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Street Photography || Johnny Mobasher: Images from Urban Space

She turns, mouth agape, surprised in the process of taking a photograph of herself, while, simultaneously, an image is taken of her by an out-of-frame photographer. The shades-wearing woman turning surprised toward the image-taker like a startled hare caught in the blinding light of a giant star. An image stuck in time, she, forever turning, mouth, forever dropping open.

The image was captured by leading street photographer Johnny Mobasher. On a trip abroad he saw his opportunity, and he had it – a moment caught in a microsecond.

“I love this image…it was shot with an iPhone6,” The Iranian-born, UK-based photographer tells me enthusiastically. “My eight year-old daughter and I were on holiday in Barcelona, we took a walk to the cathedral. As we were meandering our way past the main entrance I noticed this group of tourists – you can see the tourist guide with a microphone to the right – I noticed that this one woman was taking a selfie with her phone on a selfie-stick. I was holding my daughter’s hand and with my other hand raised my iPhone to take the scene. I realised that while doing her selfie, looking at her… phone’s screen, trying to position and compose herself and the magnificent cathedral, she must have noticed me in her phone screen. Turns around to look at me in ‘you’re spoiling my picture’ or some similar notion, and as she looked back at my face, I took the shot. I knew I had it! I just knew it!”

Mobasher is philosophical about his art, thoughtfully pouring over the subtle nuances of street photography and its definition. The true street photographer, he writes on his website , remains faithful to a sense of spontaneity, humour, contrast, juxtaposition and storytelling. For Mobasherstreet photography is always a framed visual moment of time, captured by the creative and technical skills of the image-taker unravelling a tale. What Mobasher, himself, creates is some of the best and sharpest street photography around, but he is a man preoccupied with meaning.

“The massive, recent popularity of street photography – which has its plus points – has also diluted and degraded the genre,” Mobasher explains. “There are more self-elevated street photographers in the universe now than hydrogen! I take nothing away from the positive aspects of this explosive phenomenon (but) I think it is massively important to define or, indeed, redefine this genre, not only to the wanna-be street photographer, but also to …media officials (editors, publishers) to put the true essence of street photography back on the map of education and ‘instinctive to intuitive’ photography.”

A chronicler of street life, Mobasher now lives part of the week in Manchester and part of the week in Birmingham. He proves an intriguing visual artist. His images have a jagged edge to them, a mash-up of irony, contrast and the tragi-comic wrapped in thinly-veiled bleakness and darkness of the everyday.

A person stands at the screen of a cash machine and receives dosh. We see that he is within spitting distance of a homeless man, who lies sleeping on cold, unforgiving concrete. Above the destitute, ragged rough sleeper an advertisement features a photograph of a smartly attired man extolling, somewhat ironically, the virtues of his company’s new low mortgage rate.

The photographer has captured a dramatic portrait of the modern existential milieux. Have, have-nots in a photographic representation of that clunking grungy capitalistic free market, soaring wealth, abject poverty, mind blowing money and grinding struggle, with little in-between. Those with, those without. All told in one specifically spontaneous, yet perfectly designed frame.

These are thought-provoking, ironic and ultimately powerful images by a man whose photographic career started when his father bought him a camera (though not the one he wanted)

“When I was around 14 or 15 years-old, I had started asking my father for a camera,” Mobasher tells me. “I remember taking a liking to an Olympus OM1. After many weeks of perseverance, one day my father came home with a Lubitel! A manual, mechanical Russian made 6X6 medium format, very basic film camera. He said : ‘Let’s see if you can make decent pictures with this camera first’.”

Undaunted, the young photographer set about learning his trade.

Academically, the young Mobasher studied interior and exhibition design at Salford University, but the passion was always photography, and his heart was always in the street. It was here, as a young image-taker, that he felt he truly belonged as an artist. Moving among humanity, and shooting edgy, solidly grounded images of the everyday.

“It…has an extremely satisfying feeling of capturing a fleeting moment that only presents itself to the curious, conscious and (the) present in the now,” He says of working the streets with his camera “So, I guess, I look for myself through the lens. Now…I coin this phrase : street photography, is a state of mind. The more curious and adventurous and daring, the more tragic and comical, the more leg work…you put into it, the more you will get out of it, and the universe, occasionally rewards…with a little luck too.”

The words hang in the weightlessness of the urban space that is his artist’s canvas. The mindfulness of looking for himself through the lens is existentially profound, but then so is trying to understand the often surreal space that is regular street life. This is where he operates, like a ghost among the frightened, recording the ironies, the bitter-sweet, tragi-comic realities of existential trajectories.

Excited by his latest project, he has admitted to ‘stalking’ a Californian man for the last seven years. It is all innocent, he was trying to prise the street photography dot com website from him. After a gruelling through-the-night auction, starting out with 192 bidders at two in the morning British time,Mobasher secured the website and is now poised to launch as a home for the art he loves so much.

“I thought to myself that this dot com can’t and must not be used just for me,” he said with some humility. “I should try to make the dot com for everyone. An international platform and source for the best of the best…of street photography. The home for inspiration, education, exposure and support of street photographers, especially the young and talented. Editorials, essays and street photography in not only its purest form but also street portraiture, street documentary and street art-photography (not to be confused with street-art photography), and define street photography and its original essence in its purest sense and, of course, state of mind.”

A man looks out from a cafe where he sits with a friend enjoying lunch, reflected in the window is the photographer shooting him. The man looks puzzled, perhaps slightly annoyed at his meal being disturbed. But Mobasher, the photographer, trying to find himself through the lens is exposed in the window of the cafe, perhaps this is a metaphor for the invisibility of the image-taker who, paradoxically, wants to be seen?

“I have the intention of going out and shooting. I walk around with intent,” He admits. “I get myself mind ready…but I don’t have any ideas about what I want to do or (what) is going to happen. I don’t get ideas, I just look for situations presented in a fraction of time.”

Johnny Mobasher disappears into the crowds of people, recording, chronicling life in images, catching a look, a startled glance. He shoots the subtle messages of faces and bodies frozen in time, as he digs out meaning from the apparent urban chaos. []

First Published in Issue #5 of CultureCult Magazine (Summer 2016)