Shenasnameh: An Interview with Amak Mahmoodian

Amak Mahmoodian’s new book, Shenasnameh will be launched at Photobook Bristol on Friday. Published jointly by IC Visual Labs and RRB Books, Shenasnameh tells the story of Iranian women throught their fingerprints and the identity photographs they must make for their Shenasnameh (a passport like book which is a birth certificate and identity document). It’s a beautifully made book that mixes an attention to the vernacular uses of the identity photography with love, compassion and feeling for her fellow women. It’s a book of personal identities that come through eyes and looks and the turn of the mouth, mixed with official identities of fingerprints and photographs rejected due to an ‘excess’ of make-up or hair.

The project started 6 years ago when Amak was having her Shenasnameh picture taken with her mother.  These are the heartfelt and very beautiful words that Amak says about the project.

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The idea came to me immediately. I saw the pictures of myself and my mother in the day and I went home and thought, I’m going to make a project about that. The same day I started asking my neighbours if I could borrow their birth certificate photographs.

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Photobooks can be Affordable!

One of the things we love about photobooks is they are so open. They do not discriminate against any particular kind of photography, they are not blinkered.

The trick is making the book design match the content, making the text flow, choosing the right papers, using visual, graphic and tactile strategies to get you looking at the work on the page, to get you to open the page in the first place.

So here are some of our favourite photobooks from recent photobooks. There’s  fashion, the historical, the personal, conflict and much more in there.

Of course some of them aren’t available. Some sold out in their thousands, some were made in tiny editions so are even more expensive and difficult to find.

So we’ve mentioned a few alternative great books, some of which are cheap and easy to buy. Starting from just over £1.50.

Photobooks are accessible. You just have to look to the past a bit and choose right! And take your eyes off all the ones that you didn’t buy.


The Student Book

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Christoph Soeder’s Clear Cut is sold out and he only made 35 copies of them in the first place.


But go deeper into the fashion scene and go for the ultimate student book, the ultimate skinhead book. It’s by Nick Knight and it’s called Skinhead. Made in the second year of his course in Bournemouth. Unbelievable!


The Historical


Ok so it’s going to be expensive to buy Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu, his narrative of Japan’s post-nuclear trauma. Even the facsimile’s cost a fortune.


But don’t complain. For less than £10, you can get the incredible Algerie by Dirk Alvermann. This is The Battle of Algiers in book form, but harder hitting, with added paranoia. One of the great photobooks of our time for less than a tenner!

The Personal


So you missed out on Anne de Gelas’ L’Amoureuse, a supremely sad French-language account of her struggle for self after the death of her husband (‘There is a never a right way to tell a child about the death of his father’).

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But then there’s Amak Mahmoodian’s Shenasnameh. This is a very personal account of the different uses and functions of passport photos. It’s personal, political and will be launched at Photobook Bristol. It’s not that cheap, but it’s beautifully made.

The Storybook


So you can’t get the original Love on the Left Bank by Ed van der Elsken. But you can still get it here for £24 – or you can get it for less than £20 on Amazon and play a part in shutting down the high street and putting independent book sellers out of business.


And for the same price you can get a more contemporary tale of life in bohemian Latvia, Only here the Left Bank comes courtesy of Ivars Gravlejs and his brilliant Early Works, with depressed looking Maths teachers in place of Parisian cafe-dwellers.

The Social

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One of the very best set of images in photobooks in the last few years. People dancing in night clubs! It’s like the late, great Malick Sidibe, but with apartheid added for extra dysfunction. It’s Billy Monk by Billy Monk and it’s freely available to anyone who wants to buy a copy. We think it is one of the great underappreciated books of the last few years.


The Internet-book

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We like Jan McCullough’s Home Instruction Manual. It’s a fun mix of bad advice on interior design from chat forums and McCullough’s gonzo home snapshots, and it’s one of the most engaging photobooks of the year so far.

The Propaganda Book


Few people will be able to afford the absurdly intricate Ten Years of Uzebeckistan with its Stalin cut-out looming at you throughout.


But for a look into a totalitarian past, there is the great Red Color News Soldier. Not only is it full of incredible images, the story of how it was made is also amazing. And it costs £25. Which is still alot, so…


The Budget


Still too much. Well for only 2 euros you can get Mc Hotel by Olivier van Breugel en Simone Mudde. This is how you do budget!

More shopping for books at


RRB Books
Photobook Store
Photo Eye

The Village Bookstore

Cafe Royal Books
L’Ascenseur Vegetal
Claire de Rouen

Le Bal