Interview with the Iranian Documentary Photographer Khashayar Javanmardi

Mahan Doğrusöz: I want to talk to you about creativity, art and the artist. Pablo Neruda in one of his poems say And it was at that age … Poetry arrived in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river…and something started in my soul, fever or forgotten wings, and I made my own way, deciphering that fire.”
  Neruda defines his own “creative” voice as something that arose in him at a very young age. What was your personal “path” to your own creative voice?

Khashayar Javanmardi: It all started as a game when I was eight. Most interesting game for me was looking through the periscope. Then, ny father gave me a camera. This camera was a like a toy for me. He said that “If I were to take good photos, he would give me a 36 frame films” so for me, the challenge started at that point. At the beginning, it was just a game and my father was appreciating and rewarding that game. In the fourth grade of school, at 10-11, when my grandmother was dying, I had a camera and a webcam. I shot all the details. Everything and everyone that came to our home. I was so sad that I wanted to capture everything. In a way, I wanted to save her. After that, I started to shoot like crazy. When I still check those photos, I still cry. I was shooting to express and deal with my emotions. It was the only tool for me to express my emotions. When I was 15-16, I had a compact camera. My sister was my assistant. After 17, I realized that I have to make a collection of photos. Then, I made a collection of car accidents…after then, I started to do landscapes. Shooting photos is like talking for me. When I am taking photos, photos make me quiet. It becomes my speech. The camera works like my thought and my language. I am basically interested in capturing reality. Nowadays, I am doing projects. I have to think and make decisions and then go ahead, find objects and shoot them.

Mahan Doğrusöz: What does photography mean to you?

Khashayar Javanmardi: I want to take photos so future generations can see and recognize the stories of the times we live in. I am like a witness of my times. I want to leave the newer generations what I have witnessed.

Self portrait by the Artist

Mahan Doğrusöz: I am hearing that you are interested in the nakedness of reality, not in beautifying it, romanticizing or a hyperreal interpretation of reality.

Khashayar Javanmardi: There is never a “naked reality”. There is a process in my mind when I am taking photos. As a photographer, I am censoring reality. I am not showing you what is outside my frame. I am only showing what is happening in my frame. I am like a chooser. If I am happy, I choose a happy scene. If I am sad, I choose a sad scene.

Abbas Kiarostami

Mahan Doğrusöz: Which artists have had any influence in shaping who you are as a photographer?

Khashayar Javanmardi: Abbas Kiarostami is someone I have always appreciated. He is an Iranian film maker. He is so unique. He has his own cinema. He has always been interested in people and culture and daily lives of people. He is so pure in his cinema. In one of his movies, he only asks a simple question to the students: “do you like doing your homework or watching TV?”. If you hear the answers and questions, you can recognize the naturalness of what is going on. He captures the real, natural, pure answers. He makes you witness the pure reality. But, I am even inspired by my students.

Mahan Doğrusöz: What is the İranian culture’s relation to art? Once you had mentioned that art is more of an intrinsic experience to İranians. How do you explain the cultural roots of this intrinsic experience?

Khashayar Javanmardi:  I want to give example from my family and then extend it to society. My father is an architect. He is also a painter. My mom makes sculptures. My sister paints also. When we are sitting as a family, my father paints. Even sometimes, he is painting on my mom’s arms and legs. It is like a game. We do not think of the result. It is like a joyful experience. We do not think that we are wasting our time or think of making money. I started to write a poem when I was 9 years old. I did not know any poems back then. I only saw a tree from the window of my room. It was so beautiful and took my notebook and started to write. I can say that we are not an exceptional family.  There have been many art masters in our culture, especially in music and literature. And, art has always been appreciated in Iran unlike in Turkey. Famous artists have freedom of speech in Iran. For example, Abbas Kiarostami is free to talk. Asghar Farhadi has two Oscars. He is like our hero. Our heroes are artists, not politicians. He can also say everything he wants. They can’t do anything to hurt him because they know that people in Iran love him. If they do, it would lead to chaos.

I also think oppression triggers creativity. You have to find ways to implicitly say what you want to say. Say something in a way to mean something else. Direct expression is simple and then, there is no creativity. Creativity comes from limits. In İran, there are too many limits.

Fishers in the Caspian Sea

Mahan Doğrusöz: How has “displacement” from your own country and culture influenced you and your art? How has being “relocated” in another culture changed you in any way?

Khashayar Javanmardi:  For sure, I was living in the north of İran in a small city. Turkey is the first country I have been to outside İran. It was like a shock for me. Living somewhere else is a radically different experience in isolation apart from those that love and appreciate you. Besides this, one becomes nothing. In İran, I have had 44 different exhibitions. When I came here, no one knew who I was. I felt I was nowhere in this society. I was just an observer. After that, I wanted to go away to cities like NY, Berlin, Tokyo in order to achieve, to do something important as society understands it. I wanted to be written in history. Now, I think that being written in history is not the point. Now, the important point is the experience. How you feel is important. All I have to do is to care about my feelings. Having been relocated has taught to care about experience, face myself and not focus on achievement. Now, I learnt Turkish. Now, I realize that I love it here.

Mahan Doğrusöz: As a psychologist, I am interested in the experience of being an artist? What do you think “makes” an artist? Who is an artist?

Khashayar Javanmardi:  We all have the capacity for art. I do not know who an artist is but art is being sensitive to your surroundings, your environment. You take in the effects and you express it, you create art. Maybe, you see a child crying, a mother soothing her, it affects you, art will come out it. There is a misconception that artists are weird people like Salvador Dali. But, this is a cliché. There are many artists who look very much like the rest of everyone else but they create great art. There is nothing extra about artists apart from sensitivity and expressing it. If you do not suppress your voice and find a way to express it, you do become an artist.


Mahan Doğrusöz:  Freud was the first to postulate the hypothesis that art is a “sublimation”, that is the human capacity to turn our darker side -in the sense of our anti-social impulses, frustrations and traumas- into the “beautiful”. In this sense, art is a way to cope, to heal, to transform the self. How would you respond to this hypothesis as an artist?

Khashayar Javanmardi:  I can not relate to this. He means we process our dark side to create something beautiful and bright. Maybe, I am not aware of my dark side. For me, everything comes from curiosity and it is all about consciousness. Our consciousness level rises with age and experience. Art is about the connection of curiosity to consciousness. As I remember, I have always been curious. When I was very young, I was a very curious child trying to explore everything. I am still a very curious person.

Mahan Doğrusöz: Let’s end with the future…where is your “art” heading?

Khashayar Javanmardi:  In Persian language, we have a word “hayr”. You have the same word in Turkish. There is no equivalent word in English. This is my only wish!

Khashayar Javanmardi (Kjavanmardi), a self-taught photographer born in 1991, Iran then based in Istanbul in 2016. He was educated Art and Architecture from Guilan University, he began working professionally in the Iranian press at the age of 19, at the Jam Photo Agency. At the age of 24, he got the “Iranian Emerging Talented Photographer of the year” three years in a row.


August 2018 ©  Mahan Doğrusöz


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