Bahar Kamali


Banovan is a photo-based project that examines the role of photography in how we understand and make personal, familial, and collective memories. Originated out of my desire to connect with an inaccessible family history in Iran, the project employs found family snapshots and combines them with images from a popular Iranian women’s magazine. By layering and juxtaposing the female subjects pictured in family photographs and within the magazine pages, the interventions create a collision of meanings where personal and socio-political narratives intersect. The project also addresses the complicated relationship between familial, cultural and historical contexts that have influenced women’s lifestyle in Iran.

The work comprises a series of collages, paired with a series of large prints depicting pages from a mass-produced popular Iranian magazine titled Ettela’at Banovan (translation: Ladies’ Information) also known as Banovan. Published weekly between 1957 and 1979 during the Pahlavi Era in Iran, the magazine was one of the early publications for women, covering news on celebrities, royal families, health, beauty, fashion and other topics related to women. While the magazine - advertised as “family guide”- published a variety of educational, news and entertainment stories, one of its main premises was its attention to style, fashion and beauty as it aimed to educate women to be fashionable, modern and progressive.

The work incorporates a selection of Banovan’s pages chosen from a collection of forty-four editions of the publication gathered into two thick books. Originally collected and bound together by an Iranian woman who was in her twenties when Banovan began to be published, these pages point to a time when my grandmother’s generation was growing up. By appropriating the magazine’s content into the project, I try to connect with the furthest familial memory and cultural history I can reach. Photographed against a neutral background and printed large, these images showcase the magazine’s cover pages, advertisements, and some of its content underlining its strong western culture subtext.

Along with magazine pages, the project incorporates a collection of family snapshots chronicling the life of three generations of Iranian women, the oldest dating back to the 1950s coinciding with the beginning of Banovan’s publication. These snapshots belong to the family of the same woman who had collected the magazines. Acknowledging the fact that photography has become a family’s primary means of self-representation, I rely on these snapshots as signifiers of personal and familial histories. Banovan includes a series of collages juxtaposing carefully selected content from the magazine with fragmented pieces of the family pictures. By cropping into and isolating the details in clothing and gestures of female subjects within the family pictures and juxtaposing them with images from the magazine, I disturb the relations both within and between the original images. In doing so I complicate the historical narratives provided by these separate genres of images, blending the intimacy of the family pictures with idealized cultural narratives of the magazine.