I have been rifling around inside the photographic collection of the BP archive for sometime, making lists, making notes, finding things, getting lost, losing the plot, keeping going. There is a medium through which so many incongruous and anachronistic archival materials are filtering, which requires indexing. After all that digging-around and sniffing-out, there remains a body that needs to be exhumed, whose evidence needs bringing out into the light. The body is there all along, shadowing my search, yet for various reasons, I don’t pay attention until it becomes impossible to step around it. I reach an impasse and cannot find the thread that will connect all the different shades of grey within the incongruous, sprawling photographic worlds I have set aside. I cannot begin.

I decide to make records of my presence in the archive – for example the fact of me sitting here, looking for signs of where the trouble all began, wondering what it is exactly that these pictures are telling me, going through the motions of what I think the real historians on the other desks are doing. Immediately the digital registration of voice and gesture roots my retrospective glance in the here and now. Now, the history I seek-for gains a lively future, by means of my encounter with it in the present tense.

This beginning, this ‘now’ attests to the very conditions, the possibilities and the limits of a search for that ghost, that historical other. By making my presence (and my present) felt, the stage on which the past is to be performed is brought into view.  I am suddenly more than ready to begin. I have begun.

Having trespassed momentarily across the frame of representation, I find I have crossed over into the film I am making, and it becomes apparent that I too am a historical character among all the others who are the subject of my enquiry. While inside the archive, I am simultaneously inside a bungalow in South West Iran in 1936 – but now endowed with the vantage point of a historical actor, from which I can freely address the other historical actors – not on equal terms, but as a restless researcher who inadvertently got stuck inside her own film. Neither completely inside nor completely outside the time of the document in which I invest my imagination, I occupy a space that moves endlessly between. From my newly invested vantage point, I can describe this movement between, and with that description emerges the articulation of the site of production of historical meaning – the place where a particular person, with her own history, encounters objects, fragments of a past and becomes bound up in that history. And how that meeting place becomes the story she tells about the stories we tell about the past, about all that is known, and about the teeming silence of the unknowable beyond.

Life starts to bleed into research, present into past, subjective experience into the historical record, personal memory into imperial history, the extra-filmic into the filmic. However this realization is accompanied by anxiety, because, I wonder – who is this ‘I’ and where will this lead her – and me?

 

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