In the exodus, I love you more

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Hoda Afshar interviewed by Donna Killeen

Hoda Afshar

Hoda Afshar

Hoda Afshar was born and educated in Iran, obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art – Photography at the Azad University of Art and Architecture.

Hoda has followed her passion for photography, working as a documentary photographer where she was selected by the “World Press Photo” in 2006 as one of the top ten young documentary photographers of Iran to attend their Educational Training Program. Her passion continues today through her teaching, ongoing work on her Iran series and other forms of visual art including video making.

In 2015, Hoda won the prestigious National Portrait Prize for her image ‘Ali”.

Hoda lives in Australia and returns to Iran on a regular basis to reconnect to her native homeland.

In this interview, Donna Killeen had an opportunity to talk to Hoda about her journey to find out a bit more about Hoda, Iran, photography and her first major Solo Exhibition, In the exodus, I love you more, which opens on November 17 th at Bright Space in Martin Street, St Kilda.

When did you first become interested in Photography?

My love affair with photography dates back to my pre-migration life. The first time I printed an image in the dark room at my high school, I was captivated by the magic of photography; I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I haven’t stopped taking photos since. I always loved story telling and I inherited that passion from my mother. After moving to Australia, photography became a way for me to tell my story of migration, to explore themes about home and exile, foreignness, belonging, and more specifically, how cultural identity influences our art and daily experiences. For me, it’s impossible to separate my image-making from the sense of familiarity I feel towards a particular place, and this is also reflected in the work I make when I return home to Iran.  Photography for me has become a way of reading, seeing and making sense of the world, and of my own being and experiences—including my experience of diaspora.

You grew up and were educated in Iran so you would have seen a lot of change and upheaval that accompanies rapid change.

Has this influenced your photography and your series?

My photographic style has been largely shaped by my experiences of migration and living in diaspora, and how those experiences have changed the way I connect with the places I find myself in. On the one hand, I probably feel more connected to the subjects I video or photograph in Iran, and I sometimes feel like more of an outsider or spectator working in Australia. But at the same time, when I return to make work in Iran for example, the longer I’ve been away, the more I notice how my vision is constantly evolving. And my experience of creating images and videos in Australia is always changing too. In general, I think that occupying this kind of liminal or in-between space is not a bad thing, but actually puts you in a sort of privileged position. It allows you to see things differently, to draw on different cultural experiences and points of view.

How long have you been working and documenting Iran?  What do you see and what do you want to bring out about Iran in your series?

My photographic practice started in Iran in 2004 with a strong focus on social and political issues. After migrating to Australia in 2007 I did stop making work there for a long time. But since I lost my father (nearly four years ago), I felt a strong need to re-connect; to explore my relationship to Iran in light of his memory and experience. My father taught me so much about Iran, about its art and its history, and I wanted to somehow honour and remember him by taking photos there again. So I did, though without having a clear aim in mind as to what I wanted to capture. This was unusual for me, given that my past work has tended to be strongly narrative based or conceptual in its focus. So it’s been a different experience of art-making—both challenging and instructive, because it’s been more about exploring my relationship to Iran and discovering how I “see” Iran in the process.

Did you have any other influences to your photography?

My greatest influences tend to be outside of the photography world. I always find inspiration in literature, theory, other visual art mediums and movies. The artist who has probably influenced my documentary practice the most is the Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami. I am also very much inspired by the romanticism and poetry of the work of the video artist Bill Viola. I have also been deeply influenced by the work of the exiled visual-artist Mona Hatoum—in particular her beautifully distilled way of communicating ideas related to power-relations and the condition of global exile. I love the writings of Edward Said for a similar reason. In general I find inspirations everywhere. In landscapes, in faces, in poetry and things I’ve read, in currents of the world and in what’s happening around me—my social reality.

What is your style of photography?

With my work in general, I usually have a larger concept, story or feeling in mind that I’m trying to capture, and my choice of image will reflect that. I tend to think of each scene as in dialogue with the rest, and depending on the visual language that I’m aiming for, I’ll set up the scene differently. For example, in my current series, In the Exodus, I love you more, one of the sort of underlying themes concerns the notion of “presence and absence”, or the idea that our experience can relate to both the surface and depth of things. So I have adopted a visual language in this series’ images that relates to both aspects: to what is both present and absent in our expectations, and to the hidden depth in the surface of things.

In 2015, you won the National Portrait Prize for your image Portrait of Ali. That’s an extraordinary achievement. Do you have other achievements?

Thank you! It’s been an absolutely exciting time; lots of opportunities came out of that experience and highly motivated me to continue making work in that series. I often tend to spend a long time on making a body of work as my work is always engaged with research and theoretical debates and a constant process of refining and revisiting the theme, subjects and places that I photograph. I truly believe in long-term projects, it’s quite rewarding when you wait longer and spend more time with the work before publishing and exhibiting it. I am not sure how to measure achievements here, but I’d say it’s been a prolific and successful time since wining the prize. The most exciting one for me is this upcoming show, which is the first installment of the series and the largest exhibition of my work.

Thank you Hoda, your journey and deep connection to the work that you do is inspiring. I look forward to the opening of your exhibition.

In the exodus, I love you more – Hoda Afshar

opens onThursday, 17 November from 6:30-8:30pm




11-5 WED-FRI


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