To Their Private World
Text by Sara Reyhani
At first glance, Kaveh Baghdadchi creates a lucid dialogue between images and contexts. His works are a social documentary on contemporary Iranian businesses, the labour industry and the unkempt forms of display created by the workers/ owners. Composed as diptychs, the aesthetic concerns of the photographer come to the fore as a documenter and as a narrative composer, trying to frame his subjects beyond a conventional trope – ‘looking’ at them, but also ‘seeing’ how they function.
An inter-textual reading of the two photos reveals that the images are portraits of existing ‘little trades’, historically also explored as a subject by American photographer Irving Penn in the 20th century. Baghdadchi’s multiple points of view shows how the photographer faces his subject. There is a public viewing as the portrait; and a private one as his environment. This interaction begs the question – can an object replace our encounter with human beings and how do we equate our intimate relationship with paraphernalia? Are these composites an extension of the photographer’s desire alone? Are we all ‘users’ of objects or do we become innately connected to their fates?
Such an attitude toward the entrepreneurs or laymen depicted here reminds me of the old gravestones on which one would often see carved motifs of the tools of trade used by the deceased – his own personal insignia. For example, scissors and combs were carved on the gravestone of a barber. Based on this logic, we see how the images are a summarization of a teashop owner in the form of a teacup, saucer, ashtray and sugar lump; the carpet dealer in a colorful yarn; the butcher in an axe and cleaver, and the studio photographer in the displayed photos.
Photography is then about essences. It panders to a psychological domain in which the portrait of a space or a person is as much about what is in the image, as about how it is composed. The aesthetic interplay between labouring bodies and those spaces that embody the worker in absentia, occupies the core. This aspirational quality allows us to enter the hopes and dreams of those within the images. Capturing a phase of life, or even a moment is an intervention. However, the ‘everydayness’ of the images captured here, is complimented by the respectful manner of the photographer, maintains both distance and intimacy.
All images from the series To Their Private World, Qazvin/Tabriz/Malayer/ Chaalous, 2008-2011