Michael Zand

visions from an iranian photobox

with regard to these photographs it was history which separated me from them history is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it and in order to look at it, we must be excluded from it”


Roland Barthes

( photograph #1 )
How strange we are with photographs – how foolish.  When there is one solitary plate, we take it for itself, a single image. But when there are a series of images, then we imagine so much more. We see an open door. The door seems to lead us to a story or at least an emotional intelligence. But, if we are true to ourselves, can we really justify these fantasies? What gives us the right to see fables in the fading ink?
I always seem to begin with the photographs. I found them in a packing box, shortly after moving to my new home. They triggered something in me, some kind of folk memory, or even visions of another older world. I am not sure where these apparitions came from, but they seemed to offer connections. Connections to an Iranian way of life that, having left Tehran when I was five, I had never been part of. Connections to rites of passage that I longed to have experienced. But most of all, connections to my father, now an old man but who was once at the heart of that world.
So you open the box, this Iranian photo box. You start to delve. Often, deep inside there is something smaller, isn’t there? May be it feels like a corner of your brain burning. But the key thing is that this feeling is familiar. Not deja-vu, not for you anyway. But it has been felt before: by others, by people that have passed it on to you.
This box was given by my father. For purposes of this story, he is Iran. I unwrap the first photograph, the faded sepia lifts from the coarse paper and I can hear his voice and listen to his stories. But as I focus, he is slowly drowned out by the image. By something very special in the image.
The background is dense and wooded, as you would expect for say a spring day in northern Iran. The foreground is a collection of figures. Three figures, closely bunched. On the right, an old man with a preposterously large turban and tired whiskers. On the left, a perfectly round man, middle-aged or middle-cured, in a fur-lined coat. In the middle sits a skinny javaan, perhaps eighteen, in an outsized suit. In front of the youth there is a sapling a tree. A sapling of a tree, with cut slit through its length. 
My eyes are fixed on the tree, and journey begins…

( the moment of youth )

a small boy
in red tracksuit
for the first time
scans the flat
see him in the far
¡ boro !
and maman says
run my darling run
don’t catch ch ch 
but have keep
run an
don t yield
keep run
run . in


( tree )
rooted howls ))
i am older nower . barkened
outside there are these men with guns . three of them  branchless . with gunndogs .  they bootpress and mash our mud . the smell of moist . the breath of the dogs against the earth . harden . harden spirit . no real spirits in this . the ground steams . an ear twitcheses . taken out of nothing . not earthnothing . nothinnothinnothin . .
¡ here !
in sight in . a wolf
she found . ( she deaded )
three men with dogs and guns have coldened . blood barely shows against
beneath my hollow . dull ache strains
( time
wait for empty . wait for branchlessness . drag she . speak old prewords . hide the face from godworld
turn . revolt . revoltion . return
¿ are she not this mud . this ghel
beshoor . ghel ra
tameez  . z . z . .

where were you ?
i had to pay . to
what piece can I take with me
nothing . son
nothing comes of nothing
for a long time . i mean all the time
this is universal truth
breaks it
my memories? mistakes?
an ounce of decency
you say you let me bury it
no . be hard

in the next part of lion:
the second photograph is revealed...
we go in search of the myths behind the photographs…
Roland Barthes tells why we are all wrong…
we meet the lion...