Un/related Memories [soon]
Ashes and Snow [2023]
Eyes Dazzle As They Search for The Truth [2022]
Life, Death, and Other Similar Things [2019]

Amin Yousefi was born in 1996 in Abadan, Iran, and holds an MA in Photography from the University of Westminster. He lives and works as a writer, researcher, and image-based artist in London. He has participated in several group exhibitions and prizes, including recently being named a 2024 Foam Talent Award winner. His recent project, "Eyes Dazzle as They Search for the Truth," was selected as a finalist of the Carte Blanche Awards at Paris Photo in 2022. It was subsequently shown with Ag Galerie at the Unseen Art Fair 2023 in Amsterdam. His work has been published in magazines such as Hapax and Aperture, with the article in which he interviewed three artists on "What It Means to Make Photographs as a Young Artist in Iran." Yousefi has also undertaken compelling commission works, including the project "Ruderal Acts, Gardening Beyond the Wall," showcased as part of the HerMAP Art Project at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium. He was also selected as an Ag Talent for his "Life, Death, and Other Similar Things" project in 2019, exhibited in a solo show at the Ag Galerie. Yousefi has an upcoming display in June 2024 with the Belfast Photo Festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A native of Abadan in the province of Khuzestan, Iran's most oil-rich region, and the scene of a bloody war with neighbouring Iraq, Yousefi's work examines the event of photography through the socio-political aspect of the medium. His primary concern lies in the implications of the archive, exploring violence against protests in the Middle East enacted by the state and how the act of photography can conceptually mirror the structures of these relationships.


A Conversation between Simindokht Dehghani and Amin Yousefi

You said the first time that you noticed the subjects within a photograph of a large crowd looking at the photographer was an image of a gathering at a school.
Yes that's correct. That photograph belongs to the Ag Image Archives. It was a black and white photograph measuring 10x15 centimeters so it was quite small and at first I thought that it might be an image from the revolution and that is why I took the loupe to try and find out where and when that photograph was taken. Looking through the loupe and moving it across the image searching for clues, I realised that it was a school gathering in the city of Langeroud in the north of Iran. And then I spotted a few people staring back at the camera.
So it was not a political event. You then used this technique to look for similar exchanges in photographs of the Iranian Revolution printed in photobooks.
Yes. I found similar exchanges in the photobooks of David Burnett, Michel Setboun and Kaveh Kazemi. There are a lot of photobooks of the Iranian Revolution but these were of a higher quality in terms of printing and allowed for more details to be seen. Also, they contain a lot of photographs of large crowds demonstrating or marching during the events of the revolution.
What was it that was so interesting about taking a detail from an image or a book and blowing it up to this scale?
It was the connection really. And to try and find out more about that event. The loupe became a bridge between me and the present to the people in the images from another time and it connected me to that event.
Kind of like using a microscope to look for scientific clues or logical reasons behind an event?
That’s an interesting way of looking at this.
Yes because forensic scientists will use all kinds of equipment and technology to look for clues to solve crimes or past events. I think you are doing the same thing here.
Yes those people, those faces, were my clues to understanding why things happened that way. Maybe not everyone back then who was in the street was after making a revolution.
What was the most exciting thing about this project for you? The first time that you discovered these faces, what was it that made you try to pursue the search for more faces?
The photographer is always the one that is in control of the image being captured. The photographer chooses the mise-en-scène by choosing his own position. The reactions of the people to the photographer,  depend on this position and attitude. In the picture of the school gathering, the relationship had been reversed because the photographer had been influenced by the crowds and the eyes had turned towards the camera. As if the subject and object had exchanged places. And this reversed relationship was very interesting and instead of the camera turning to the people it was the people who were capturing the image with their gaze. This was the initial starting point for the series and it was an exciting moment for me.
The role they are playing is not so different from the photographers. The only difference is that they are not holding a camera. Do you think they can be considered as accomplices to the photographer because they cease to be participants in that moment?
Yes! Their eyes and their expressions convey an invitation to observe. They’re telling me to look! I feel like they become the narrators of the event and they become a third point of view.
Your subjects seem to be from very different social and economic classes. What do you think has them united in this event?
I think being there stemmed from a desire to be a part of history-in-the-making, regardless of the outcome. It is the desire to be made immortal especially at that time when there was no social media and people would not often be photographed in such moments. But if I want to stretch my imagination, I might even suggest that these were the individuals who suspected that they were making a mistake.
Even the ones who are smiling?
I think so because their smiles seem to not stem from an assured position of victory but perhaps of doubt because it was not a black or white situation with that revolution.
It is quite possible that these individuals, whom you have singled out, will at some point see these images and be confronted by their actions. If you could speak to them, what would you expect them to say or feel?
It has been forty-four years since those images were captured so I think that most of these people have passed away. Except for the children and they would probably not remember being there or the moment they experienced. But if I could speak to any of these people, I would like to know about their version of events from that day. Without a doubt for someone to have participated in one of the most important events of the past fifty years, it'll be shocking for them to see themselves documented within that history. But I do think that whether they are today pleased with their participation or full of regret, their story, if they do recall the moment they were photographed, can be very interesting.
People of your generation generally question the motives behind the Revolution. How do you think they will be affected upon seeing these images?
I think they are all still quite baffled by the reasons behind it because most of the series created using the archives of that era generally reiterate and reaffirm the ideals of that generation. But this work probably gives them a reason to reexamine the event by revisiting these images.
Do you think what you have done reaffirms the documentary and historical nature of these photographs?
I think it reaffirms it in a new way because it is as if a bridge has been created between the people who participated in that event and those of us seeing the images today.
Do you think that regardless of the reason behind any gathering, be it a concert or a sports event, do you think that the visual relationship between these individuals and the photographers is always the same? Or do you think that different circumstances will create different emotions in the eyes of the subjects?
I think that there is a difference between objections to a system and social gatherings. Two things are important here and in this case: One is that these people were under surveillance by groups who would be watching them and the other thing is that the atmosphere of the Revolution in Iran back then must have had a very different energy to that of a sporting event. For example a sports fan looking into a camera will probably ultimately hope to be seen on TV or in a magazine. But these people spotting a camera pointed at them in that tense atmosphere would probably pause for a moment to figure out the exact moment the shutter would be released and in what position they would be photographed.
Aside from these faces and expressions, what else caught your attention? What else did you see that might make you curious to pursue them as subject-matter at a later date? What other clues did you find?
Something that was very interesting was the slogans written on the banners and placards the people were carrying. They were the demands and desires of the people who were demonstrating. Another thing was that the demonstrators did not seem angry. They seemed content and secure. This posed an important and as of yet unanswered question for me; why were they there?
These photographs were mostly black and white. And the coloured ones are quite faded. The light refraction caused by the loupe has created brightly coloured dots around the images. How important or effective do you think these coloured dots are with regards to the historical or documentary aspect of these images? Were you pleased with this effect?
The coloured dots are a very interesting part of these images. It is a new layer on these historical photographs. So it is a clear indication that they have been revisited and this calls for a reexamination of that event. These intentional or unintentional aspects of working with archives are what make such projects so interesting.
You have used books to create another book. Visually you would not have had the same results had you photographed photographs. The grainy trams would not be there.
Yes it is a loop created by a loupe and it presents different versions or narratives of the same events.
What do you think the photographers of these photobooks would think about your discoveries? Have you spoken to them?
I have not so far but they might have seen some of these people at some point on those days due to their close proximity. But due to the limitations of the 35mm camera viewfinder, most photographers could not have been aware of the eyes of their subjects within the frame unless they were very close to them. And I have not used images in which the photographer was standing very close to the crowd so I think they might not even be able to tell which of these faces belonged in their photographs.

