandfather had visited Germany on a governmental excursion. Whilst on this visit, he bought a Rolleiflex Twin Lens camera. As a teenager, I would always ask him if I could look through the camera when we would visit him. The waist level viewfinder, with a reversed square mirror image and overlaying grid became an obsession of mine. I would sit there and look through it all day. Seeing reality as a reverse image was playing with my idea of perception and teaching me how to see composition as a breaking down of elements. I still use my Rolleiflex, only now I actually put film in it.

In my photographic projects, I find myself attracted to collections rather than single objects. I first realized the storytelling potential of collections when I photographed my Iranian Stamp collection in 2005—a testament to my life in exile. For “Afsaneh Box 3”, almost all the ID's were found in a box when we were clearing out Afsaneh’s belongings after she had passed. It did not need me to do much as the story was already in front of me. I just had to gather them and set the order. I did not see the items as photos but as Identifications, hence the surrounding areas (the context) being just as important as the photo itself.

—Ali Mobasser, as told to Alexander Strecker 


Exhibition of all 50 LensCulture Emerging Talents: Barcelona, October 13-31

Ali Mobasser's work, along with photographs from ALL the LensCulture Emerging Talents will be shown in an exhibition at the Galeria Valid Foto in Barcelona. Please join us for the opening party on October 13, 2014—we hope to see you there! See a preview of ALL the winners here in LensCulture.

ALL winners have already been featured at photo festival screenings in Dublin, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Amsterdam so far this year. Next screening in Korea at the
Seoul Lunar Photo Fest.