550BC is an editorial project that Poriya Khogaste, a Dutch artist of Iranian descent, started in 2018. It is an independent publishing house that tells the underworld with a transnational vision, far from imagining a Hollywood gangster movie. His approach to the subject is unique and blends journalism, photography, visual arts, and archival practices. The story is always first-person, this universe is observed through the eyes of its heroes, without mediation and without judgment (“Live from the belly of the beast”, we read in the information section of the site). Thus Khojastehpay built a unique project capable of giving a new perspective to the ready-made narrative themes. We interviewed him and he told us how his books and magazines were born, where his approach to the subject comes from, and what he likes about Roberto Saviano.
Ⓢ You are originally from Iran: I will be there next month. What do you advise me to see?
You were born in Shiraz, you must go to the tomb of Hafez, a poet whose works are considered by many Iranians as the pinnacle of their literature. The tomb of Cyrus is in Pasargadae near Shiraz. The name 550BC comes from Cyrus the Great. The founding father of Iran and the first Persian Empire (Achaemenid).
Ⓢ I’m not talking about Iran by chance, but because you started your editorial work from Iran crime wave tehran. Why did you come up with the idea to create your own space? Did you feel that there was no proper narrative for these issues?
Yes, there was no book on Iranian organized crime other than some general news articles about people being arrested, and it was a somewhat unknown topic even to the Iranian people themselves. I was collecting many books on Iran and this topic was missing. I had a connection in this world in 2016, prior to founding 550BC, I wrote to him and he sent me pictures, information, and content and from there I moved on. And then I combined this content with the archives of Iranian media, from news, newspapers, and video footage, and created a story by compiling archival footage and photos I obtained directly from Iranian gangsters.
Ⓢ I think 550BC is in the midst of a number of fields: journalism, photography, and the visual arts. How would you describe your approach?
To be honest, I started with a book on Iran and then jotted it down along the way. distance crime wave tehran I was getting more pictures from the Iranian gangsters, and their reactions were really good. In the meantime, I also got two pictures of some Crips [una celebre gang californiana, ndr] Jailed in 2017, in a California prison, they have the same approach: they would take pictures of themselves and send them to me or put them on the Internet. This is primarily where my branding comes from: images captured directly by the subject, which we then work on. I make these books directly with themes because they are tired of other people’s stories about them and want their space. so introduce [al pubblico, ndr] Their photos are intact, and so did they choose to be photographed. I prefer working directly with subjects to show a first person perspective, not traditional documentary photography. My work is often described as “visual criminology” and includes anthropological and ethnographic research. In either case, the situations are participatory but also observant and unobtrusive.
Ⓢ Why did these Crips call you? Why did you have such a special connection with them?
Instagram’s 550BC was originally a page from my collection of books and the work of photographers I know. kind of community. She has shared many pictures of California gangs as well as old Polaroids taken in California prisons during the 80’s and 90’s. This seemed to pique their interest in me and they started following 550BC while they were in prison. So they started sending us their photos. It’s not an exciting story. Somehow they found me, they realized that I understood their way of life, and that I would accept them. They were right. So in 2019 I was born Krupar Hotel.
Ⓢ The subject matter of collecting photographic materials is central to the way you work. I think, for example, of Zen Fat Tony oa 9mm / OPPtwo videos from which frames were extracted for use in the zein.
When working with found or submitted content, you often have many limitations. Sometimes a video can display more than one image. For example, when guests Krupar Hotel They train and photograph themselves. To include them in a book, you need to find the right pictures. That sharp frame in a poor quality video can show exactly what’s going on in that video once it’s printed. Also, I wanted to have these videos in my library, so I found a way to archive a video in paper format and present the images as single shots. I started with Fat Tony, but I actually have a video or still image section in every book I make. It has become part of my way of working.
Ⓢ on 9mm / OPPDid the video come straight from prison?
No, the video is nine years old. It spread in 2013 on WorldStar HipHop and some Facebook groups. I remembered this year that it exists, and how crazy it was. Thirteen minutes of people taking cocaine, playing dice and showing off a loaded 9mm pistol infiltrated the prison cell – which became the highlight of this post. The video was wild, brutal and unreal. It was such a shame to lose it, so I revived it and printed it in a magazine. The video is so poor quality that it looks graphic, but when you hit pause and choose a frame, it gives it a whole new meaning. At one point there was a tire of an inmate with a needle in his arm, and when the needle came in the blood came out, and it seemed to be glowing. Or the guy who does cocaine in the Bible. These frames are photos in themselves, like a close-up shot in a painting.
