Facets Of Iran - Exhibition Berlin

A group Exhibition at Somos Gallery, Berlin by Mike Marlowe, Jon John and Paul King

Friday 27th May - Thursday 2nd June 2016

The rose and the thorn, and sorrow and gladness are linked together. -Saadi Shirazi

Can we meet others as people and not projections of our romantic notions or our worst nightmares?

This exhibition reflects the experiences of 3 people with distinct impressions of a shared place and time. 

Utilising our combined tools of photography, filmmaking, anthropology, and material art, our work represents glimpses into the richness and diversity of Iranian people and their environment.

We have stepped away from the de-humanising geopolitical headlines to show a Western audience more nuanced and intimate perspectives of the Iranian people.

We remain committed to respecting cultural differences as well as bridging connections to our shared humanity.

We would like to express deep gratitude towards the people of Iran for their unrivalled warmth, hospitality, patience, and generosity.

Inside Iran

by Mike Marlowe

The images in this exhibition take a look inside one of the most misunderstood countries in the world. There is no attempt to include cliché or to fight stereotypes, or even to create pretty pictures. The views are those that can be found by any visitor who is curious about the people and places of Iran.

The exclusion of the classic tourist sites of Persia is deliberate. The intent is to bring to the viewer, as objectively as possible, the every days scenes that anyone would encounter during their own commute to work, or weekend break out of the city.

I have used a subtle blend of colour coupled with my standard practice of presenting a series of photographs that individually have layers of information in them and collectively show insights, but can also raise questions. 

This allows the viewer to place their own stereotypes and impressions over the series and either reinforce their views or be opened to new perspectives. 

The ubiquitous car of post 1979 Iran. The ex Hillman Hunter from the UK was manufactured in huge numbers near Teheran and they are still widely seen all over the country.

Sheesha smoking is widespread throughout Iran and is finding new popularity among young people. Women frequent coffee shops with friends to smoke, talk and drink tea.

A flower seller in the Armenian quarter of Esphahan, Iran. Older people have led a life witnessing continual change and upheaval. Many have a dignified stoicism that only comes with experience.

Hearts in Sorrow:

A Story of Ashura in Iran

by Jon John and Paul King

The documentary short Hearts in Sorrow explores the religious ceremonies of 2015, surrounding the auspicious 10 th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, known as ASHURA. 

It steps away from the geopolitical arguments to gain a greater understanding of the Iranian people and the Shia sect of Islam.

Iran is considered to be the most stable and powerful nation with a Shia sect majority. Some within Iran consider their country’s greatest role to be the protector of the faith.

Hearts in Sorrow was filmed in the cities of Shiraz, Eqlid, Yazd, and Kashan, as well as the mountain village of Kahkaran. This film follows the extravagant theatrical performances and street processions in the larger cities as well as the intimate gatherings in the smaller villages. Through invoking sorrow, the rituals of Ashura emotionally bind today’s adherents to each other and to a most profound suffering that occurred more than 1300 years ago.

View the teaser.

Men attending one of the many Ashura rituals at Esphahan, Iran. The orchestrated intensity of expressions of grief are devoutly followed.

A boy carrying a flag used in an Ashura parade in Yazd, Iran. His concentration reflects the intensity of his involvement in the classic Shia mourning of Hussein.

A parade float in Esphahan depicting the slaying of Hussein's infant son during the battle Karbala in AD 680.

The Artist Collective

Statement from Paul King :

Curiosity and passion propel my explorations. My research investigates alteration and sovereignty of the body through the lens of socio-cultural anthropology. Why and how do we alter our social bodies?

I have authored articles and lectured at colleges and conferences on topics including: modalities of communicating with the body; cross-cultural contrast and comparison of flesh hook-suspending communities; and explored cross-cultural grief practices of modifying the body and their effects on the psyche. 

In response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I wrote, directed, and produced my first documentary, Rituals of Life: the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. 100% of proceeds went to non-profits. 

In 2014, I co-produced and directed, a documentary short, Ladies and Gentlemen: Phatima Rude! This gritty documentary followed San Francisco underground performance artist Phatima’s struggles and triumphs with illness, poverty, addiction, body alteration, and gender identity while living in their van. The documentary showed in 13 festivals and received 2 awards.

In 2014, I graduated UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Anthropology. I received highest honors for my thesis: Investigation of Female Genital Alteration Within US Non-immigrant Communities.

Currently I am co-directing and co-producing a series of documentaries on ceremonies and rituals that induce altered states of consciousness, from locations including Europe, East Asia, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, and Iran.

