Photography Articles

This article is published in:
1. "Camera" Monthly Photographic Magazine, No. 68, November 2007, Iran (Farsi),
2. "Canadian Camera" magazine (official publication of the Canadian Association for Photographic Art, CAPA), Winter 2008, Canada (English),
3. "Farhang" magazine, Vol. 7, No. 171, November 2009, Vancouver, Canada (Farsi).

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Masoud Soheili

Canada, 2007

Earth, water, fire and wind: The Four Elements, which were sacred to the human beings for a long time, and once each, had its own god... and its own philosophy.

And then, earth among them had its own momentous fate, to last longer, to turn eventually, into the inherent nature of man, the man who was to be created of the earth and be turned in to dust.
But throughout the history, this sacred earth has been a tool in its successor's hands, human! When it was mixed with water and took shape, and was used as an instrument for every purpose, as a simple dish or a coffin… and even a god to be worshipped! And then mud-bricks, the sun-dried bricks came later, by which this successor made constructions, the shelters made of that particular thing which he himself was made of: The Earth!

Still, he went on! The potter's wheel was invented, which for centuries, many beautiful pots and vessels were made, from earth! The man’s powerful hands recreate his ancestor! His hands gave them delicate and exquisite shapes. The ornaments and embellishments had always been essential in these well-shaped potteries, and this led to glazing, enamel glaze making and later on to more developed lustered bricks, ceramic, vitreous china and polychrome glazing.

Centuries later, by widespread use of metal and oil-products, the sacred earth gradually lost its vital importance. It went out of the daily life of the human and became as an ornament item.
Nowadays only the artists have the greatest interest in pottery, and they use it as their predecessor's art for innovation. The process of their products has not been much developed and their tools are the same, though somewhat mechanized. It is in fact the continuation of that skill for innovation, which is now called handicraft.

They take the soil, mix it with water, knead it and leave it in the sun to lose some of its moisture, and then shaping it up with their hands by using the potter's wheel. When it is half-dried, they put it in a furnace, and to prevent it against any air they close the furnace by a wall-clay; then they fire the furnace by firewood or nowadays the gas oil or mazut for a couple of days, before open it up again. Now the final products, after their gradual cooling, are ready to be presented in the courtyard of the potter's workshop or a craft-shop, for sale, as a product of the earth by the one, who is himself created of: Pottery
The potter's workshop is still the same old dark mud-brick building which provides under its vault a narrow space for a few creative potters to work in, with couple of potter's wheels in front and a furnace at the back, and a narrower space in the middle for preparing the clay. The furnace is large enough to accommodate many pots, bigger than human’s middle, if not for nine months, for a few days at least. In potter's workshop, there is no space to move comfortably, and the method is the same as it was ages ago.

They usually light the traditional workshops by anything available, that is various means of light: fluorescent lamp, because it is economical and has a strong light, and the yellow light, which could be found everywhere… are all kinds together. So there is no appropriate light for the photographer in these workshops, and even if there is daylight through a window, it is so small that you need a mobile projector of 800 watt at least. If using the digital camera, the custom white balance should be adjusted. It’s easy to find a white or some %18 gray things in any place. Some digital camera don’t have correct response to their manual white balance, so it’s necessary to have a blue 80C filter in the camera bag, as well as a wide lens in such closed and narrow space, and of course a tele-zoom for the details. When photographing the furnace, one must be very careful to avoid the damage causing by the furnace's high temperature.
Now the photographer is well equipped and ready in front of the ancient age. Digital technique confronting the centuries aged handicrafts, and a lot of interesting subjects to be photographed.

To prepare the soil. To make the mud. To knead the clay by the hands (and recently by the machine). The moisture desert under the sun. The potter's wheel. Making potteries. To shape the potteries. The pots left aside to be half dried, alone or a collection of them. To decorate the potteries with stylized patterns. The furnace. The raw pots in and out of furnace. The produced pots and earthenware left under the sun in the workshop's courtyard. The storehouse... the kneader's hands and feet. The potters. The pots collector and the decorator... Portrait... The traditional architecture of the workshop... From above, below, left and right, each is a new picture, since it is taken from the pottery: From Forms! Each of them in its turn is a big project for a photographer, or a subject for an article, a book and even a thesis. The ancient age is still ready for the challenge!