Introduction

Shenasnameh is the name of the official Iranian Birth Certificate. It is valid for life, but the photograph which it contains must be updated according to the standards.

For a woman in Iran, the making of this photograph is a personally charged affair; her hair must be covered in keeping with official standards, and any excess of make-up will be met with official disapproval.

Six years ago, I was waiting in a reception room, holding the birth certificates of my mother and myself. My eyes began to flick from the picture of my mother to mine, and back again.

A sudden realization came upon me about what these pictures meant, of what they showed, and what they didn’t show. My mother and I, for all our differences, were welded into one being. I looked like my mother, and my mother looked like me. But it went beyond that. All of a sudden I realized that all Iranian women were being made to look the same; plain faces under hairless scarves.

That same day my fingerprint was fixed next to my image and my mother’s fingerprint was fixed next to her image. Though, the faces had become the same, the fingerprints were different.

After that day, I started collecting the Shenasnameh portraits of Iranian women, of family and friends. And with the pictures I collected the fingerprints. And gradually, different stories began to be told and the differences came through; both in the fingerprints but also in faces that, despite the restrictions that are placed around them, still claim individuality and person-hood; by a glint in the eyes, a turn of the mouth, or a raise of the brows.

 

That is what this project is about: women who are individuals, women who are more than just a loose strand of hair. A small part of her being can show how different she is from the others, she is herself.
Shenasnameh was a journey, inside and outside, these are the women with whom I have been living for years, I am one of them.

Shenasnameh is the narrative of my own life.

Amak Mahmoodian is an Iranian photographer, film maker and curator living in the UK. Her work questions the identity, it expresses something personal, which pertains to a general issue.  The multimedia Shenasnameh was presented during Slideluck Gazebook.

Interview

a. What program was used to create the multimedia?
We used Adobe Premiere to edit the final piece but we also use Photoshop to create the mosaic of faces. 

 

b. How and why did you choose that sound/music?
“Nobahari” is a poem by well known Iranian poet Saadi Shirazi. The song is a worship to the Spring. “Namjoo” makes the spring more spiritual with the sorrow and the hope in his voice, he shouts for the Spring.
“Another life is needed,
for time was spent
in this one in hopefulness.” Saadi Shirazi, 1203-1292
“Shirin”, the girl who I met at the ceremony and the song have the same name. It is a love song about Shirin and her story by wonderful singer “Namjoo” in Kurdish.

 

c. Tell us about the editing process when you think of a multimedia. 
The multimedia was produced by designer and editor Alejandro Acin, and this is what he told us about the process.
AA: The idea of the multimedia was something we discussed with Amak while we were making the book. Amak’s practice involves photographic images but also sound and video therefore making a multimedia was presented as an opportunity to approach Shenasnameh in a different way.
For this piece, we thought that having a chapter structure would help us to organise the material but also to create different moods throughout the video. We took the opportunity to add new material in this multimedia as a complementary piece to the book. 
 
Of course, designing a multimedia involved thinking differently about its visual language than the one used in the book, we wanted to encapsulate the aim which the book was made for, but also translate it into a multimedia experience. This was encouraged by using a first person narrative, Amak’s voice instantly elevates the multimedia into a new level that the book on its own was never able to achieve. 
The first chapter ‘The Beginning’ introduces us to the narrator however in the video we only see a woman’s back, this creates a visual tension which seems to work well as an opening chapter. Later Amak introduces the official document, ‘Shenasnameh’, the multimedia was conceived as a journey into Amak’s ID photograph, a collective reality told from a personal experience.
This journey is interrupted by a collection of rejected images, the pace and rhythm is also altered by the percussion sounds. We use different narrative elements such us zoom-in/zoom-out to re-enforce the ideas of the ‘individual’ and the ‘collective’. The multimedia becomes a bit more abstract in the third chapter when we talk about how identity can be represented by a small part of your being, a cacophony of woman’s names are combined with a sequence of portraits that fade into each other or into fingerprints. The fingerprints become the traces of the faces and vice-versa.
The last chapter was probably the one we have more doubts on, as the end of the next chapter seemed a good way to finish but after different discussions with Amak, we came to the conclusion that the last chapter was also adding a hint into the idea of ‘Self-censorhip’ also included in the book. The last song is called ‘Shirin’ which is also the name of the main character in the last chapter, we thought this was a very good way to close the story.
The multimedia and book were produced by ICVL Studio.

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