Sebastien Cuvelier’s journey to Iran was inspired by a manuscript written on his late uncle’s journey to Persepolis nearly 50 years ago. In Paradise City, photographs from Cuvelier’s time in Iran are layered on top of his uncle’s diary to create a conversation between the two travels. The book follows his search through both the contemporary and ancient landscapes of Iran to locate an elusive, dreamlike version of paradise.
The Iran depicted in his uncle’s writings and photographs – which later surfaced in a briefcase – was far removed from that which confronted Cuvelier. The revolution of 1979 irrevocably transformed the country into a state in which citizens’ lives are restricted. The country’s young and connected population has had to constantly adjust its way of living in order to circumvent the limitations imposed by the Government. As a result, the youth yearn to leave – they seek paradise, but are unsure where to look.
Cuvelier attempts to reflect this pursuit of paradise in his photographs – metaphorical, fleeting and illusive – each image appears like a piece of an intangible jigsaw combining what once was or could be, with the present. The photographs depict views, gardens, people or buildings, often physically hidden or veiled by material, foliage, darkness, vantage point or shadow. They show glimpses of contemporary Iran through the eyes of Cuvelier and the people he met – at times romanticised, nostalgic or even utopian.
“The sheer concept of paradise is inherently Iranian. The word paradise comes from old Persian paridaida – meaning walled garden. It is therefore only natural that this word resonates in all corners of a country where history is full of nostalgia, people are deeply romantic and flowers are everywhere. Contemporary Iranian youth have also developed their own notions of paradise, and for most it is anchored in Persia. Its existence is linked to hope, the quest for change, the desire for a new beginning. These feelings bring with them an ever-present hint of nostalgia, seen in family tales, photo albums or through the fading memory of distant cousins who emigrated to find their own paradise city.” Sebastien Cuvelier
Belgian photographer, Sebastien Cuvelier (b.1975) lives and works in Luxembourg. His work has been the subject of numerous international solo and group exhibitions including Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles (2017). Paradise City has been exhibited at centre d’art Nei Liicht, Dudelange, 2018 and Les Boutographies, Montpellier, 2019. He has previously published three photobooks, Eunma Town (2015), Instant Star (2014), Gypsy Queens, Husson editions (2013)