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News: The probing portraits of Parisa Taghizadeh

Image and identity intertwine in the photography of Parisa Taghizadeh; in capturing the surface of things her photographs openly speak the stories at her subjects’ core. Having recently relocated to New Zealand the British Iranian artist took some time to discuss her involving work with D-Photo.

From the defiant personal practice of make-up application by women in Iran to the complicated cultural pastiche of second-generation Iranian Americans living in Los Angeles, these projects are infused with a very private intimacy.

But Taghizadeh is not the aloof artist exposing the inner life of her subjects from a safe distance; instead the photographer says each of her projects is informed by own sense of self.

“That’s the only reason I have the incentive to see them through. If they are not personally driven, or affected by my own life experience, I’m not excited by them. The themes are often subjects that have touched me or something I have a deep connection with.”

This is most evident in the project Mother, in which Taghizadeh set out to document the feeling of isolation and loss of identity that she felt during her own journey to motherhood.

“I went out in search of other mothers to connect with and felt inspired by them. And I set up a project based around the notion of what happens to one’s personal identity after becoming a mother.”

The result is a series of stoic portraits of mothers without their children, muted images that emphasise their subject’s individuality while at the same time echoing with a clear absence. The project casts a harsh light on modern society’s hypocritical conception of the mother, both integral and unappreciated.

Learning to let her own intuition and feelings inform her work in this way is one of the most crucial photographic lessons Taghizadeh says she has learned so far.

“The most valuable advice I was given was to not go for the ‘safe’ shot. A friend and colleague went through a bunch of my images once and was shocked at how I had edited my work,” she explains.

“Looking through my contact sheets, he said ‘you have such amazing shots here… why have you chosen the ones that are the least interesting?’ It was really valuable criticism because it was at a time when I really didn’t know where I was heading with my work and since then I’ve learnt to really work from the gut, like I used to before the fear of making money came into it.”

“I’m not good at conforming to someone else’s taste. I don’t think any artist should have to do that.”

While conforming might not be on the cards, Taghizadeh is no stranger to the market demands placed on a working photographer. As a still photographer of films, such as Michael Winterbottom’s In This World, along with shooting publicity stills and book covers the she has found a different brand of fulfillment in commissioned jobs.

“I still do jobs on film sets and that’s how I make my living; publicity shots. It’s very different to working on my own projects, but there is something extremely satisfying about doing a good job for someone else.

“When you shoot only for yourself, you don’t have the challenge of someone else’s approval. But when you do a job that meets someone else’s expectation… that gives you enough fuel for days.”

When it comes to walking that line between financial success and creative freedom Taghizadeh takes a philosophical view, finding merit in both models.

“I think a photographer’s role can be as significant or as futile as any other profession… depending on the photographer. If you work commercially and you’re out to sell a product, then that’s your role, if you’re trying to change the world through images, then that’s another role.”

Regardless of the role, Taghizadeh says photographers these days now have a much better shot at getting their work out to the world thanks to a new media environment saturated with images.

“Nowadays, it’s quite easy getting exposure for your work, with social and professional networking sites online, there’s always someone interested in your line of work who will find you.  But you have to accept your niche for being what it is, if you know what I mean.

“You won’t find the director of MOMA open their doors to you and offer you a show, but if you stick to your guns and keep making the work someone out there will find you and offer you something interesting.”

In that regard the photographer is finding New Zealand to be a particularly fertile ground, having lived here for less than a year Taghizadeh says she has already encountered a surprising level of generosity.

“I have been really lucky meeting some good people who have offered me some great jobs on films, teaching and arts publicity… In general, people have been fantastic. And they give you time. Back in London and LA, you’d be lucky to get a door opened.”

Taghizadeh is currently teaching a short photography course at Auckland’s Whitecliffe College of Art and Design while she works at turning her project Mother into a short film.

For more details visit the artist’s website.

By Adrian Hatwell

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