Manifesto, by Jon John

I believe that the action of love remains one of the few accessible ecstatic rituals in our disposable society. 

My ritual forms are not static. My invocations of love are not static. The rituals and aesthetics of my childhood experiences continue to transform through research and personal connection. 

My ritual is communal alchemy. I don’t perform for audiences but rather engaged witnesses that become co-creators. My lovers. 

From my veins flow Basque, Argentinian and « Gypo ». Gypo is a derogatory term I own for Gitano, which is the Spanish- Roma ethnicity. 

The complexity of my ethnicities gave dimensionality to my religious upbringing. We are a catholic family that practices magic. My people gave me the gifts of healing bodies and conjuring spirits. 

My queerness is not in a typical narrative of exclusion, but rather a celebration of my otherness. 

It is not a longing of something missing, but a quest with an open heart. 

Through altered state of consciousness I transcend my spoken vocabulary, to share my hidden secrets of love, life and loss. 

I utilise video, photography, installation and most notably performance. 

Flesh, skin and blood are my palette to take you on a journey from tenderness to brutality via beauty and decay. 

In addition to my solo work I have collaborated with artists such as Ron Athey, Joey Arias, Marilyn Manson, Nick Knight, Paul King, Rancinan, Kiril Bikov, Juano Diaz, David Harrow and others.

I live between Berlin, and my homeland, Basque country

About Mike Marlowe :

I am a British photographer originally from London. 

My travels and work have taken me to more than 75 countries around the world shooting candid and documentary projects for press, advertising and commercial clients as well as developing a distinctive style for personal projects.

I work in a close and candid manner tending to integrate in countries or regions and even returning to places to develop ideas.

The subject matter is always what can be found during the journey either searching for a particular image to fit a requirement or by developing a theme and then allowing the images to present themselves.

The core of my work centres around people, culture and the relationship to environment and its continual state of change. I work in colour and develop projects that collate a narrative of a theme.

Although I don't seek to stylise or create scenarios in which to shoot I'm interested in the subjectiveness of attempting to treat all subjects equally and the results that it creates.


Friday, 27th may 2016

6pm to 7.30pm, Film première and Artists talk

7.30pm to 10pm, Opening Night.

Saturday 28th May 2016

5pm : Lecture by Paul king,

in conversation with Jon John

Transcendence : 

An overview of varied practices from prehistoric to present of human’s pursuit of the super mundane through physical alteration of the body. This lecture explores ritual use of amputating, dental and cranial modifying, bloodletting, tattooing, piercing, cicatrizing, suspending and flagellating from around the world and throughout time.

Thursday 2nd of June 2016

5pm : Lecture by Paul King, 

in conversation with Jon John

The Grieving Body :

 Does Body Modification Injure or Heal the Psyche ? 

In mainstream Western culture, grief processes that include physical alteration of the body are often categorised as pathological and considered “self-harm.” However, throughout recorded history many ethnic groups have sanctioned either solo or communal acts of piercing, tattooing, cutting, burning, striking, amputating, or tooth ablating as part of their mourning rituals.This lecture entails a cross-cultural contrast and comparison of intentional physical responses to grief both within and outside culturally organised and permitted methods. We will explore the social implications, the possible harms and benefits, of sanctioning versus not sanctioning physically manifested grief practices.

7pm : closing of the exhibition.

Link to Somos Gallery







Everyone is a photographer

The more I travel the more I see people taking photographs of not just themselves, but also each other, historic sites, their food and anything else that catches their eye. This in itself is not unusual, and after all I do the same, but what is escalating beyond any sense of proportion is the sheer scale of it.

And this is not something that is limited to Western or developed countries. This impulse is universal and perhaps nothing else in the modern era un masks the sameness of every human on the planet. Culture, religion, wealth, class, age, none of these things matter when it comes to joining in with the taking photos obsession. The sight of someone taking tourist snaps of themselves has become so common place that it's hardly even noticed by other people.

Tourist doing a selfie of himself with statue looking over his shoulder.

The most recent development of these compulsions is the 'selfie'. Now there is no need to ask a passer by to take a photo for you. You are your own photographer, art director and editor. There seems to be no limit to the lengths people will go to get the shot, often putting many a hard working photojournalist to shame.

The selfie stick is an added incarnation of this craze, allowing everyone to artfully pose themselves in front of any scene or event. This innocuous piece of equipment has become quite divisive though and many profess to dislike the proliferation. This has reached a kind of angst among some people who complain about 'their' view being ruined by phones, attached to poles, prodding up in to the sky in front of them.

