Abbas Kiarostami is known primarily as an innovative filmmaker and the Pacific Film Archive is currently presenting a retrospective of his films. The inventive confluence of documentation and fiction has produced a new direction in cinema, prompting Werner Herzog to assert,”We are living in the era of Kiarostami but don’t know it yet.” In addition to working as a film director, the Iranian artist is also a writer, a poet, an editor, screen writer and photographer.
To coincide with the film series, BAM displays “Abbas Kiarostami Image Maker,” a show of still photos, which comes to Berkeley from MoMA’s P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. These stark black-and-white photographs are of roads and trees and were often the result of his walking thousands of miles in search of suitable backgrounds for his films. The film director is known for his panoramic long shots, used often as a Brechtian device to create distance from the audience. In the still photos Kiorastami shows isolated or silhouetted black trees and their gray shadows against vast snow fields or there are empty roads that snake through the land and seem to go nowhere. Some photogaphs focus on tree trunks and study the roughness of their textures in closeups. And there are pictures of large crows walking among the trees. A short silent film in the exhibition shows the movement of branches in the wind. No narrative needed. He wrote: “One single picture is the mother of cinema. That’s where cinema starts, with one single picture.”
David Goldblatt is an acclaimed South African photographer and writer. He is the author of many books, including one with the novelist Nadine Gardiner. On one floor at BAM we see black-and-white photos of desolate empty, endless landscapes, as well as land-scarred asbestos mines, which refer to the environmental damage caused by the miners and the government that protected them. After the end of apartheid Goldblatt began using color in his documentary work. But they still show the misery that prevails. There is a primitive shack isolated in the countryside, there are black hawkers in the townships, there are billboards advertising “accommodations” or hand-written notes of people looking for any kind of work. He provides explanatory labels for his photos, such as the picture of the “Monument to Abraham Essau,” a gravestone by the road for a black man who was executed by the Boers for asserting limited civil rights. The gravestone was unveiled in 2003, but was soon pushed over or collapsed.
Life may have improved in South Africa, but misery still prevails.
In Iran, Kiorostami’s films—he produced over 40 of them—cannot be screened in his country, and when he was invited to New York to see his films in the 2002 film festival the US denied his visa.
Abbas Kiarostami: from the series Rain, 2006; C-print; 28 1/2 x 41 1/4 in.; collection of the Iranian Art Foundation, New York.