More good Friday stuff – Persia: Paradise Lost, Reel London and Spa Fields

After a couple of extra hours at work this morning, I headed out to catch a couple of photography/film events:

Persia: Paradise Lost

… was stunning. A small selection of Georg Gerster’s aerial shots of late 1970s Iran, enlarged to poster size. Beautiful images, an amazing backstory.

In case the blurb on Tristan Hoare’s website disappears, I’ve reproduced it here, and added in some wikipedia links:

Between April 1976 and May 1978 Swiss-born, pioneer of aerial photography Georg Gerster spent over 300 hours crouched at the back of a twin-engine light aircraft above Iran. Accompanying him wherever he went was Dr Dietrich Huff, a distinguished archaeologist and an expert on Iran. Dr Huff would sit at the front while Georg would sit behind him next to a gaping hole where the cargo door should have been, pointing his Nikon camera down to the ground below.

‘There was no sensible way of conversing with my archaeological guide in the cockpit – trying to shout over the noise coming through the open doorway was no use. So the captain would simply switch off the engines. Thankfully the Islander, with its broad wings, can somewhat glide for a while.’

Commissioned by Empress Farah herself, Gerster’s expeditions have provided a unique record of the Persia’s amazingly diverse landscapes and of its most significant archaeological sites. We fly over mountains, deserts, gardens, lakes, salt plains, seas and cities. We fly over the spectacular site of Takht-e Soleyman in the north east, where newly anointed kings would make a pilgrimage to humble themselves at the holy fire; we fly over Sistan, a place of legends where Rostam, the hero of the Book of Kings, is said to have been born – in this image the shifting sands look likely to cover the city again; south of Tehran, we pass a camel caravan on the way to the ancient Zoroastrian heartland of Kerman, later famed for its silk and visited by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

Gerster’s stunning images have captured the amazing and varied beauty of Persia. They create a sense of wonder at the scale and magnificence of the country and highlight the relationship between man and land – men shape nature but are also shaped by it.

Somehow the higher perspective conjures up a timeless world with the wind as only companion, and gives the viewer a rare opportunity to contemplate civilisation from a different angle. ‘Altitude’, said Gerster, ‘provides overview, overview provides insight, while insight eventually, I hope, leads to respect and consideration.

I’m glad I made the effort to catch the exhibition, which closes today; the photos of Takht-e Soleyman and Sistan in particular have convinced me of the need to pay Iran another visit.

Reel London

Taking the Hammersmith & City line back east from W10, I made for the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Their woefully advertised Reel London series has been vicariously touring London using footage from the archives.

Compared to Barbi-topia, which Phil and I went to see last year, Reel London: Are the streets all paved with gold? Archive films of the Square Mile of the City of London was rather amateur in organisation, but served up a great collection of documentaries and promotional films providing “… a look at the City of London over the decades from Tower Bridge to the Bank of England, Mansion House, Guildhall, the Barbican and many other famous City buildings and streets.”

In between, lunch in sunny Spa Fields (a hidden gem!), tucking into a veggie salad box from Seed’s stall in Exmouth Market. Marvellous.

Next Friday Focus

The Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition1 at the Royal Geographical Society, and a screening of Khyber2 at the British Museum.

  1. inspired by the Travel Photographer of the Year slideshow on the BBC News website and the Guardian’s Travel Photographer of the Year – in pictures
  2. part of the BM’s Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World exhibition, “…[t]his film looks at the history of Afghanistan up to the Soviet invasion in 1979 from the perspectives of both British and Pashtun, with fascinating parallels to today’s conflict. Introduced by director André Singer.”