A couple taking a selfie on a beach in Italy

It's hard to analyse the universal popularity of all of this. I suspect a strong narcissistic element to much of it but there seems to be more to it than that. What does everyone do with their images? Mostly, it would seem, to gather social reinforcement and validation by sharing the shots through social media. There does seem to be an element of societal belonging, as though you didn't really go to where you said you did without the required proof.

However, like all good photographers, many seem to simply enjoy the process of image making. Taking photos is a fun thing to do. It can also be a kind of mediative undertaking, which is after all, what draws many photographers to pursue the craft seriously. There is another element that I've observed and it is less sinister than the usual commentary around photo proliferation and that is that many people do seem to have a genuine and quite sincere desire to share their experiences. The modern day version of choosing a postcard and writing 'Wish you were here' and posting it back home. Most of us have a rush of excitement at seeing somewhere new and we often think of someone else who would love to have felt that same feeling by being there with us.

A woman taking a photo of woman taking a photo

There are hundreds of millions of photos being uploaded to sharing sites every day. I don't know how many of those get seen compared to how many just drift off in to cyber space, like a satellite knocked of course drifting aimlessly around in orbit. Perhaps that's not the point. Perhaps they don't need to be seen, just like no one (mostly) keeps every single thing they're ever written down, no one really has the intention of keeping every image they make.

As a photographer, I found all of this quite irritating at first. The ability to compose and create images of popular travel locations is difficult with dozens of people all doing the same thing in front of you. However, photographing the photographers proved to be more interesting. There is something intriguing, and even amusing, to watch people who are free of preconceptions marching around a historic site snapping away as though there is no one else there.

A man in a suit with a selfie stick

It looks like we are entering a new era of self awareness. The universally popular past time of people watching has now come to include watching ourselves watching people and recording the act of it. A friend can be on a trip on the other side of the planet and you are treated to a steady stream of reference shots of every twist and turn of the trip, almost in real time. For the most part they're, as they've always been, uninspiring and of little interest to anyone else, but now again there is a great shot that gives a sudden pang of wishing you were there!

Tourists photographing mirrors in a shrine in Iran.

One thing is for sure, this craze doesn't seem to be abating and if you can't beat them, join them!

See more images from the project here.

Inside Iran

Nowhere else has such a stark difference between its international persona and the people you meet as does Iran. Walking around the streets of Tehran or Shiraz feels more like being in Europe than the Middle East. For the series Inside Iran I spent 2 weeks travelling around the country, meeting people, seeing ancient sites and witnessing the Shia celebration of Hussein.

Old man selling flowers in Esphahan, Iran

The country is an enticing mix of ancient sites, modern development, conservative Islam and Western aspirations.

Go as far as you can see and when you get there you'll be able to see further. Persian Proverb.

Camel being prepared for sacrifice at Ashura celebration in Yazd, Iran

Ashura celebrates the death of Hussein, the most revered figure in Shia Islam.

A young boy watching an Ashura procession.

From the choking streets of Tehran to the quiet calm of the old city of Yazd.

Wandering the alleys and passage ways of Yazd.

The country is changing. The people are changing. In history there has always been change in Persia and now as modern day Iran, it continues.

Conservative and liberal.

See the full gallery here.

Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine, National Park must be Eden on earth for landscape photography. I first went here in 2009 and was captivated by the whole region.

Many people are confused about 'what is Patagonia?' It's a vast area of wilderness land mostly in Argentina but also in Chile. Actually, the Chile parts of Patagonia are some of the most stunning, mostly because of the mountainous influence on the landscape. This is the tail of end of the Andes and the infamous granite massifs, that are so iconic. Patagonia was a favourite of Galen Rowel (whose work inspired me to go there) and many others have lost themselves in the natural beauty.

It's incredible watching the morning light bathe the sides of the mountain in soft coloured light, which causes the granite to glow golds and yellows. Lots of places have gorgeous light but it is different here.

Patagonia is also the destination of one of our Creative Trails trips, which you can find out more about here.. Come along in November if you fancy sampling it for yourself.

Mountains of Torres Del Paine in Patagonia. This surreal shot was taken at first light in the national park, Chile.

Old Man Of The White Desert

Some places are just more photogenic than others. While it's true that you can take a great photos just about anywhere, there is without doubt, some environments that make life so much easier. One such place is the White Desert in Egypt.

The bizarre rock formation that looks like a human head!

The bizarre rock formation that looks like a human head!

This one of the most interesting of what are generally known as the 'mushroom rocks'. The white desert is, rather oddly, right next to the black desert. Getting there takes a bit of determination although the main highways in Egypt are usually in good condition.