Burnt Generation – Contemporary Iranian Photography at Somerset House

During a very fleeting visit to the capital I was nearby Somerset House and with a couple of hours to spare I managed to take in this exhibition looking at the works of nine photographers who have lived in Iran. Which as we know is a highly volatile and secretive state that produces a number of images when discussing or thinking of the country. This exhibition is designed to see past the cliché and into a wide perspective of the society.

The term Burnt Generation comes from the members of the Iranian population who only know of life under the post-revoulotionaly regime and in turn feel isolate, trapped and censored. The exhibition as a whole consistently shows a heartfelt connection with these three feelings while maintaining a wide perspective as was the idea.

I found the works of Gohar Dashti to be an interesting connection between staged and documentary photography, five of her images are on display within the exhibition and each show a recreation of real events although in the images they are against the backdrop of the desert. She uses the subjects to successfully focus the viewer not on the aesthetics of an image but there meaning and visual connotations. The image of the compact group of people stood in a ditch with there hands above their heads screams being trapped, unable to move or to effectively save themselves as they have surrendered to needing help. However when looking closely the closed fist shows defiance and perhaps a more focused determination of a generation seemingly lost is still non-complicite.

Newsha Tavakolian’s Look is a fascinating image depicting an unhappy birthday occasion. Placed against a backdrop of the Tehran urban landscape of high-rise buildings the the image feels very closed in even tho we are looking at a great depth from building to building but the for boding nature of the cool tones gives the image a feel of sadness and angst before we consider the models blank expression looking directly at the camera with the cake in front of her. The composition is beautifully weighted, the viewer initially taken by the candle light is then ushered to subject who is lit wonderfully and very subtle against the interior.

Although a very quick visit and with subsequent research and reading I found this exhibition to be an eye opener in not only photographic sense of journalism or reportage but politically and humanistically of a country and generation of people to which this exhibition has captured beautifully to further my understanding and appreciation of these Iranian photographers.

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