In Hoda Afshar’s works, the camera is almost always a palpable presence.
Her subjects are often aware they are being framed. They stare into the camera lens and are affected by it. They pose proudly, they smile, they hide their faces.
The Iranian artist, who lives in Australia, doesn’t attempt to obscure herself from her photographs. Unlike a photojournalist trying to present as from an invisible eye, Afshar is more interested in the intrusiveness of the camera. Yet, she is a documentarian all the same.
Afshar’s photographs exist in a nebulous overlap between the staged and the real but her photographs are documentations all the same. The series she is most known for, Remain, was made in collaboration with refugees to Australia imprisoned on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
The portraits show the men posing shirtless, pitch-black backgrounds behind them. Some are in an evidently emaciated or uncomfortable state. Others are taking cold bucket showers or are in a weathered calm.
Afshar’s newest photo series Speak the Wind moves the documentarian into folklore from her native country. The series willbe exhibited at Australia’s International Photography Festival from April 29 to May 22.
Speak the Wind was shot over three islands in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran, Hormuz, Qeshm, and Hengam. The islands’ mysticisms, stories and histories are at the focal point of the series.
One of the photographs shows a woman on a rocky hilltop, a rugged mountain range sprawled behind her. The fabrics of her dress billows out with the wind. They surround and obscure her like bulbous, pneumatic bells. The work calls on to one of the island’s beliefs: the wind as a force that can possess, blowing with illness and disease.
Afshar’s series also reveals an otherworldly side to the islands, from the rituals of its dwellers to the mysticism between light and shadow in between the islands’ jagged landscape. This also includes portraits of the sellers in their polychrome fabrics, to images of gravesites and the blood-red shoreline.
In one image, a figure is hunkered on the desert floor, body concealed under a fabric that blends with the creases of the surrounding sands. It is a figure being incorporated into the landscape. In another, the sky is reflected in the waters of the Gulf, red with the iron oxide of the islands’ soil.
The International Photography Festival, or Photo 2022, is the first time the photography series is being exhibited. The festival will show 123 Australian and international artists and photographers across 90 exhibitions, with 50 world premieres including 24 specially commissioned projects.
The festival features large-scale outdoor installations at famed and unexpected sites across Melbourne, including curated exhibitions at 38 galleries such as ACMI and NGV Australia. There will also belarge-scale lightboxes along Southbank Promenade to a photography and sound installation by Bidjara artist Christian Thompson in the former courtyard of the Old Melbourne Gaol.
The festival’s theme for its second year is Being Human, prompting artists and photographs to unpack the human condition to explore what informs who we are, what unites us and what makes us unique within the narratives of society, self, mortality, nature and history.
Artists and photographers exhibiting at the event include Gillian Wearing, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mohamed Bourouissa, Poulomi Basu, Vasantha Yogananthan, and Luo Yang.