Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami, photographer? But of course—even, it might be argued, when he makes films: Just think of the Iranian director’s Taste of Cherry (1997), with its ninety-nine minutes of fixed-camera shots. And in his new film, The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), people move, cars move, clouds move, animals and insects move, but the camera’s eye that observes and records them most often remains motionless—and at one with the viewers sitting in front of the movie screen.

As it turns out, Kiarostami has been taking “real” photographs for some twenty years. The motivation, he insists, came not from any love of the medium but from his love of nature and the desire to “eternalize” his contact with it. During the two years of preparation that went into The Wind Will Carry Us, he shot some 2,000 photos, not only in the course of his extensive search for locations in Kurdistan, where the film takes place, but also during random excursions into the Iranian countryside.

The gallery exhibition, timed to coincide with the release of The Wind Will Carry Us in Paris, draws mainly but not exclusively on this recent body of color landscapes showing the tree-dotted fields and rolling hills incised with the winding roads that have become so familiar from Kiarostami’s films. But the thirty-five views presented here (along with nearly as many more on hand but not officially deemed part of the exhibition) were neither dated nor localized. Rather than by any linear progression of years, time is defined by cycles of seasons and moments of the day; space corresponds not to a point on a map but to a fragmented existential geography. The “figure” is most often the background, and the repetition of themes and forms is in fact an invitation to discover an infinity of otherwise overlooked details—the eroticism of the hills, the solitude of a tree, the mystery of a road that eludes the laws of Western perspective by “vanishing” anywhere other than at the horizon; but also the coexistence of “unchanging” nature with electric power lines, highway signs, and pickup trucks. Such anti-snapshots demand patience on the part of photographer and viewer alike: meticulous preparation at one end (from the search for the proper “location,” composition, lighting, etc. to the “editing” of the image in the laboratory, notably via spotting) and an equally meticulous observation at the other. As might be expected, the latter exercise is distinctly reminiscent of watching a Kiarostami film—or rather, since Kiarostami has spoken of his “unfinished cinema,” deliberately left open to the viewer’s creative spirit, of “finishing” one.

These stylized, serial images likewise belong to an unfinished photography. Looking at them, it is difficult not to think of Persian miniatures, in part because of the forms and colors in the landscapes themselves, but more strikingly because of the relationship to nature, at once immanent (with the viewer’s access guaranteed by foregrounds that are invariably empty) and transcendent (in the absence of any rationalized perspective). This association is further reinforced by the book of photos published in conjunction with the release of The Wind Will Carry Us. Its small-scale album format lends itself to an agreeable discovery and rediscovery of the images. The exhibition, on the other hand, seems to have been conceived in the finest tradition of the seventeenth- or eighteenth-century picture gallery: overcrowded and badly lit—if not, in the opinion of more than one of Kiarostami’s film fans, as a crassly commercial marketing operation.

Miriam Rosen