Jalal Sepehr

Jalal Sepehr

ARTIST

Through the Lens of Tehran:

Exploring Jalal Sepehr’s Artistic Journey.

My interest in photography began with its ability to freeze moments in time.

Jalal Sepehr, born in Tehran, Iran, is a self-taught photographer who began his career during the ’90s. Renowned both locally and internationally as a fine art photographer, his work has graced many prestigious publications.

 

From 2003 to 2007, Sepehr was a founding member of the Fanoos website, dedicated to promoting contemporary Iranian photography. In addition to his photography projects, he has conducted numerous workshops and curated exhibitions, such as ‘Displacement’ at the Silkroad Gallery. He is also an active member of the Virtual Arts of Iran Association and the Advertising & Industrial Photography Association of Iran.

Jalal Sepehr
Jalal Sepehr

Jalal, thank you for joining us. Lets start with your journey into photography. What initially sparked your interest in this art form?

My interest in photography began with its ability to freeze moments in time. This fascination is rooted in how photography captures distinct realities and offers unique perspectives. Photographs possess the remarkable power to hold a slice of reality, yet they also reflect the photographer’s vision and choices, shaping how we perceive each image. The truth in photography is particularly intriguing. While a photo represents a real moment, it doesn’t necessarily reveal the full truth of that moment or its broader context. Viewers interpret each image through their own experiences, which blurs the lines between actuality and perception. The choices a photographer makes – such as angle, framing and subject matter – even in scenes without people, profoundly communicate their perspective and intentions. Photography, in this sense, becomes a powerful form of expression. It allows photographers to convey their inner thoughts to the outside world, presenting various realities and viewpoints, all captured in time yet open to endless interpretations. It’s a silent language that speaks volumes, inviting viewers to engage with the images and find their own meanings within them.

Growing up in Tehran, Iran, how has your cultural background influenced your artistic vision?

I recall from my childhood how my father would craft art from wood, carving intricate designs and mounting them as reliefs on various objects. This technique captivated me deeply. My father was a multi-talented artist, practicing calligraphy, painting and even playing the tambour, all of which influenced me significantly. I always had a drive to create; everything I made intrigued me.

 

Later on, when I was 23, I moved to Japan for work, where I developed a strong interest in cameras. Upon returning to Iran at age 30, my best friend Houshmandzadeh, who was studying Photography at university, introduced me to his circle of photographer friends. Joining their group further deepened my interest in the field. In the beginning, my photography mostly focused on nature and documentary subjects, and I occasionally had the privilege of shooting for newspapers. Soon after, I shifted towards advertising photography, aiming to express my artistic vision through staged photography – a method that reminds me of the craftsmanship of my youth. Staged photography has become a significant part of my work, a method I approach with the same enthusiasm I’ve had since childhood. Looking ahead, I plan to further refine my work by integrating modern technology in more creative ways.

Jalal Sepehr

How do you interpret the concept of rebirth in your artistic practice?

In my work, the theme of displacement frequently emerges, driving the evolution of new concepts and definitions. My approach to photography is staged, creating narratives through the objects and individuals present in each scene. For instance, in my ‘Water & Persian Rugs’ series, I use water as a transformative element that redefines traditional subjects, imbuing them with new meanings. Similarly, the ‘Red Zone’ series depicts a family in the process of migration, captured in transit on a carpet. This portrayal not only highlights the physical journey but also the profound internal transformations involved. Migration, a decision of immense magnitude, often equates to a rebirth for the immigrant, as it involves starting anew and forging a new identity. This search for identity, in my view, is one of the most challenging aspects of the migration experience.

Youre known as a fine art photographer both locally and internationally. Could you share with us some insights into your creative process and how you approach your photographic projects?

Usually, I start with a few ideas in mind, but as the project progresses, new inspirations often emerge spontaneously. I find that some of my best ideas come to me during my commute to work, and these unplanned insights frequently become my favourites. In my experience, particularly with projects that involve carpets, there tends to be at least one photograph that stands out by offering a slightly different perspective or idea. I like to embrace these unique deviations in my future projects, and this approach is a defining characteristic of my work.

As a founding member of the Fanoos website, which aimed to promote contemporary Iranian photography, what impact do you believe platforms like this have had on the photography scene in Iran?

I dedicated several years to working on the Fanoos website. Platforms like Fanoos are crucial for the growth and advancement of photography because they serve as initial platforms for media discussions. While social media platforms now largely serve this purpose, websites like Fanoos, with their specific categorisation and focused positioning of photography, still hold considerable importance. They foster a more professional relationship with the audience, attracting a more dedicated community of enthusiasts.

Jalal Sepehr

What is the significance behind the predominant use of red carpets in your work?

Indeed, it’s a fact that the majority of Iranian carpets are red in colour, and when combined with their motifs, red holds profound significance. The boldness and contrast of red evoke a sense of heightened excitement. In my work, particularly in the ‘Red Zone’ series, I intentionally emphasized this colour, exclusively featuring red carpets. This deliberate choice is evident throughout the collection, making it readily understandable for any art or culture enthusiast to grasp the reasoning behind the colour selection.

Your work often explores themes of displacement and identity. Can you elaborate on how these themes manifest in your photography and what messages you aim to convey?

A key element of my work, especially in its initial phases, delves into the clash between tradition and modernity sparked by immigration. The trials, limitations and intricacies that come with immigration are fundamentally tied to questions of identity. Identity stands as a primary concern for individuals across all walks of life. Migration goes beyond simply moving geographically, it involves leaving behind deeply ingrained aspects of oneself or undergoing transformation. This process is incredibly challenging; while some may achieve it, for others, it remains an ongoing struggle.

A key element of my work, especially in its initial phases, delves into the clash between tradition and modernity sparked by immigration.

Do you believe that Iran has undergone a cultural resurgence in recent years due to the efforts of contemporary artists and social initiatives?

From my viewpoint, I’m confident about this development, although I can’t predict its speed and scale. However, I firmly believe that as society becomes more educated, it will spur progress and drive advancements across various fields. I hold an optimistic outlook that this trend will be particularly noticeable in Iran, paving the way for extensive growth.

In your opinion, what role does photography play in documenting and reflecting on social and cultural changes, both in Iran and globally?

We can affirm that photography holds a prominent position as the most widely used medium in visual arts, utilised across news, education, advertising and various societal contexts. This widespread adoption may be attributed to its extensive reach and unmatched capability to vividly communicate facts, events, and effectively engage with target audiences.