When Mehran Khalili, a charismatic British-Iranian political communications professional and photographer, moved to Crete with his Greek wife and their son, he didn’t know what was coming to him – or what would come from him, despite having visited his new hometown of Chania for several preceding years. “We wanted to live closer to nature, and to try out a smaller city after being in Athens for six years. We have no roots in Crete, but we’d been flirting with the island a long time, so last year we decided to give it a shot and commit,” he says of the move.
Yet soon after arriving, Khalili began to feel somewhat unsettled by the island’s “dark energy”. Having a eye for the gritty, the edgy, the real and the magical details and reflections of people and the life they live, the photographer has in the past presented other collections that express a quality of darkness. One of these collections was ‘Outliers, Six Years In Greece’, which expresses the existential energy of a country in crisis through various poignant portraits and scenes, their drama only enhanced from being in black in white. He described Outliers thus: “To me, a foreigner living in Athens, Greece is a beautiful and intriguing land, full of light and life. But it’s also a place that since 2009 has been suffering from an unprecedented economic and social crisis, the victim of the harshest austerity programme ever implemented in Europe. These photos, taken across Greece from 2010 to 2016, are my interpretation of how a proud people felt when the ground fell from under them.”
Yet an island that most of us associate with sunny, carefree holidays, excellent and exemplary cuisine and a rich, mythological and cultural history is not the usual place you would think inspires an abrasive element of darkness. “I think it comes down to this: I’m quite an anxious person, and coming to Crete with my young family, this feeling got more intense,” says Khalili.
“Crete is a wild place, and I couldn’t escape the sense that the island’s nature and environment appeared to present a threat. I suppose I brought this feeling with me when I arrived. But I wanted to explore it more, hence the project. Interestingly, since I published this work I’ve received mails and comments from many people saying the same thing about Crete — that they identify with this ‘dark energy’. So I might have been onto something.”
A white streetlamp that looks like a perfect full moon is semi-covered by a convergence of black insects, a soft toy lamb alone hangs on a washing line in eerie light, a palm tree is twisted sideways by dramatic winds, a mother holding her child in her arms cloaks herself in a sarong to protect them from the same powerful gale, children sit laughing and chatting on a beach at night. “Photography is a fascinating, quiet language that I learn more about every day. The process of making images and putting them out there is very meditative, and helps me learn more about myself and about communication in general.”
“The photos are mostly just of normal scenes,” Khalili adds, “but as with all photography it’s how the images are presented that points to the real message. For example, there’s a shot of four kids playing on a beach, which on the surface is a nice thing. But when you look more closely at it and its context in the set, I think a more sinister meaning emerges. As with many photos I’ve taken, I only realise these things later.” Minotaur Island has already been exhibited in Chania, and Khalili is. And planning to take the exhibition to Athens in the new year, with the ultimate hope of also publishing a book in the near future. Despite the real or imagined yet decidedly photographable dark forces that surround him and his family, he is set on staying on Greece’s largest island.
*To see more of his work, visit: mkhalili.photo/