Film’s not Dead: Over the past few months you’ve graduated from LCC and you’ve shot for numerous magazines as well as exhibiting your work in a number of different galleries. What has it been like leaving university into working as a photographer and how did these opportunities come about?
Rosaline Shahnavaz: It’s been pretty exciting. Uni was great. I met Tom Hunter there who eventually became my tutor and I’d spent some of my three years there assisting him. Whilst at LCC, I was really busy juggling projects as well as magazine commissions and various editorials so it was quite manic. I think this really set me up for the ‘afterlife’ I guess, and continuing to maintain that balance between personal work and commercial work.
Film’s not Dead: Out of all your photographs which one would you say is your favourite and why?
Rosaline Shahnavaz: This always changes. I just developed a roll of film from Scotland and there’s a portrait of my boyfriend that I really like. It’s really candid, but there’s something about the way Ben is looking at the camera. I feel like its really reflective of him.
Film’s not Dead: For your final end of year show you created a beautiful series called “Far Near Distance”. Could you explain to us what the series is about?
Rosaline Shahnavaz: Sahar’s circumstances have confined her freedom to the walls of her home in Northern Tehran. She has never seen beyond the Alborz Mountains, which poignantly remain in constant view of her bedroom window. In ‘Far Near Distance’, I have combined portraits of Sahar with Iranian landscapes that echo her situation. With unique access to Sahar’s private life in Iran and the freedom of publishing work in the UK, I was able to candidly photograph her at her home, with an intimacy that is simply unrepresentable in Iran.
When looking at contemporary Iranian photography I have often found that the vast majority of work is heavily conceptual and is generally catered towards an art audience. We rarely see photographs that provide an intimate voice. For instance, the veil has become such a culturally charged object that often one automatically draws upon stereotypes or conclusions related to religion or passivity of women, and at times may forget to look beyond. I wanted to introduce my audience to a new tradition in Iranian photography that hasn’t received much exposure. I have remained politically engaged whilst still pursuing the ‘snapshot photography’ aesthetic that I undergo towards all of my subjects within my practice. This aesthetic is known as the closest possible rendition of a scene that strives to be realistic and objective and has been embraced by editorial and fashion photography to communicate to the masses. By using this photographic language, ‘Far Near Distance’ subverts the more conceptual approach to thus deliver to a wider audience. Sahar is represented as an individual that is influenced by the politics of her region, as opposed to a mere concept.
When I began this project, I wanted to produce a body of work that focussed on my relationship with Iran. Having been born in the London, I lack my parents’ multifaceted perspective of living both in the Middle East and the West. I felt the need for a personal connection to the country so I decided to focus on my cousin Sahar who lives in Tehran. Sahar is an insight into a life I may have led if my parents had not emigrated. Like me, Sahar is female, twenty-two years old and from a middle class upbringing. Since our early teens, Sahar and I have been in contact through email and other social media platforms. However, Iran’s Internet filters have meant that staying in contact has become increasingly difficult. Ironically, at a time where social media has proliferated, writing letters has become the most reliable means of remaining in contact.