Portraits from a Chip Shop is decidedly not about chips whilst having everything to do with them. In a world where connections are increasingly virtual, it is a collection which celebrates community, trust, human connection and happiness.
There are lots of remarkable things about Kazem Hakimi, and indeed about the exhibition of his photography which is currently on display at Modern Art Oxford and the Old Fire Station. As a person, he is remarkably warm and open-hearted; his eyes twinkle in the way that only the friendliest eyes do. As an artist, he has a remarkable talent. It is the magical combination of these things which has produced an exhibition loudly showcasing the loyalty and trust at the heart of the community which Kazem has nurtured around his fish and chip shop. As Jeremy Spafford, Director of Arts at the Old Fire Station, rightly put it at the preview, this exhibition "is not about chips"; it is about human interactions and togetherness. A taste for chips just happens to be the common denominator between the human subjects.
The first thing to strike you about the photos in this exhibition is their quality; Hakimi is clearly a very talented photographer and artist. In one picture, the droplets of sweat clinging to the subject's face are crystal clear, like he was stood in front of you. This beautiful clarity is particularly impressive given the context in which they were all taken. Hakimi began the project as a way of documenting the people in his fluid chip shop community, asking certain customers to come into his back room after they'd placed their order. He'd then have between 15 and 60 seconds to take a photo of them, before their dinner burned (since his food is all made to order).
But the photographs are not just high quality; there is something special going on here too. Each photograph captures a spirit, and a moment, which has been allowed by the nature of the warm bond which Hakimi seems to offer everyone he encounters. Hakimi says he sees the good in people and he hopes that by looking at the photographs, viewers will be encouraged to see the good too. How often do you get to look at someone's face and study the minor details of it? Kazem has given us the opportunity to do so by documenting this community, brought together by their area code. There's a wonderful, powerful paradox which opens up when a series of solo shots represents togetherness.
This is also reflected in the collaborative nature of the exhibition, which is divided equally between the Old Fire Station and Modern Art. Hakimi's world-view, that "individuality is not happiness - togetherness is happiness" seems to have seeped into all aspects of this exhibition. Long may it continue - the world has a lot to learn from Kazem Hakimi.
As an extra treat, here is DI's very own Michael as photographed by Kazem himself.