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This new series represents for me a voyage into my past, propitiously centred on my neighbourhood present. Images captured in the light of early-winter at Leighton House (the iconic Victorian Kensington home of Orientalist Lord Leighton). Inspired by some of the colour, gloss and character reflected in Henry Clarke’s 1969 photographs of Marisa Berenson and Lauren Hutton for a US Vogue feature – an incongruous fashion shoot set in the heart of Isfahan.

 

My homeland, Iran, where turquoise-tiled domes of unparalleled beauty are mere extensions of nature itself. Earthly outcrops, fashioned from the memory-palettes of my childhood’s ‘Persian Sky’. The magic of the Land of the Sophy, where great poet-philosophers like Rumi, Khayyam, Saadi and Hafez roam the mystic sphere, whistling their wisdom far and wide, carried on the wind.

 

Two particular poets, one Persian, the other European, steered my hand and eye in controlling the shutter: Attar of Nishapur and Baudelaire. The first, for the magic he evoked through his twelfth century allegorical parables of self-realisation, lifted by avian wings of colour. The other, for his earthy tunes of the erotic, and the exotic.

 

Attar’s Conference of the Birds is particularly germane to my present work. Combining place, colour, history, beauty and meaning, in settings that transport the viewer into another world:

“The home we seek is in eternity; The truth we seek is like a shoreless sea, Of which your paradise is but a drop.”

Baudelaire, too, has steered my thoughts. His ‘Invitation au Voyage’, a magic carpet enabling travel into fantasy; a befitting mood-booster in these most challenging of times.

 

Poetic lines which set us on fire: “Luxury and voluptuousness, In that amber scented calm” … “Ceilings richly wrought, Mirrors deep as thought, Walls with eastern splendour hung” – all of which have their fingerprints framing each one of my prints.

 

Why now? you may ask.

Why not? is the easy answer, apart from the fact that we’re facing one of modern humanity’s rare examples of plague and challenge. Both natural and spiritual. Natural, taking refuge in Attar’s simulacrums. Spiritual, by testing ourselves on a journey called life, through Baudelaire’s evoking lines.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté.

There all is order and beauty, luxury, peace, and pleasure.

 

For myself, the creation of this series has been a refuge of sorts. Concentrating on art by escaping to visions of worldly beauties that may colour-tint our present grim perspectives on life. At a time when hope has been challenged, ideas polluted and inspiration taxed.

 

What has come out of these photographs has been a revelation for me, as much as the words of the poets may have been to themselves. I hope at the very least that these voyages in paint and blush help titillate and inspire.

 

This has also been an opportunity to further explore the Sublime Feminine through pictorial representations.

 

Visions of a Femme Fatale locked away in a citadel of splendours. Best let Attar lead the way: Rise up and play those liquid notes that steal men’s hearts away…

 

Maryam Eisler

London, November 2020

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