Neshan Magazine-14-Autumn 2007
Ebrahim Haghighi is one of the most active graphic designers in Iran. Wherever there's direct or indirect involvement of graphic design, Ebrahim Haghighi is present. He is among the few past generation graphic designers whose work is still abundantly seen today.
Haghighi is involved in other areas of visual arts besides the field of graphic design. Once in a while he holds calligraphy/painting exhibitions. He carries his camera everywhere producing professional photography. He has illustrated numerous books and made over ten animation films. Many of the titles for television films and series are Haghighi's work and in addition to that, his titles include Chairman of the Board of Iranian Graphic Designers Society and member of Painters Board of Directors. The interview with Ebrahim Haghighi took place after the Art Education Seminar for which he was the secretariat. The direction of the interview also went towards education as we fell apart from review of his work. Perhaps as he put it, it is like life and destiny.
Saed Meshki: I'd like to begin the discussion about your generation. This specific generation at the onset of its professional work was faced with the revolution followed by social and artistic change. It seems that the third generation (your generation) failed to highly impact graphic design as much as the previous generation did.
Ebrahim Haghighi: The impact you are referring to I don't see it as "change" but I define and interpret it as giving strength to the field like what happened to book cover design. If the initial action by Morteza Momayez was considered change in the graphic design field then Farshid Mesghali's move was giving strength to it. In fact, it was habituating the publisher and society to the mechanism of publication or to treat graphic design and book publishing in a professional manner. That's why book cover design has become well regulated and fortunately continues to be so as the continuation of that strengthening. I believe that after the second generation, the third generation was able to leave behind this strength. Of course, the conditions also helped it last in that period. The presence of Pocket Books Publishing, expansion of Amir Kabir Publications, the opening of Offset Printing Company, Pars Paper Company, etc., all contributed to the presence of graphic designers in this arena.
In 1977 I went to Amir Kabir Publications to start up their graphic design department. After awhile because of the events following the revolution it was closed down. Immediately, however, I started to design many books because of high demands for book cover design. I was designing about ten book covers daily. So, I became very exhausted of work pressure. I had also accepted designing Ketab-e-Jomeh (Friday's Book) and every week I had to layout about 120 to 150 pages.
SM: Let's focus on Kanoon (The Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults) where you worked with other designers. Certainly, Kanoon and its activities was a turning point in illustration, cinema, graphic design, etc.
EH: I can only speak from my own perspective with one point in common; Kanoon was an unrepeatable incident and according to Farshid Mesghali it may have even been unique in the world. One of the major reasons for such uniqueness was Firooz Shirvanlou's presence as the founder in the position of an active and open-minded thinker. As the persistent he knew that Kanoon wouldn't yield any crop soon but would indeed have a bright future. The second reason was the contribution of the intellectual individuals such as Kiarostami, Tahbaz, Mesghali, Forouzesh, Sadeghi, Azad, Zarrinkelk and many others who promoted intellectual fervor whom had gathered and worked in the same place. The presence of these elements prevented any uneducated or unspecialized opinions and interferences.
Morteza Momayez invited me to join Kanoon to help him make his first animation film. I had long asked Momayez to let me help him if he ever intended to make an animation film. He was kind enough to ask me and some other designers to collaborate with him. The flair and feeling for animation, along with what we had learned in college and seeing films in Kanoon and children's film festivals, taught us that cultivated animations held a different position in the world and Kanoon was a place that could have done that.
SM: Kanoon showing special selections of film festivals also caused for this incentive. I mean they selected films from places that promoted intellectual ideas.
EH: Exactly. Parviz Davaee was one of the master keys. He was familiar with all foreign festivals and along with his colleagues had reached the awareness to show such films. The external atmosphere of Iranian cinema was the popular Farsi films. There were preliminary sparks of a new wave in Iranian cinema but they were small incidences as popular Farsi films were dominating. There were no traces of children and youths films. Kanoon offered a few elite filmmakers to make films for children and youths. The film showings were indirect education that motivated us all.
The same happened with regard to children and youth book illustration. Kanoon possessed a large library in which there were books from all over the world. At that time there were no other illustrated books except textbooks and children's Keyhan magazine. Farshid Mesghali and Mostafa Oji had opened the graphic design studio and later on Adnani and I joined them. Farshid Mesghali's presence, because of his knowledge of modern art and contemporary graphic design, guaranteed the quality of the works that left the studio. Of course, this had also happened in cinema lead by Forouzesh and music managed by Ahmad Reza Ahmadi.
