Tuesday 31 October 2017



‘Extreme Theatre’

Ramak Bamzar

Employing the mise-en-scene of early film, and the infinite digital lexicon of CGI (computer generated imagery) to hold its own, photography has very quickly become extremely complex, possibly even ‘untrustworthy’. Michael Fried, (Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, [2008]) remarks on the crucial impulse of scale in still photography, one that has it escape ‘albums’ and vie with ‘art’ on walls. Ramak Bamzar’s Iranian Wedding series has the viewer wonder how to decipher the difference between the pure and the manipulated image, the true and the fake, the document and the construct, especially when leaping cultural borders.

Between 2005 and 2008, Iranian-Australian artist and photographer, Bamzar, worked in Iran as a wedding photographer. Her commission was to capture, rather than construct, the unique stage of the ceremonial symmetry, which ties the Iranian couple in marriage. Ideally the Iranian wedding is operatic in style and scale, as far as can be afforded. It is after all nothing short of a momentous contract to be celebrated. As Bamzar puts it: The women in this series of photos may not look pretty with overdone make up and dresses but they think they are beautiful. It is tradition and the impression of beauty that is captured within this series and a motivating reason for exploring the work over a period of time.’

Symbolism is significant in this world and it is interesting to grasp some of it: Iranians love their sweets, flowers, jewellery, glitter and show. A wedding allows extreme indulgence of these passions, yet not every family can afford the lavish manner of the ideal engagement and marriage, however all strive to emulate the glorious ‘ceremony for the queenly bride’.

The traditional Iranian wedding is elaborate, it must be conspicuous, after all it is an announcement to the world of momentous contractual change and family pride, evidenced by the etymology of the Iranian word for marriage, aghd, meaning contract.  Softening the pragmatism are the gorgeous traditional accompaniments to the ceremony, which read like a prop list for grand theatre, and have potent symbolism dating from Zoroastrian times:

aayeneh-ye bakht – a mirror, of fate;
two candelabra, shamdoon, shedding fire and light – one each for bride and groom;
sofreh-ye aghd – an  heirloom cloth for the wedding table, of luxurious fibre and quality;
nun-e Sanga – a special bread adorned with the words Mobarak-Bad  (Congratulations) in nigella seeds, cinnamon or saffron –  prosperity and goodwill;
other delicious breads, feta and fresh herbs to share symbolize the hope that the couple will always have such sustenance;
a basket of decorated eggs, tokhmeh morg, symbolizes fertility;
a basket of nuts, gerdoo, (almond, walnut, hazelnut), with hard shells symbolizes strength to protect and enclose the marriage;
a basket of pomegranates, anar, and/or apples, encourages a joyous future – pomegranates are heavenly fruits, apples represent divine creation;
rosewater from Persian roses – gol-e Mohammadi – lends a romantic fragrance;
a bowl of crystallized sugar – kaas-e nabaat/shaakh-e nabaat – symbolizes the anticipated sweetness of the couple's life ahead;
a manghal (brazier) of burning coals fed with espand (incense of wild rue) keeps the evil eye at bay;
a bowl of gold coins, sekkeh, encourages wealth and prosperity;
a shawl, parcheh, of fine fabric envelops the couple in their bond of happiness, and is held aloft by women happily married;
two large sugar cones – kallah ghand – ground together above the parcheh shower the couple in sweetness;
a cup of honey, so the bride and groom might feed the other a little after the ceremony – to further sweeten their lives together;
a needle and seven strands of coloured thread, (to sew up the mother-in-law's lips), prevent the speaking of unpleasant words about the bride and are symbolically applied to the parcheh;
a copy of a chosen holy book (the Avesta, the ancient Zoroastrian holy book was often the book of choice before Islam);
a prayer carpet – sajjaadeh;
prayer beads – tasbih, encourage the couple to pray and give thanks in times of hardship and of happiness;
a glorious display of sweets and pastries including: noghl, baaghlavaa, tout, nun-berenji, nun-nokhodchi, nun-bahdoomi, honey roasted almonds sohaan a'sali;
sini-ye-atel-o-batel, a tray of seven herbs and spices – seven elements in seven colours:
poppy seeds – khash-khaash - to break spells and witchcraft
wild rice – berenj
angelica – sabzi khoshk
salt – namak – to blind the veil eye
Nigella seeds – raziyaneh
black tea –  chai
frankincense – kondor – to burn evil spirits;
Fresh fruit is an essential at any Persian gathering, as are flowers, gol. 

And then there are the people – the husband on the respectful right side of the bride. Bamzar found the stories beneath the symbol-laden environments fascinating. 'People interest me. Their stories, personalities and where they come from. There is great mystery to discovering people and understanding their story. It’s an opportunity to tell an expressive narrative through the lens of a camera.
Photojournalism was my first love, but as l explored who l was, storytelling and exploring narratives became a major part of the work l undertake now. It's a passion of mine to become the storyteller within the work l do.'

This series was first shown in Sydney at the 2015 Head-On exhibition and drew the attention of Sydney Morning Herald critic John McDonald:
'One of the most talked-about Town Hall shows was Ramak Bamzar’s Iranian Wedding – a dazzling selection of images produced while working as a wedding photographer in Iran in 2005. Each picture is formally posed but utterly surreal in the way the brides (and mothers-in-law) disport themselves with extravagant make-up, or stand like silent ghosts draped head-to-toe in fabric … this is a graphic lesson in cultural differences, as we confront unfamiliar ideas of beauty and good taste.' 

WINDOWSPACE-BEEAC is fortunate to be able to share the cultural feast of 
Ramak Bamzar’s Iranian Wedding.

Find out more 
Ramak will speak to the work and the Iranian marriage tradition on Saturday 25 November 2017, at 2 pm at 79 Main Street, Beeac.

Join us for the revelations over a glass of wine.


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