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In the Studio with Cyrus Mahboubian

British-Iranian artist Cyrus Mahboubian is known for his continued use of analogue materials and contemplative approach to photography. We met with Cyrus to talk a little bit about his artistic practice, influences, and how he began his journey.

Where are you from? What brought you to London?

I was born and raised in London. As a child I used to draw obsessively. Photography came later. I read History of Art at the University of Bristol and it was during these years that I began experimenting with photography. I joined the darkroom at University and was able to use the library to research photographers I liked. A couple of years after graduating, I took part in my first group exhibition. In the past 10 years since, I’ve had solo shows in London, Los Angeles, Paris and Dubai, and my work has been included in group exhibitions, art fairs and festivals internationally.

How has your artistic practice evolved and and shaped throughout the years? Have you always been a photographer?

My development as a photographer has coincided with that of digital technology. As digitalism has advanced and became more easily available, I have found myself moving in the other direction – gravitating towards traditional analogue methods. I tried embracing digital in the early days, but I didn’t enjoy the process. Today, my approach to photography is intentionally slow. I predominantly shoot with an analogue film that is no longer in production, so I’m forced to make photographs very selectively. Some days, if the light doesn’t feel right, I won’t make any photos at all so as not to waste my supply of film.

As far as planning goes, I do plan trips to explore landscapes with the intention of making new work, but I can’t plan my photographs entirely. Chance is an important part of the process as there are things one can’t predict: the weather, the light, the things one encounters. Working with an antique camera and film that is many years past expiry means that I sometimes have unexpected results, such as imperfections and light leaks. Sometimes these spoil the image, but occasionally they enhance them, adding a sense of mystery and intrigue.

How would you describe your aesthetic? 

I would describe my aesthetic at this time as small-scale monochrome imagery with a strong atmosphere and a sense of stillness and time. Recurring themes in my work are universal – the natural world, the passing of time and mortality. I find walking very conducive to photography and feel most inspired when walking in new landscapes. I am particularly drawn to rugged coasts, the sea, waterfalls and moonlit nights.

What do you want people to take from your work when they view the work? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

Unless making commissioned work, I generally don’t have the audience in mind when working. It’s something I do for myself. The way I work provides escape from the influence of technology and the fast pace of life in London. Walking in the landscape and looking carefully at my surroundings is a kind of meditation.

In terms of what I want people to take from my work, for me, a successful photograph is one that evokes a feeling in the viewer. I don’t love it when people ask things like, “where was this photo taken?” I consider that a pretty boring question. Where a photograph was made isn’t as important as your response to it…what it makes you feel.

What’s next – projects, collaborations, exhibitions? Do you have current works in progress?

Last year I published my first photo-book, VISCERA, and had a busy year promoting it. The book launch took place at Sotheby’s in May, and I had signings and talks at the London Art Book Fair at Whitechapel Gallery, Sketch in Mayfair and Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire. I also took part in group exhibitions in London and Oxford. This left little time to make new work, so I have put time aside this year to experiment with my photography and make new work.

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