The other point was the libraries. Still when I travel to some cities in Iran I see libraries that have remained from the time of Kanoon. The ever expanding festivals were also one of Kanoon's characteristics along with new ideas that Farshid Mesghali proposed for graphic design activities in a particular year. Interestingly, whatever we suggested was done and if there was no budget in Kanoon, it would be collected from other sources. Since Farshid knew many professional commercial photographers, we inclined towards photography and not only illustration. One year we took pictures of some youths in Masoumi's studio and enlarged them to life size and then pasted them on boards and cut them into shapes. We placed these pictures in the entranceway to the Azadi movie theatre and when children passed through them to go inside, it created a lot of excitement.
SM: In brief, the discovery and recruitment of intelligent graphic designers and giving them space and freedom to work all caused Kanoon's growth.
EH: This refers back to the knowledge of those who came at first. Animation groups also appeared in the same way. Some works in Kanoon were totally experimental and carried out for the first time.
SM: Despite much that's unsaid about Kanoon, if you agree let's talk about graphic design today. For various reasons in this geographical location we are forced to do all kinds of work including logotype, illustration, poster, animation, film titles and everything related to graphic design directly or indirectly. Doing all this in addition to fatigue deprives the designer of focusing in one area.
EH: Yes because of the shortage of graphic designers this characteristic has existed in us and in two generations before us, and less in your generation and the next. At the arrival of our work the society was advancing in every sense and work was ordered to all who were recognized and reputable. Of course, this diversity of work appeals to graphic designers of every generation even if in many cases no distinct or intelligent work is produced.
SM: Perhaps one reason is because designers have not trained specialists and therefore, the subjects are not defined. Whenever we attempt to mention individuals in different areas of work we see repetitious names. After all these experiences, what solution do you propose?
EH: By education and rectifying our college systems; with the existing instructors we might be able to push students towards focusing in a specific area of design. So long as we do not reform our educational system, it will be the society's pressures spreading the fashion or need for students to go to universities without knowing what they are interested in. At the present, because of many poster exhibitions and an increase in single copy poster production, more attention is paid to poster design and it is taught more generally in universities.
SM: In abroad, every school has defined its goals and direction, and if the student's interest conforms to the university goals, he can choose to study there. Otherwise he can look for his ideal school elsewhere. I have personally experienced teaching in many art schools in Iran but even the old course outlines are not observed. I mean universities do not know and have no specific definition of what kind of graduates they will be delivering to the society four years later.
EH: Unless we change the mechanism of admissions and do not leave admissions up to the universities we will not succeed at anything. I think only those who have sincere interest in arts should enter art schools. Of the experienced resolutions, at least in our country, after the first year, they left the student with two or three professors so they could teach him everything. Or even at a limited scale to search for talents and direct students towards their interests one by one.
SM: This may be impossible now that 90 percent of students come from mathematic majors. Art education is not based on forcing entries to have certain knowledge but finding ways with regard to student ability.
EH: Dr. Golzari, the instructor in architecture department of London's Metropolitan University in his recent lecture in Iran, on the subject of art strategy explained that they have separated educating skills from educating of thoughts in their college. They propound a subject to all students either in graphic design or architecture, or industrial design to look for solutions. The solution, despite being irresolvable also has made the students think over about it. It is important to reach a way of thinking that exceeds monotonous routine. A solution that although impossible to execute now but will be so in a few years. And in the process the students have walked through creative thinking. We also have this shortcoming in graphic design as to how a student can find the best creative solution for a subject, next to thinking they learn how by use of software and other means to embody their thoughts.
Maybe we can also stop focusing on mere embodiment in our universities. In practical course outlines where the student has to create a corporate identity, maybe it is better to review student's creative thinking process first and then embody it to the stationary and other practical design. Our main problem in universities is tendency towards degrees. According to Slavoj Jijek, the contemporary philosopher, we are inflicted with symbolic matter preference than the real matter. The mechanism of course outline based on earning grades is the main poison of our ill art education. The art student has to enter art school with heartfelt interest and he has to attend classes by his own will in a way that he cannot be forced out.
SM: Although the new method of creative solution might seem hard to students but certainly will be useful for them in the future and they will overcome problems easier, I have personally focused on this in the course on harmony between the subject and the work. Although at the end of the term there are few eminent works on the walls but all students confess that they have addressed the issues in a different manner.
EH: If we train students' minds to learn this discovery and intuition, we will be far more successful than teaching them practical matters. Students minds also can be advanced through reading. Although we lack extensive writings on the subject of art, we can learn by reading through other areas of art such as Iranian poetry and try to use them in our area of work. Personally, to clarify my own mind I refer to poetry books or books about poetry. Weight, rhyme, forms of imagination, brevity, obscurity and ambiguity that are much seen in our poetry are scarce in our other arts and they can be useful for finding new ways.
SM: We were supposed to talk about your work and I had many questions but the discussion deviated to elsewhere.
EH: It was very good. It is like life.
SM: Thank you.