© Shirana Shahbazi, Mercedes, from the series Flowers, fruits, portraits, 2008

© Shirana Shahbazi, Stilleben, from the series Flowers, fruits, portraits, 2008

Echoing statements by Roland Barthes, Shahbazi commented recently, “Photography is a simple, stupid medium.”2 In fact, photography is dumbfounding; it communicates in a purely visual language. Yet, without a frame to contextualize these visions, photography fails to speak.
Most recently for Shahbazi, that context has been the normalized cultural forms of photography, those genre images of landscape, portrait, and still life whose history lies less with photography than with painting. Yet her photographs draw our attention to the limits of those genres. With the still lifes, Shahbazi takes her cue from seventeenth-century Dutch painting, capturing natural curiosities: orchids, minerals, fruits, vegetables, and so on. Unlike her Dutch predecessors, however, she presents these vignettes floating on a monochromatic background, excised from their origins as Protestant images of exoticism. The portraits and landscapes are haunted by similar displacements. In Shahbazi’s hands, portraits of certain individuals are repeated throughout a larger sequence. Each portrait is taken from a slightly different angle. Across these movements, the viewer becomes uncertain if the artist or the sitter has changed position; identities become confused, and the photographic portrait’s sense for capturing individuality is exiled across a series of photographic events. The landscapes from Meanwhile, in contrast, are less subjective than placeless. To borrow a term used by German photographer Michael Schmidt to describe the places that he has photographed, the landscapes in Shahbazi’s photographs are irgendwo (somewhere), thus lacking particularity.3 While we cannot deny the indexical nature of her landscape photographs, we are also struck by how their sense of place escapes specificity. Despite engaging a history of representational imagery that spans many media, Shahbazi, in her use of these genre images, displaces painting’s subjectivity and historicity for photography’s immediacy.

excerpt from Chris Balaschak’s text. Full version at hammer.ucla.edu

More of Shirana’s work can be seen at gallery Bob Van Orsouw.

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