STREET VIEW: Schematic thoughts on"Tehran a loud, 2011" by Anthony Graves

STREET VIEW: Schematic thoughts on Farideh Sakhaeifar's "Tehran a Loud, 2011"

A banal certitude is reinforced by the apparent photographic clarity of Google Earth “maps”, which allow me as I write this to simultaneously confirm the hours of operation of a fabric shop from a street-view of the signage on its glass door. The satellite imagery of Google’s maps has become, in addition to a near-public utility, a medium for many artists. Its extra-terrestrial perspective in particular introduces at once its utility in presenting relatively reliable images of built space and the dubiousness of anyone who would believe that such reliable functionality in itself confers grounds for certainty (e.g Colin Powell’s infamous use of aerial photography as evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).

Farideh’s work appears to be an attempt to disidentify with the exhaustive, functional image in both its pedestrian and violent uses and to introduce another narrative into the photographic-as-map, understood as a conquest of space.

Rather than take photographs Sakhaeifar presents a particular mode of photographic visuality. At her disposal are thousands of images, freely appropriated from Google Earth, which she stitches together in a patchwork of neighborhoods, squares, and intersecting lines of roadway. It is crucial to note that she has chosen a view of her native city, Tehran, as her subject. Her irregular framing of the image concentrates attention on a specific constellation of urban landmarks: Revolutionary Street that connects Freedom Square with Revolution Square and intersects Valiasr Avenue; the affluent neighborhoods in the north where the Green Revolution arose; Tehran University; and the government buildings where the torture of pro-Green protesters were rumored to have occurred.

Sakhaeifar’s construction shows us how photographic indexicality conceived of as a utility conceal a diagrammatic presentation of the political and religious coordinates of a lived relation to history through recognition of the poetic naming of space. The main axes of her image, Revolution Street and Valiasr Avenue, reveal a direct poetic relationship between the 1979 Revolution and a 12th-century Shi’ite Imam, for example.

The images are at a scale that voids it of human content; an individual would not occupy even the space of a pixel. Walter Benjamin says of another earlier urban photographer, “The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence.” I would argue that while an image alone may supply clues, it might be best not to rely upon it to give evidence. If we take the photograph as a crime scene, or a space where a crime is perpetually under construction, to what crime, or crimes, do these images provide the clues? Sakhaeifar is generous enough to leave us without an answer.

Anthony Graves 2011