8 Minutes Ago: Hessam Samavatian

15 - 27 February 2022

AB-ANBAR Gallery is delighted to announce 8 Minutes Ago, the debut UK exhibition by the acclaimed Iranian artist Hessam Samavatian. Selected from three ongoing series, from 2012 to the present day, as well as a new site-specific installation, 8 Minutes Agois an opportunity to see more than 30 works from this important experimental photographic artist.


Samavatian creates work which deconstructs the very definition of optics and the photographic medium, exploring the properties of light, reflection and shadow with photographic images created without ever holding a conventional camera. In combination with the theoretical themes, he has employed physical tools such as chemicals, papers, processes and the structure of camera obscura used in photography, including the performative element in which images are created and fixed following these choreographed procedures.


The distinct and often repetitious process inherent in these works is fundamental to our understanding of the finished image, as is the binary play between light and shadow which suggest  recognisable forms from matter which is fundamentally abstract. Samavatian says of this process "Darkness is not only due to the absence of light but also lack of an object for reflection."


Samavatian’s Photographical Landscapes are immediately suggestive of immense space and distant horizons but are conjured by the repletion of small, distinct processes within the enclosed space of the dark room. Created using different grades and colours of photographic papers, these mysterious and ‘universal’ landscapes emerge from the measured dipping and panning of the paper into developer, stop and fixing baths. The open expanse of sky is evoked in shades of tender pink by the undeveloped paper and the heaviness and irregularity of rock and earth, suggested by the ‘concretised’ and fixed black paper below.


The immeasurable, expansive vastness of deep space is suggested by the constellations of bright lights and milky veils which emerge from the darkness in Samavatian’s Galaxies series. The product of simple darkroom products, Samavatian’s galaxies are brought into being through the chemical process of stop-bath liquid splashed onto exposed paper – simultaneously also reminding us of the time travelling passage of light through space and the reactive chemical process of the Big Bang.


In contrast, the Plaster Casts series excavate a poignant sense of private interior spaces and the memories of the artist’s family. The images contained on the plaster casts originate from “lost” negatives which once belonged to the artist’s grandfather and were found by chance by Samavatian on a street. The negatives are printed on the surface of specially prepared plaster moulds using photo emulsion, developers and fix baths. Part sculptural - part photographic, these negative moulds also have a commonality with the tradition of creating death masks using plaster; they memorialise but with a form which is easily broken. Several of Samavatian’s casts are visibly repaired, using pins to hold together the fractures which are an essential part of them, reminding us of the knocks and fractures of human existence.


Samavatian has repeatedly used candles both as a metaphor and object in his practice to explore the fundamental role of light in photography. For the exhibition with AB-ANBAR a photogram of an unlit candle, created by placing the object directly onto light photo emulsion fixed onto plaster cast, rests above the fireplace in a room which was once the receiving room of a grand Edwardian domestic interior.