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Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image with Soham Joshi, Babak Kazemi & Damla Şahinbaş


On October 20th we hosted a “Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image” Instagram Live with artists Soham Joshi and Babak Kazemi. Both artists have been selected for our Guest Room “Metamorphosis” curated by Varun Gupta & Arpan Mukherjee, and gave us an in-depth look into their practices within the realm of alternative photography. Here we are sharing more images and insights into their projects, next to presenting the recipient of the Guest Room Scholarship, Damla Şahinbaş.

This format is brought to you in partnership with MPB, the largest global platform to buy, sell and trade used photo and video kit.

Soham Joshi: Camera and The Queer Image

Der Greif: Can you tell us the story behind your selected Guest Room image?

Soham Joshi: Sunil Gupta's 'We Were Here: Sexuality, Photography, and Cultural Difference' highlights how everyone who does not fit into a heteronormative system is thought to have an "alternate sexuality", and to me, this thinking led to my camera. The camera world intended for film sheets to sit sheltered within slides. These sheets get developed by the chemicals and put out pictures of the best standard supplied by scans and prints. Anything that transgresses this traditional image-making procedure and its qualities is seen as an “alternative” process. While creating this work, I experienced a dysphoria of orientation brought on by using a large format camera. Lines converged and focus blurred as the bellows moved to frame what the lens saw. In terms of their identity, the resulting pieces are wholly fluid. The darkroom paper I used doubled as an image-capturing surface while also becoming a print. Dents can be further seen on the pieces as they resist being confined in a camera slide. This is then made visible as they are processed through the chemical development process. “Camera and The Queer Image” accounts for this tension of being pressed into a box, comparing it to my own experience with queerness.

Der Greif: What are you working on right now?

Soham Joshi: I'm currently developing fresh pieces for my series "Camera and The Queer Image" in India. I wanted to explore the same ideas in my homeland because I have made much of the former work in the UK. In addition, I'm excited to set up my studio here and work with my Indian colleagues to share with them the darkroom methods I've learned over the last few years.

Der Greif: How do you engage with technologies in your work?

Soham Joshi: Photography in itself means “drawing with light”. I have always looked at anything with an aperture to it as a potential camera and anything light-sensitive as a “sensor”. I’ve found myself relating this thought to image-making systems found in contemporary art processes.

The internet has become an archive of images for me. In my upcoming body of work, I am combining Google Street View imagery with images found on the internet to reflect upon the increasing technological neighborhoods of India and how these systems are at play in making a “Newer Ideal Indian Dream” for the common people.

Babak Kazemi: Captives

Der Greif: Can you tell us the story behind your selected Guest Room image?

Babak Kazemi: This series is the result of all my research on the expansion of urban construction in different cities in Iran, which has transformed the city into a vast workspace, ultimately leading to the coexistence of trees and buildings. This, in turn, evokes the image of unexpected guests entering our privacy, and they have become emblematic of an urban wound.

Many significant events have occurred within the environmentalist community in Iran during the creation of this series. These individuals, who dedicated themselves to their work and society with passion and love, have found themselves imprisoned and convicted in court on charges of spying for countries considered as Iran's enemies.

In the minds of the people, their only "crime" was a deep love for nature and the environment. Throughout the three years of creating this project, every time I encountered these trees, my thoughts were with these kind-hearted individuals. It appears that the suffering endured by these trees due to urban construction has left an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of environmental activists in my country.

Indeed, it is a sobering reality that in my country, having a profound love for something can be deemed a criminal act.

* This series has been created using handprints through the gum print technique, one of the oldest methods in the history of photography. I personally produced each print in my studio/dark room in Karaj, Iran. Each print is a unique piece, as it is created by my own hands. I utilized natural UV sunlight, natural ink, pigments, and arabic gum in their production.

Der Greif: Can you expand on the themes that your photography explores?

Babak Kazemi: My primary focus during my photographic career has been on two themes: war and oil, both of which my country has always been involved with. I come from Ahvaz, a city in the southwest of Iran, which shares a border with Iraq and where I witnessed an eight-year war with them. This region is also rich in oil resources, hosting many of Iran's oil companies and refineries. As a result, you'll often find the color sepia prevalent in my work, serving as a constant reminder of the color of crude oil.

My works typically reflect my emotions concerning our social and political matters in Iran. More recently, I've been concentrating on landscapes and nature while maintaining the same perspective on these stories.

Der Greif: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in photography?

Babak Kazemi: My most significant challenge in photography arose when I began studying old printing techniques and glass negative production in 2015. Finding recipes, instructions, and chemicals in Iran was a formidable task, as ready-made solutions available abroad were scarce. I had to source and measure each chemical individually, mixing them in my own darkroom. This process was difficult but occasionally led to obtaining unique and delightful results, sometimes even surpassing my original intentions.

The second major challenge occurred when I aimed to create 70x70 cm glass negatives using the wet collodion plate technique for my series "Anticipating." However, no existing camera could provide such a large glass negative. As a solution, I embarked on learning carpentry and constructing my own large format camera, enabling me to produce the substantial wet collodion glass negatives. If anyone is interested in watching videos related to this endeavor, they can be found under "Babak Kazemi Photography" on YouTube.

Damla Şahinbaş: WE ARE REA

Der Greif: Can you tell us what the Guest Room Scholarship means for you?

Damla Şahinbaş: Receiving a scholarship from a prestigious international organization was a turning point in my life. After losing my mother, I fell into a deep depression that made it challenging to maintain my place in the competitive world of Turkish artists. However, the scholarship renewed my self-belief and motivation by reminding me that there are people who see and appreciate my work. It helped me chart my path again at a critical turning point and gave me the strength to keep going despite the challenges.

Der Greif: Can you tell us the story behind your selected Guest Room image?

Damla Şahinbaş: Since my childhood, I've always rebelled against the norms, particularly the conventional perception of beauty that was made to seem unchangeable. For instance, I would often deform my dolls and recreate them in my way. I always craved variety and was quickly bored of monotony.

Shortly after I started working in the darkroom, I started making the “WE ARE REA” series. The limitless nature of the darkroom opened a door for me to explore and reflect on the things I had felt since childhood. Although I had been exploring issues of body and gender since my initial days of photography, the darkroom always served as a tool to complete what I felt was missing.

My desire to deform, destroy, and reconstruct to create safe spaces in my daily life also influenced the “WE ARE REA” series. This series proved that the meetings, gatherings, and events that always seemed random to me resulted from the same impulses, thoughts, and experiences. At the same time, I realized how secure I felt in the seemingly chaotic new orders that emerged due to these impulses.

Der Greif: Who are some photographers that inspire your work?

Damla Şahinbaş: There are many photographers, films, and moments that inspire me. Especially among photographers, I love the photographs of Claude Cahun for her/their courage despite all the difficulties of her/their time, Lisette Model and Diane Arbus for their sincerity in reflecting that they were a part of the subject they photographed, and Nan Goldin for her masterful documentation of subcultures. I am also nourished and inspired, both semantically and visually, by the works of Martha Rosler, and Robert Mapplethorpe, in short, all the photographers who saved the art of photography from the hands of cis-het men and the male gaze.

In addition, the name I would especially like to mention is Lina Irem Arditty, who brings her relationship with her body to her photographs and is a source of inspiration and support for me at every moment of my production process.

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