Ⓢ This book looked like the second episode of Krupar Hotel.
We’re back in an American prison, yes, but in a different way. It’s the second book about the United States in general, even if it’s a fact that I’m not interested in discussing much.
It’s a completely covered topic, and it’s been covered in many films and comic books: I think European transnational crime is more interesting, with its connections from Latin America through Africa to Europe, and subsequent distribution and networking.
Ⓢ How do you choose projects? How do you decide if a topic is right for you?
I check if the subject has been dealt with in a broad and multi-layered manner or not by the photographer or director, or if I have direct contact. For example, if a photographer who visited Brazil calls me and says, “I took these pictures and I want you to post them,” I’m not interested. I’m more interested in a Brazilian gang member who writes to me and says “I took these pictures, I can take more and my friends can take more”. I work with people who live in these situations and can provide content.
Ⓢ Is this how you communicated with Saqr Khader?
No, Saqr is one of my best friends, he is a photographer and director. In fact, he is the first to make a book by a traditional photographer who went to a location and took pictures with his camera. All the other books have been done directly with the people we’re talking about. Saqr has close relationships with all the protagonists of the subjects he deals with, so I respect his work very much. Other documentary photographers visit a conflict zone as if they were tourists and never look back. Saqr works differently.
Ⓢ When I saw it I was really surprised, I thought “How can you tell the Syrian war without being educational?”. It’s really fun to see another point of view.
It is to overcome prejudice and stereotypes of this war. The book offers an up-close look at these young fighters, who have been roaming the Syrian ruins for years, in a war that no longer interests the general public or the media. In any case, these people are not terrorists, they are rebels.
Ⓢ How does the approach differ between writers like Martyrs Brigade and zine 9mm / OPP?
They are two different mediums, one of which is a real book, a reportage, about a conflict being covered from one place. One was made by a photographer, and the other was recorded by the subject himself. 9mm / OPP It is closer to the 550BC project because it is done through the eyes of the subject, from a first person perspective. Martyrs Brigade It’s made from the photographer’s point of view: it’s more traditional in documenting a conflict or an event. I am planning more books with Saqr and other books written by different photographers, the company is growing and we will be covering more of these types of publications, but my personal and original type of work will continue anyway.
Ⓢ She always talks about frontier stories related to the underworld and the criminal. Do you put your judgment aside when dealing with an argument?
Yes, I never judge. I don’t excuse, there are better ways to live, but that’s the reality for some people. It is what it is, I’m not an activist, and it’s not my responsibility to show you solutions or create alternatives. I neither praise nor criticize. I show it as it is, keep it intact, and show what they do, which is sometimes bad, really bad, but I try to show why they do it. In the slum book, you see dead bodies and gang members being killed. First you see beautiful pictures with children dressed in Lacoste clothes and at the end you see the body lying on the ground covered in blood. Many people think I agree or glorify. But there is a deep research behind the books, which you can read about in the articles. I don’t judge them, I know people of my background who come from this world, I have good chemistry with these kind of guys and everything works normally, so projects develop organically. When people text me on Instagram, we start talking, and that’s where the new books come in.
Ⓢ I know you are a fan of Roberto Saviano. What do you like about him?
I love his works, I’ve read Gomorrah And zero zero. They affected me a lot. I love the way he tells, his stories, I’ve read these two books and watched the movie mad children. Many people, when they look at crime series, look at the novels of the American Mafia. He was one of the first to reach a global audience by talking about what is happening in Europe and cross-border crime. His work is definitely one of my influences.
Ⓢ Saviano once said, “I don’t feel undermining my work, if I squeeze sometimes into a dynamic that can seem educational, because the stories I tell are so powerful and incredible.” It’s something that fits your job.
Maybe, I don’t know, you should tell me.
Ⓢ As for the way you design your book, OXY-ACE and RS6 It impressed me, it’s just like any product catalog, but it’s about objects and vehicles used in ATM raids.
I was initially thinking of making a shirt on this Dutch criminal gang. When I collected the footage, I saw all the products in the CCTV videos and the police report – when I confiscated them. I was researching all of these products and it occurred to me to create a catalog with all of this stuff, like doing an ATM raid. All information is available, I have only analyzed and collected it.
Ⓢ Going back to what I said earlier, do you think we are tired of American aesthetics?
There are still good stories and related themes, but because of the Hollywood movies it got boring. For example, cocaine is more interesting in Europe and Australia than in the United States. All drug cartels want the European market, not the American market. Everyone knows these gangsters in the States, but there is a whole world to talk about, which is why I love the work Roberto Saviano has done with the Camorra.