Searching For Paradise Lost With Leonardo Magrelli

Paradise comes from the ancient Persian Pairidaeza (Pairi – around, Daeza – wall) a place surrounded by walls. In his series by the same name, Italian photographer Leonardo Magrelli searches both inside and outside the walls of Iran in an attempt to find and quantify this elusive concept.

Magrelli’s photographs delve into the fabric of politics and culture, he explains his choice of subject matter by first stating that Iran has been placed on Trump’s Muslim Ban list — a fact that means this already isolated land will become even less accessible. Will this lead to a mythologizing of the state or something else entirely? In his own words that follow, Magrelli discusses the ‘Pairidaeza’ project and his journey through Iran.

This series of photographs was taken while roaming the Iranian central desert and the cities within. So many different populations, religions, and empires have followed one other for millennia, inhabiting these lands, reaching peaks of astonishing balance with their surroundings. Mithraic temples, Zoroastrian villages, Persian cities, they all were conceived and built in a perfect symbiosis with the land.


“A latent friction emerges between the human presence and the environment”

And yet today there seems to be a kind of ambiguous struggle to fit in these territories. A latent friction emerges between the human presence and the environment. Things seem to be out of place: ambiguous objects, unfinished buildings, indefinite traces of the mankind are left behind, lying isolated and scattered on the ground. It’s ‘the mutual interference between the landscape and those who live it’ as Baltz wrote in his Review of the The New West.

“Who are they keeping out? What are they keeping out, in these completely empty and uninhabited territories?”

It may seems outdated nowadays to still talk about the issues raised by the new topographers more than forty years ago. But the way people live inside the territory no longer relies on a fusion with surroundings, but rather on the separation from it. A separation that becomes quite paradoxical and absurd in many cases. The vast expanses of the uplands are now littered with industrial structures, commercial areas and various buildings. Most of them are surrounded with walls along their outer perimeter. Who are they keeping out? What are they keeping out, in these completely empty and uninhabited territories? Only the landscape is cut out, only the desert, the mountains and their extensive space. One could wonder if this derives from the ancient Persian gardens, however, the paradise is not anymore within these walls, but outside them, hidden from the view.


All images © Leonardo Magrelli