Yahya Dehghanpour, The Day “She” Was Planted in the Garden

JTF (just the facts): Published by Manoosh Publication in 2015 (here). Hardcover, 95 pages, with 57 black and white photographs and an accordion booklet. Includes texts by Mehran Mohajer (in Persian and English) and Forugh Farrokhzad (in Persian). In an edition of 1000 copies. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The day “She” was planted in the garden is a recent photobook by the eminent Iranian photographer Yahya Dehghanpour. Dehghanpour studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute and returned to Iran to teach in various universities around the country, his documentary style influencing a whole generation of Iranian photographers. Now in his mid 70s, Dehghanpour doesn’t take many pictures, yet he continues to teach and inspire younger generation – this new book is part of his lasting legacy.

Dehghanpour’s photobook documents the funeral of Forugh Farrokhzad, one of the most revered and controversial figures in modern Iranian culture. Farrokhzad is most known for the strong feminine voice of her poetry; her modernist and experimental poems focused on the limitations of women in Iranian society and the tragedy of her own life. Her posthumously published poem titled Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season is considered by some experts one of the best modern Persian language poems, and her documentary “The House Is Black” about a leper colony is now recognised as a landmark Iranian film. Farrokhzad was killed in a tragic car accident in February of 1967 at the age of 32, and the death of the young poet shocked Iranian society. Her funeral was attended by thousands of people, including Iranian intellectuals and state officials. Yahya Dehghanpour was the only photographer at the funeral and his black and white images (probably shot on a 6×6 film camera) indelibly captured the historic moment.

Around 2010, Dehghanpour rediscovered the negatives from Farrokhzad’s funeral in the basement of his house and made a decision to publish them. In Iran, any publication produced in an edition of 1000 copies or more has to be vetted by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and so Dehghanpour’s book was under intense scrutiny for four years before being released (the name of the female poet on the cover ultimately had to be replaced with “she”). And after 48 years, the day of Farrokhzad’s funeral is now documented in a photobook.

A full bleed blurry photograph of a white funeral car opens the visual story. This first shot sets the mood of the narrative, immediately introducing a heavy atmosphere of tragedy and somber grief. In image after image, we see crowds of people on the streets as they walk from the hospital to the Zahir-od-dowleh cemetery (the places are identified in the captions written in Persian). We follow along, witnessing the event through the eyes of the photographer – most of the people seem caught up in the moment and unaware of his presence. Through his images, often taken from high and low angles and with a loose photographic style, Dehghanpour captures the atmosphere of disorientation, disbelief, and loss.

The book opens from right to left. It has a simple layout with one or two images per spread, with white space around. Three images have been cropped and made full bleed to starkly emphasize the details of mourning. Blank pages on the right include a page number and the beginning of the book title “The day…”, a thoughtful design element. The title of the book itself The day “She” was planted in the garden refers to Farrokhzad and her poetry. Many of her poems reference a garden, as a symbol of freedom and harmony with nature, and in one of her last poems, the word garden stands for Iranian society as a whole. The book comes with an accordion style small booklet, which shows the images in one long line with handwritten captions (in Persian) identifying the people in the photographs. This is a reproduction from the earlier exhibition during which Dehghanpour printed the photographs extra large and asked visitors to help identify the people (many of them are well known writers, poets, and filmmakers).

Dehghanpour’s book is reminiscent of a Chilean photobook published in Spain in 1973. In September of that year, Pablo Neruda, Chile’s revered poet and Nobel Prize winner, died of cancer, just few days after the coup. Venezuelan photographer Fina Torres documented his funeral, capturing both the artists and intellectuals who came to pay tribute to Neruda and the soldiers who broke in destroying and confiscating the poet’s books and documents. A small sized book of black and white images mixed with poems, it captures the reaction to the death of the Latin American poet in the middle of the military revolution. Both books pay tribute to the important figures of their generation (both poets) putting them in historical, political, and cultural contexts. The connections actually go deeper, as many Iranian intellectuals were following the resistance movement in Latin America with interest, translating many political poem from that period into Persian.

Dehghanpour’s intimate photobook documents an important historical moment in Iranian culture. It masterfully captures the dark emotions of the day, and makes an essential contribution to the growing photobook community in Iran.

Collector’s POV: The work of Yahya Dehghanpour doesn’t appear to have either obvious gallery representation or any secondary market history. For the benefit of all, please add the information to the comments area if you know the details.

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