Have you thought of how you would respond to the original photographers if they said “No you can’t use my photographs”? How would you convince them to give you their consent?
This is an important question and one which I have thought a lot about. I think the essence of their photographs is not jeopardised by what I have done. And I have not altered anything about their photographs. It is a post-modern treatment but if I want to be more precise, I am interested not in their photographs but in the people within the photographs. So I think for myself I feel like I’m in the clear.
How do you think your being of aware of these faces in the crowd has affected you when you want to take a photograph? And how would you treat those subjects in a crowd? Because sometimes as a documentary photographer, you might want to take a picture and not want people to know you are there. Do you think you are now in danger of being aware of individuals in the crowd and in turn they would notice you noticing them?
I think this happens less in candid photography and for me it has never been about taking a picture without my subjects realising I am there. However, since working on this project, I find myself looking for the eyes. It’s almost as if I have acquired a private detective’s eyes going through old photographs regardless of who has taken them. I think my awareness of the events in photographs has increased in terms of looking more at details.
It would seem that because of this project, you are now interested in working with other archives. And that you are distancing yourself from being the maker of original images. Why is this?
The main reason is that now I am in another country and the familiarity I have with Iran or Abadan is not what I have towards London. I still regard this city as a tourist would. But also I think a little distance was needed for me to take a moment and look at the history of our photography because there is a gap in the history of our photography because we have never examined our photography archives like they have done in the West. So the events I see which have taken place in old photographs are very interesting and now they can be reexamined in a new light. So it’s two things: One that the historical event is reexamined and second that the reexamination leads us to new understandings of those events. This is why archives are interesting for me. So yes, for now, while working on this project and another one I just started, there is a historical, political and social relationship that I can find in old photographs.
Something I noticed when I was looking through the original images is that a lot of people have cameras.
Yes! Some of them must have been journalists or just amateur photographers hoping to take pictures of a momentous occasion. Or even group photos taken by families and groups of friends who were there.
Isn’t it exciting to think there are still a lot of archives to be discovered?
Yes, very. And I’d really like to find more and keep working with them. Most of the archives we have are of famous photographers. But the average person who was there with a camera... that’s what I’d like to find.