Interview with Sammaneh Pourshafighi for CCP x Hahnemühle Summer Salon 2023

Photography by Sammaneh Pourshafighi

In celebration of CCP's x Hahnemühle Summer Salon 2023, we interviewed multi-disciplinary artist Sammaneh Pourshafighi.

Growing up surrounded by photography in Tehran, thanks to Sammaneh's grandfather's legacy as one of the first portrait photographers, Sammaneh has evolved into a Persian witch whose eclectic creative journey blends identity, relationships, and diverse experiences.

In conversation with Melbourne Milieu, Sammaneh delves into the complexities of influence and the intricacies of finding equal inspiration in both people and place.

Mother Sammaneh Pourshafighi

Mother, Sammaneh Pourshafighi

Hey Sammaneh, tell us about yourself, your background and how you ended up in photography.

I am a Persian witch who plays with identity and relationships based primarily upon my own personal experiences as a queer, Muslim, migrant. My grandfather was one of the first portrait photographers to set up a commercial business in Tehran, Iran so I grew up surrounded by photographic images. I studied black-and-white photographic darkroom practices in secondary school and developed my artistic practice from there.

My creative practice spans across several disciplines including photography, analogue collage, painting, performance, and poetry. I’m more inclined to say I’m an artist who uses photography rather than a photographer. I'm interested in many aspects of photographic practices from cyanotypes, 35mm and polaroid film, digital and phone camera, photo booths, archival photographs and even the moving image.

What I love about photography is its ability to capture a moment in time, and its relationship to memory. Roland Barthes makes correlations between death and photography. Though I often work with bright, bold colours and patterns, Barthes' Romantic and Gothic take on photography resonates with me deeply.

What is the story behind your submitted works?

Let's just say they're all love letters to important people in my life.

Which is stronger to you, the influence of people, or the influence of place?

I would struggle to pick which one of these two options is a greater influence. Both equally inform my work. I consider people and place deeply intertwined.

I’m interested in what happens when we put people or bodies in certain environments and the tensions it can create. However, a place, a location can also draw out a certain immediate inspiration that I then feel compelled to explore further.

The challenge in this question is that people occupy places, and place informs cultures and identities. To add to the complexity of this question, I also love worldbuilding within the photographic frame. The ability to dreamily construct speculative environments and the people we wish to be can be just as powerful as being a photographic documentarian.

What ideas or themes do you want to explore next?

A tremendous amount of my work draws directly upon my own autobiographical experiences and personal relationships with all their positive or negative aspects.

Recently, I’ve experienced the breakdown of a significant relationship in my life. It's a period of major life transitions and reassessment for me and currently feels like standing in the eye of a hurricane. This stage of upheaval is simultaneously heartbreaking, exciting, laden with potential and uncertainty. Undoubtedly themes related to love, sex, grief, healing, destruction, resurrection, and memory will weave their way into my future work. With a dash of humour of course.

Life is tragi-comedic and I like to play in that conceptual space. I'm a firm believer in the adage 'if you didn't laugh, you'd cry'. Both reactions are powerful involuntary emotional releases.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I spend an unholy amount of time sharing memes on Instagram. I'm what you call a "meme queen" online.

I love walking through my neighbourhood talking to birds and smelling flowers, spending time with my loved ones, smoking cigarettes over a Yorkshire tea whilst wearing incredible vintage garments, as well as visiting galleries and museums.

What are you working on next and where should people follow you to see more of your work?

Aside from CCP x Hahnemühle Summer Salon 2023, my next upcoming project is a major commission with PHOTO 2024.

The project is called Create Your Own Alter Ego and is a series of large-scale photos created collaboratively with young people from Green Tree Acting Studio.

Otherwise, my photographic work is touring Australian cities as a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2023.

Follow Sammaneh on Instagram here.

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