A blue period with a difference

The Iranian-born, London-based photographer and author MARYAM EISLER tells us about her forthcoming exhibition ‘Once upon a Turquoise Past’, in which she takes a colourful, pictorial trip back to her roots, inspired by a much-loved building close to home 

Rising from the Ashes

From sneaking off to photograph a prima ballerina in central London late at night to dabbling in painting, Maryam Eisler’s lockdown experiences have been anything but dull, although the first major project she embarked on when the Covid-19 pandemic hit embraced several themes we can all relate to, from its home-based location to keeping connected.

“Having to stay at home last spring-summer was certainly made much more bearable by my garden and the wonderful weather, but before long, I was trying to think how I could work within the limitations imposed on us,” the London-based photographer and author explained. “Then it occurred to me that almost everyone working in my field and related industries was going through the same process. From that thought, I had the idea of interviewing visual artists on Facetime across the globe about their lockdown experience and then ‘photographing’ them on FaceTime.”  

Once she began making contact with her prospective subjects, Maryam was delighted at the response she received, with the number of personalities interviewed rising from an initial target of 30 to more than 160 over a three-month period. “Almost everyone was in the same position – at home and available – which made this a truly unique time for cooperation and collaboration,” she noted. The picture and interview gallery were posted on LUX magazine’s online platform.

Stamped Memories

The result is a far-reaching, intriguing photographic collection of visual artists captured in an intimate home setting at a historic moment in time. The participants featured also span a diverse mix of genres and styles, with George Condo, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, Shirin Neshat and Mary McCartney just a few of those that took part. “I like to think of the project as a snapshot of collective artistic memory,” said Maryam, adding that she now hopes to put the photos into book form. 

Aside from increasing uptake of Zoom and WhatsApp, lockdown also provided opportunities for many of us to ‘pause and reflect’, perhaps mulling on the future or the past, or both. In Maryam’s case, she found her thoughts at times drifting back to her Iranian roots in a way that would inevitably eventually find its way into her work.

“I left Iran aged 10 and have never been back, although I’ve always had a yearning to dive deeper into my heritage,” she said. “Somehow, in the middle of the pandemic, those feelings became more urgent.”