Now, smile

Leila Pazooki’s latest project involved tourists...


‘I told them, “I’m an artist and I want to make a video of you.”’ Leila Pazooki went to Iran, southern Spain and Cancún in Mexico armed with her camera. She found tourists posing for photographs in front of desolate shorelines and windy cliff tops. She asked these tourists to carry on posing, in the style of a holiday snap, for two minutes as she filmed the scene. ‘My idea is to freeze this idea of paradise and the perfect moment,’ she explains.

In one scene, we see a group of passers-by, inexplicably armed with toy plastic swords, run in and shatter a scene in which two girls are posing. The locales she picks also show the greatest amount of movement and change – the wind and the tides interfere with the perfect stillness of her subjects. Naturally, any attempt to freeze the ‘paradise’ that Pazooki’s subjects inhabit immediately fails.

When Time Out catches up with Pazooki, who’s currently based in Germany, we ask her why she thinks people pose in photographs, and what they are trying to express in that pose. ‘I think it’s very clear
that you want to fix your life in a moment, a perfect moment, so you choose the most interesting position you know,’ she reveals. ‘I’m sure every girl spends an hour in front of the mirror to find the best pose.
It’s like a visual identity that women try to have.’

The project, she explains, explores the flimsiness of our attempt to fix life, through the lens of a camera, in the shape of perfection. ‘People work and work for this moment, for their perfect moment on holiday. Especially in the West. But if you take this moment and make it two minutes long, you realise that it’s not perfect, there are lots of problems.’ There’s a definite unease when we first look at Pazooki’s videos. The nervousness of her subjects is infectious and we sense their self-consciousness – we watch their forced smiles become more forced and then, silently, collapse.

‘It’s halfway between sadness and irony in these videos,’ she continues. ‘To use these settings, for me, became symbolic. Aesthetically, you can sense the people’s stillness even more against all this background movement.’

The characters really bring something to the work. Take the two Iranian girls posing in a busy café under a gloomy sky – their huge sunglasses and wryly arched eyebrows speak of that keen sense of self-identity that Pazooki talks about. ‘In the pose of these two, it’s something between being uncomfortable and having a strong self-consciousness,’ she says. She then goes on to refer to the videos as a duel between herself and her subjects. ‘That’s why I have no tripod, because I should be just as uncomfortable as they are. This work is a documentation of a performance for me and that side of the work is very important.’

So the slight tremors of the camera are as important as the tremors on the faces of her subjects. ‘For me these videos are a kind of study, not as an anthropologist, but of something in myself. I am in the same uncomfortable situation as they are. They’re uncomfortable because of the camera, and I’m uncomfortable because of their eyes. I’m thinking: I must not shake, I must be brave.’ For all these ideas of mutual confrontation, which build into a general atmosphere of disharmony, the characters she meets become irrelevant after watching these videos a few times. Yet there’s one video in the collection that remains enigmatic. We ask Pazooki about the figure wrapped in a chador, standing next to waves crashing on a rocky shoreline. She’s the only one, oddly, who doesn’t seem to be posing.

‘I was at Kish Island [off the coast of Iran] with a big group of friends for Iranian New Year. We were swimming and this woman came over to us, a local Iranian-Arab woman. She came to walk at the seaside with her children. For me it was so typically Iran – we were so close yet so different, but we just accepted each other. They were very comfortable, they asked us if we could take photographs of them. At first she wasn’t sure if it was okay to make a video. But she didn’t want to just say no. So I told her, maybe you can just look at the seaside and I can cover your face, and she accepted..’ This image works as something
of an afterthought in the show.

It’s as though Pazooki is pointing to a truer moment of harmony that she found during this project. In it, there’s a rawness – an accepted imperfection to the scene. A black chador whips in the surf, we see the woman’s hastily turned-up trousers. This all builds to an intangible harmony – and suggests that truer ‘perfect moments’ can’t ever be composed.
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