Milad Safabakhsh: Tracing Human Presence on Earth with “Erde” Series

All images by Milad Safabakhsh. Used with permission.

Humans have populated the Earth so heavily that it’s easy to find traces of human activity in virtually every corner of the world. Sometimes these manifestations are harmless, but many times they bring serious repercussions for the planet. For Iranian fine art photographer Milad Safabakhsh, one way to interpret this is to look for traces of human presence in their simplest or most subtle forms. With this in mind, he embarked on a journey to put together Erde, an ongoing, long-term body of work that highlights the effects and presence of humans on Earth. The series was derived from the etymology of the word “Earth”, which came from both English and German words, ‘eor(th)e/ertha’ and ‘erde’, respectively, which translate to “ground.”

Apart from being a way to deliver his own conservation message, this approach has also been an exercise in minimalism, where his photography journey began. While this aesthetic is more predominant in some shots than others, the entire series fulfills its promise of showing us how human presence prevails throughout the planet in forms both simple and grand.

Safabakhsh has actually received recognition for Erde, which LensCulture selected as one of the best projects for its Emerging Talent Awards 2018. As such, we asked him to tell us more about this body of work, how it came about, and the message he hopes to impart with each photo in the series.

Phoblographer: Hello Milad! Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?

Milad Safabakhsh: Hi, my name is Milad Safabakhsh, a fine art photographer and editor-in-chief of Black and White Minimalism magazine and also a photography teacher in Kerman, Iran. Photography is my main profession to earn a living.

Phoblographer: How did you get into photography? How did you discover the kind of photography and imagery you make now?

Safabakhsh: I came across a page on Facebook called Minimal Art Photography and images shared on this page made me familiar with this genre of photography. A little curiosity made me more interested in this genre more than ever. Perhaps the simplicity of photos was the main reason of this interest: a simple wall, a lock on the door, and so on… I started to take such photos with my phone and it didn’t take long that one of them was shared on Facebook by that page. It was one of the best days of my life and encouraged me to follow this art seriously.

Phoblographer: We’d like to know more about your Erde series. How did the idea come to you? Where did you get the inspiration for it?

Safabakhsh: I didn’t go to the outdoors a lot for photography for up to almost two years ago, except for taking a few shots for my archive. As I went further into nature, topics like the interaction of human and nature and especially how human beings destroy our planet Earth became more important for me. What I saw in my travels in nature made me think of a photo collection, and after a year of trial and error, the collection of  Erde was formed. The concept of this collection is the crisis that the Earth faces, so I try to keep working on it and always point out to myself that the importance of it should not be forgotten.

Phoblographer: You mentioned that Erde highlights the effects and presence of humans on Earth. How do you find places that help you build on this objective?

Safabakhsh: I took photos for this collection through trial and error in the first year, and then I decided to avoid the chaos as much as possible and convey the concept by using a very few simple ideas according to my vision and style, which is minimalism. I went to places where humans had left a sign of their presence in nature and I tried to show these traces in all the photos.

Phoblographer: Which aspect do you find to be the most effective way to convey the message behind Erde?

Safabakhsh: I have chosen very carefully the places where I took photos. In all the spaces, if you ignore the presence of humans, there is a deep peace and calmness in the scene. This simplicity with a few elements used in the images in order to reach the main concept can be considered as the strength of this collection.

Phoblographer: You mentioned that you began your photography with minimalism, and it still remains a major component of your work. How do you make sure this is present in this series?

Safabakhsh: Minimalism photography is not as easy as it sounds, you must be mentally related to it. If your unconscious mind and your mentality will accept it, it will be always in your mind and you unknowingly select the frames in which the quantity speaks first. The simplicity of photos and using minimal elements in frames can be seen in Erde.

Phoblographer: What do you find to be the most challenging part about working on this project? How do you work around it?

Safabakhsh: I’ve completed the Erde collection in two years, and it’s still going on. Perhaps the most difficult part is finding a place that is pleasant to me visually and spiritually. This series continues because there are still many places to travel to.

Phoblographer: Where are you heading next for “Erde”? How are you preparing for it?

Safabakhsh: I’ll try to continue this collection and think about representing it in exhibitions as well.

Phoblographer: Which aspect of your photography style do you feel makes your work truly your own?

Safabakhsh: The ideas behind my work. I have a lot of interest in science, and all my collections, even indirectly, have originated from scientific topics. In Erde for example, it represents the idea that if science didn’t have enough progress, people would never realize that they were destroying the planet that is their mother (their origin).

Phoblographer: Lastly, what would you advise those who are curious about the minimalist and conceptual approach to landscape photography?

Safabakhsh: Maybe I’m not the right person to advice about landscape photography, but I can only say that you must feel the nature and build an inner connection with it so you can be a successful photographer or artist in this style.

Visit Milad Safabakhsh’s website and Instagram to see more of his minimalist and conceptual landscape photography.