Amin Yousefi – Eyes Dazzle as they Search For the Truth

FOAM magazine #65, 2024

‘Looking back’ is such a powerful, loaded, layered expression, but it might be a way in to Amin Yousefi’s enigmatic Eyes Dazzle as They Search for the Truth. What are we looking at here? A set of photographs, upright, ‘portrait’ format, of people. There are levels of optical interference. The images might be taken through a magnifying glass, or a loupe for looking at small details, and it also feels like a telescopic sight of the kind one might find attached to a long-range precision rifle. The images feel mediated through the dot matrix of halftone printing. At the centre of each is a face, sometimes a man but not always, picked out from a crowd. The angle of view is somewhat downward. The faces look up from their huddled, energetic groups. The eyes are looking into whatever camera it was that took the image. The mediated treatment gives an air of surveillance, perhaps, but it is not clear if it was that kind of ‘gaze’ that motivated the original images.

Yousefi writes: ‘I want to find my suspects like a detective among the revolutionaries of Iran in 1978–1979. The Iranian revolution stands as a paramount milestone in the Middle East over the past five decades, exerting multifaceted ramifications that have reverberated throughout the region’. The artist was too young to have been there. He has rephotographed images from books: David Burnett’s 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World; Michel Setboun’s Days of Revolution; and Kaveh Kazemi’s Revolutionaries: The First Decade. Photographs contain multitudes beyond intention, beyond what the photographer might have knowingly desired to include. This excess — of visual data, of potential meaning and possibility — can feel confusing but it is also what guarantees a photograph can never be stable and can never be made to mean once and for all. It is also what guarantees a photograph has what Walter Benjamin once called an ‘optical unconscious’. Open the shutter and the world as light floods in. The camera does not prioritise or judge. Any and every photograph will hold more than was bargained for.

Unexpected or unwanted details are a kind of utopian promise. In the midst of crowd scenes, the camera has caught faces looking into its lens, into the context of unknown futures. Decades later, Yousefi picks out those faces and makes of them new subjects, new portraits. What do they mean? Perhaps only for a fraction of a second, these people slipped out of their moment in history and into another realm. Maybe this is what we all do when we look into a camera, or look at a photograph, or photograph a photograph. It’s not easy to be in two places at once, but it’s not possible to be in only one place, either. To be human is to exist not just ‘in the moment’ but in the murky past of memory and history, and in the equally murky time of unknown events that are yet to unfold.

So, let’s imagine Amin Yousefi looking through his camera and into those pre-photographed faces, collapsing the stack of years between now and 1978–1979. Collapsing the geography between London, where he made the project, and Iran. We will never know what was going on in the minds behind those eyes during the revolution. That is not the point. The point is something was going on, and photography is pretty good at making unknown somethings significant, and thinkable. ‘It seems that their gaze has been waiting for my eyes for decades, filtering through a multitude of lenses and eyes before reaching me’, he writes. Beyond the metaphor, whether or not the eyes depicted in a photograph can ever ‘meet’ the eyes of a viewer is a moot point.

The psychodynamics of re-photography are complex. Yes, it always feels a little transgressive to do it, and a little transgressive to look at the results. But against the notion of appropriation and theft, there is an equal and opposite notion of homage. Of paying close attention. Of respect. Of communion. Re-photographing also makes us look slower and closer, accepting what cannot be known but must be thought, nonetheless. It keeps the door open.

 – David Campany

All images from the series Eyes Dazzle as They Search for the Truth © Amin Yousefi, courtesy of the artist.


  • Copyright © 2024