Exile and Memory

Reimagining Iran through 200-year-old portraits

Amak Mahmoodian
Sand dunes in black and white
All images courtesy Amak Mahmoodian

I decided to tell my story through that of others—those who lived in the past,” "the Iranian-born photographer Amak Mahmoodian writes about Zanjir, a selection from which is presented here. At 27, Mahmoodian emigrated to the United Kingdom to pursue a Ph.D.; her work connects personal history, cultural identity, and the archive. (“Zanjir” means “chain” in Persian.)

In 2004, when Mahmoodian visited the archives at Iran’s Golestan Palace—a royal compound that is now a museum—she came across photographs taken by Iran’s former king Naser al-Din Shah Qajar with a camera that Queen Victoria gave him in 1842. In Mahmoodian’s hands, these nearly two- hundred-year-old portraits are reprised, among other things, as masks worn by her own family and friends—a merging of past and present.

– eugenia bell

A group of people overlook a mirrored pool
A family group facing away
A group of people sit on chairs in a park
A woman holds up a paper to clip it to a drying line with other images
A woman holds a photograph of a man in a hat
Three women sit in traditional garb, a fourth person standing behind them
An older man and woman, the former sitting, the latter standing, with a potted plant
A group of people stand in various postures before a wall
A woman sits before a potted plant, holding up a blank piece of paper which obscures her face
Amak Mahmoodian is an Iranian born photographer whose work questions notions of identity and home, bridging a space between personal and political.
Originally published:
May 19, 2021


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