Shadi Ghadirian: Grace and Delicacy of Portrait Photography

An Interview with the Photographer from Tehran

Miss Butterfly, Photography by Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi Ghadirian, the talented portrait photographer from Iran, was exposed to art early in her life. Iran always created rich motifs in art history. The proof of it lies in the vibrancy of Mina-Kari, the intricacy of Khatam-Kari and the miniature paintings of so many artists including the likes of Kamal ud-Din Behzad and Kamal-ol-Molk.

Closer to home, Shadi Ghadirian saw her elder sisters study different expressions of art. However, it was not until she joined the University of Art for studying BA in Photography did she delve into the world of visual storytelling.

In her own words, ‘I was 19 years old when I went to the University of Art in Tehran and started studying photography. I grew up in a family where everyone was familiar with art. My father owns an antique shop and my mother is a housewife. Two of my older sisters studied art. One of them studied cinema and the other one handicraft.

I was 4 years old when the revolution happened. I don’t remember much of it but I felt it even at that early age. The war happened when I was a teenager. It was a terrible experience for me. I remember the loud noise of violent explosions that worried me all the time. As I went to the University of Art I was fortunate to meet very important personalities like Bahman Jalali and Kave Golestan who inspired me a lot. They had done many things with their photos and I realised I can learn the art of storytelling from them.’

Qajar, Photography by Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi was preparing for her thesis when she started working in the Museum of Photography, Tehran. It is during that time the depth of history in photography in her country revealed itself with all its strength in her eyes and mind. ‘The Qajar dynasty reined 170 years ago in Iran. It was a time when all the modernism came to Iran including Photography. King Nasser-e-Din Shah was one of the first Iranian Photographers and he bought a camera from Paris and brought it to Iran and started taking photographs of his wives. During my study in the university, I used to work in the Museum of Photography in Tehran and I saw those old photos. I was completely surprised and I wanted to do something with the history of photography in Iran. So I decided to combine the two; present and past; modernism and tradition.’

Like Everyday, Photography by Shadi GhadirianLike Everyday, Photography by Shadi Ghadirian
Like Everyday

‘The present’ also provided Shadi with an intellectual stimulus of conceiving projects within the limitations of modern time. According to her, ‘It is not that hard to work here. If you know the red lines you can move within them. I and the other artists always do the same. We know how we should act. You won’t find any photos of mine which cannot be exhibited in Iran. So living in this kind of society gives us an opportunity for learning how we can continue to live and work within its periphery.’

For her visual narratives, Shadi uses both the vibrancy of colour and the depth of monochrome. She says, ‘Depending on the subject, I choose my style. Sometimes I see everything full of colour and sometimes without it. Maybe sometimes you can see colour behind murky glasses too. I just choose.’

Miss Butterfly, Photography by Shadi GhadirianMiss Butterfly, Photography by Shadi GhadirianMiss Butterfly, Photography by Shadi Ghadirian
Miss Butterfly

That she loves and also has developed her skills in depicting stories is evident from her series ‘Miss Butterfly’. Speaking of the genesis of the project Shadi shared the original story. ‘Miss Butterfly is an old story in Iran and I always tell my little girl this story. One day I realised, although it is an old story but it is relevant still today. Here is a summary of the story:

Miss Butterfly willing to meet sun looks for a way out and tries reaching for the light but unfortunately, becomes captive in a spider’s web. The spider moved by compassion after observing all the grace and delicacy in Miss Butterfly comes to an agreement with her. She is supposed to bring one of the insects from the dark cellar and tie it up in spider’s web for him. Instead, the spider is going to lead her out and to the light. But after hearing the insects’ stories Miss Butterfly feels pity for them and eventually returns to the spider empty handed with injured wings and makes herself captive in the web to be the spider’s food. Knowing the truth, the spider sets Miss Butterfly free and shows her the way out to meet the sun. Miss Butterfly calls for all the other insects in the cellar to share her freedom with them but she gets no response. She, who is so frustrated by their reaction spreads her weary wings and flies toward the sun.

Nil, Nil, Photography by Shadi Ghadirian
Nil, Nil

The sombre note of ‘Nil, Nil’ touches a deeper chord in everyone’s heart. As Shadi personally experienced the trauma caused by war, in her subtle ways she exposed the scars that refuse to heal even today. ‘When I started to do the Nil, Nil series I went to visit people who spent many years on the battlefield and it was so saddening to me. It is also very strange. We can say a word, ‘WAR’ and move on but the meaning of war for those who are actually there is so different from the rest of us. It had a touching effect on me. War destroys everything and I wish all the artists do something about it and show the real face of it.’

The artist is proud of having the opportunity of showcasing the life and time that she finds herself in of her own country. ‘I want to tell my stories of Iranian people who live in Iran and I am lucky that I could exhibit my works across the globe.’

Be Colourful, Photography by Shadi GhadirianBe Colourful, Photography by Shadi Ghadirian
Be Colourful

Ideas permeate into Shadi’s mind spontaneously. Even while doing her household chores creative impulses may force her to take a note of her surrounding and weave stories from the everyday elements of life. Her works have been presented to the audience through various galleries in Germany, France, Belgium, Turkey, India, US, Canada, Palestine besides her own country.

She emphatically says, ‘I get to travel all over the world showcasing my photographs. Each place has its special meaning for me that I wouldn’t able to express even in several sentences. I find myself extremely lucky!’

Portrait of Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi Ghadirian prefers…

Shadi Ghadirian is married to fellow photographer and writer Peyman Hooshmandzadeh and continues to stay in Tehran. Shadi loves the glistening of yellow. On a lighter note, she also adds that she loves eating French fries.

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Shadi Ghadirian