With his project Viaje a Persia, the Spanish photographer follows the footsteps of Garcia de Silva, one of the first European explorers to discover Iran in the 17th century. Fascinated by his writings, Manolo Espaliu attempts to rediscover the timeless landscapes described by the author in a vast photographic quest. Interview with the photographer.
Why did you choose the book of Garcia de Silva as a starting point for your journey to Iran?
For a few years I am a little obsessed with everything related to Iran and I usually read a lot about Iranian history, politics and society. As a result of these readings I discovered this Spanish traveler, very unknown in spite of the importance he should have, since he was the first Westerner who identified that the ruins that the Persians called Takhte Jamshid, was what the classical Greeks described in his writings as Persepolis. Until then they had news of its existence but did not know where it was.
Did you see any similarities between the 17th century Iran described by the author and the one you discovered?
Yes, of course. Obviously there are quite a few social and cultural differences after 400 years, but we must bear in mind that 400 years ago, with the Safavid dynasty and especially with Sha Abbas I, it was when the current Iran was formed, in political terms, but especially religious, It was when Shia Islam is adopted as a state religion. As for landscapes, we must bear in mind that my project tries to photograph what Silva describes in his book. Obviously there is a modern Iran that does not appear totally in my project because it tries to look for a timeless image similar to what the Spanish traveler sees.
There is something that I usually call "little discoveries" that filled me with emotion
What were the most memorable encounters during your trip?
As a history lover, one of the things I like most is to be able to step on those places that are told in books from some centuries ago. Being able to walk with the book in one hand and the camera in the other while reading what Silva mentioned in his texts is very exciting. Then there is something that I usually call "little discoveries" that filled me with emotion, for example when Silva mentions that he rests with all his entourage under a huge banana tree at the door of the wonderful mosque of Natanz. 400 years later that same tree still exists and its enormous size could still shelter a good number of people. Actually, the whole route (more than 2000 km) is full of these small coincidences with history.
You do a lot of landscaping, what did you like in the Iranian landscapes?
Most of my photographic work focuses on landscapes, architecture and historical heritage, at least with what I enjoy most. It is not about photographing spectacular landscapes, it is about what I call digging in the different layers of the history of a place or a territory, so there is always a historical link. Now for example I am preparing a project on Goethe's Italian Journey and the idea is to do something similar to what I have done in Iran with Silva's book.
What is your best memory of your trip?
The best memory is the trip itself. Being able to travel approximately 6000 km in a month and a half following the footsteps of the Spanish ambassador Silva throughout Iran, from south to north and not north to south, is a real wonder, especially since it gives me the option to get to know the country much more intensely that if I did not leave Tehran. I always say the same, there is not a single Iran so it is necessary to know different regions such as Hormozgan, Fars, Khuzestan, etc. to have a deep knowledge of the country. In addition there are usually large cultural differences between the different regions, so is necessary to travel throughout the country if we want to get a more faithful idea of what Iran is today.
Interview by Coline Olsina & Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
This portfolio has been selected by the editors of Blind from among submitted proposals.