Kamyar Sheisi is an Iranian/Canadian photographer and Director of Photography. He used his Leica SL-System and Leica M10 Monochrom to capture the colourful world of the nomadic Iranian weavers in monochrome.
Can you tell us more about the nomadic women of Iran and what you captured?
The story of women of Iran goes back thousands of years, as does the Iranian culture. Women of “Ashayer”, like all the women of this country, are a part of what makes the culture. These women are the heart of the family, raising children. Doing chores, taking care of livestock and the elderly, but also working on handcrafts, patiently and meticulously. The most famous of these crafts being the ‘Gabeh”, birthed in the hands of the Ashayer women. These Gabehs are made from scratch, the threads are made using natural plant dyed sheep wool. Every Gabeh tells a story of the ‘eel’ and they’re like illustrated books that carry the stories of Ashayer women: birth, love, hunting, happiness, sorrow… But among all these, there are also stories of hidden loves, forbidden loves that never had a chance to blossom, stories that only the weaver knows and silently weaves into their Gabeh.
What inspired you to shoot this series?
This photo series was like paying homage to my mother and grandmother, who, during the war in the 1980s, coloured the nights of my sister and me with stories. And also my father, who lovingly introduced my hands to the camera and taught me that the camera is not merely a tool, but a brush you use to paint realities that can dissolve the boundaries between people and cultures. My father is still the most important person who looks at my photographs (and me) in silence and with patience.
It’s interesting you decided to shoot this project in black and white when these scenes are quite colourful. What made you go for the monochrome look?
That’s a very good question, the clothes of Ashayer (Qashqai people) are quite colourful, that’s maybe one of the reasons that the sadness and pain and the deep beauty in the women’s eyes are lost and forgotten. By using the magical shades of greys the M10 Monochrom produces, I defied the colours to reach that real beauty and pain in their eyes.
Shooting in black and white is like painting with greys, and the Leica Monochrom lets you discover the infinite range of greys in black and white photography.
My father used to repair analogue cameras for over 30 years, so as a child I was surrounded by camera parts and I used to play with them. He taught me that a camera is not merely a tool, but rather an instrument, its magical sound crossing boundaries. My father always spoke of a name that sounded so great but far to me back then; he introduced me to “Leica”.
I’ve always loved and admired Classical paintings; I was in awe of the way the light was drawn in them. Maybe my knowledge of light and lack of talent in painting led me towards capturing images on negative film. I started out in cinema more than 20 years ago as a cinematographer assistant, then I started lighting design for different projects and today I’m a director of photography and a photographer.
My first camera was an M2, after that, I got a Leica M6 that’s been my loyal companion to this day. I’ve owned all models of the Leica Monochrom but I shoot with a Leica M10M and SL2 now.
Besides the technical mastery and unprecedented precision of the lens and cameras, Leica is a lifestyle, a way to perceive the world your own way.
Have you given your next project any thought yet?
I’ve always been interested in subcultures. At this point in history where capitalist systems and the media selectively choose to ignore the indigenous, minorities, ethnic groups and subcultures, I actually like to represent them in my work to show cultural diversity in the world and to celebrate and document their voice, their heritage and their impact on all areas of art and culture around the world.
For my next project, I will be working on small ethnic groups from Native Indians to Arab Bedouins alongside a sociologist friend of mine.
Kamyar Sheisi has a few solo exhibitions of his work coming up at the University of Alberta, the Heritage Festival in Canada and the University of Toronto.