Iranian photographer Morteza Niknahad embarked on his “Big Fish” series at a time when he was struggling with depression. His mother had been sick for many years, suffering from a mysterious illness that to this day doctors have been unable to diagnose, potentially caused by demons from her past. It all started with a dream one night, in which a big fish was taking over the photographer’s life.
Born in 1984 in Bandar Abbas, Niknahad abandoned his classical studies to focus on cinema and photography. For more than four years, he devoted himself to the little-known history of the origins of the African Diaspora in Iran and to the history of slavery.
His “Big Fish” series features an altogether different theme, as the chosen subject is his own family. The photographer combines photos from family archives and staged scenes with family members, including his mother, who agreed to play along. Unlike more conventional depictions of family, the artist, as Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, the curator and director of the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, puts it, “freely recounts the events that turned his mother’s life upside down, led her to decide to get a divorce, and then to give up that plan for the sake of her children.” At the crossroads of dream, nightmare and reality, Niknahad has managed to transform his emotions into a touching photographic project.
“Niknahad recreates the atmosphere of the family home,” Etehadieh goes on to explain. “He represents the mother sometimes fighting the fish, sometimes embodying it, looking at the screen sideways, her arms held tight against the body, reminiscent of the fins of a fish.” Some images recall his mother’s childhood and youth. Others describe the present. When this photography project came to an end, the doctors said in no uncertain terms that Niknahad’s mother’s health had registered a marked improvement.
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.
“Big Fish,” online exhibition. Silk Road Gallery, Teheran. More information here.