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Mina RPS23 52
CREDIT: Mina Boromand

In the Name of Light, I Imagine By Mina Boroman

The recipient of the RPS Women in Photography Bursary

In the Name of Light, I Imagine

The recipient of the RPS Women in Photography Bursary explains how she used her award to explore her inability to visualise, while making layered work connecting light and memories of Iran and Afghanistan.


By Mina Boromand

“I will become that which cannot come into the imagination, 

Then I will become non-existent” 

Rumi, 13th century Persian poet


My journey of being awarded the Royal Photographic Society Women in Photography Bursary enabled me to focus on my project with enthusiasm. The financial and mentorship support had a massive effect on the outcome of my creation. 

Throughout this project, I took steps to learn more about the function and behaviour of my brain in the absence of mental images – aphantasia. 

Adam Zeman, a professor of cognitive and behavioural neurology, led research called The Eye’s Mind in 2015, a neurological study of visual imagination. In one of his experiments, he used the vividness of the visual imagery questionnaire (VVIQ) as a research tool which helped the research team to closely comprehend the participants’ performance. The result confirmed that some people lack the ability to visualise in their mind's eye. They named this condition aphantasia. In a BBC interview, Zeman described it as “a fascinating variation in human experience rather than a medical disorder.” 

In my quest to understand why and how I have this condition, I delved into my family photo archive and explored objects that connect me to specific times in my life. It was as if I time travelled, experiencing the same emotions of excitement, sadness, loss, anger, and hope – I remembered the story through those feelings.

I wondered if my brain sealed off mental imagery to protect me from traumatic events. By asking my siblings to participate in the VVIQ – developed by British psychologist David Marks in 1973 – I discovered that out of the five of us, two have aphantasia, and the rest are at the end of the spectrum, meaning they can imagine very vividly. 

This led me to conclude that I had had aphantasia since childhood. I used lights in my project intending to draw public attention to the desire for further exploration of aphantasia. My inspiration for using lights came from Bill Viola’s contemporary video installations, which explore themes of spirituality and existential reflections. Through the lighting experiment, I entered a new world of visual storytelling and connecting to past events. 

My project coincided with the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement in Iran, which completely captivated my mind and heart and deeply influenced the project. I recall my experiences during the 1979 revolution – the powerful sense of unity, the strong will for change, and the sacrifices for justice and a better future. 

When I took part in the fight for regime change in 1979 I experienced the incredible energy and knowledge of unity – the unity of people who forgot their power and the devastation of being defeated when the Islamic government took over. The days of resistance and encouragement to continue the fight for justice and freedom. The time that we were arrested for secretly distributing the leaflets and newsletter of the left-wing party. The time when the regime destroyed the central committee of the left-wing parties, then came for the rest of us – the time that we had to run – escape – hide. The time of execution of thousands of prisoners – comrades.

The time I escaped through the River Hirmand to Afghanistan and joined the resistance group facing not only the attack from Mujahidin but also the fear of being kidnapped by the Islamic regime. The time when me and my daughter (20 months old) were attacked by the Mujahidin’s rocket – we experienced death and back.

This prompted me to let my heart lead in this project to tell the story – a woman’s story – a human story – a story of the journey of displacement, injustice, oppression, aspiration, and optimism. By arranging the printed images made for my 2021 Aphantasia series in the corner of my sofa, I connected and layered memories with what was happening in Iran during the uprising, using the power of light to convey the message.

Moving the lights in front of the printed images stirred strangely incredible emotional feelings as if I were riding the light through time and space. I couldn't stop myself; I continued using different light colours to observe the emotional effect. In the stage of editing and selecting, I looked for contrast, colour temperature, and storyline. 

A five-minute HD video of selected images embedded with Iranian music was the outcome and it was created after several trials and resolving copyright issues with the music. 

I also worked on an installation, in which I recreated one of the images of the Aphantasia series, making three attempts. Firstly, on a small scale, I learned about dos and don'ts as I crafted a small papier mâché balloon covered with wool. The second time I worked on a bigger papier mâché balloon structure. However, the additional layers of paper for a stronger structure didn't work, as the extra weight changed the shape of the balloon. For the last attempt, I decided not to use paper. Instead, I kept the wool in the glue and directly stuck it around the balloon. 

The last experiment was very meditative, as I was doing it while listening to the Iranian podcast Bandar e Tehran  –  Tehran Port  – which read the unfinished stories of men and women writers of Iran. To my surprise, those stories became part of the woven 3D creation.

After discussing titles for the project with friends, I chose “In the Name of Light, I Imagine” because of the relationship between light and memories and the absence of visualising, also being poetic. 

Once again, I realised the importance of having a safe space, plenty of time, financial support, mentorship, and people to discuss the work with. The excitement and challenges of experimentation helped me learn more about myself and the way my brain works. I make my artwork through letting my subconscious take over, which leads me into the unknown. 

Aphantasia is a reason why my learning process is different from that of normal people. I cannot memorise what I read or study, only some information is retained in my brain, the rest disappears and that's why I need always to revisit and repeat the knowledge that I gathered. I apply my other senses in the process of learning and remembering. As a result, daydreaming has always been a critical part of my brain activity. 

Through this project, I challenged my skills in video editing, report writing, and time management. This project would open a new dialogue and new ways of communication about aphantasia, allowing us to become more open to the experience of neurodiversity. 

Since the beginning of the wonderful RPS bursary award, I received fantastic news from the Silk Road Gallery about including my work in the book  Breathing Space  –  Espace Vital in French – published by Thames & Hudson and Editions Textuel. The book is a body of works by 23 Iranian women photographers. Moreover, I had another wonderful experience of showing my work at the Rencontres d’Arles festival in a group exhibition by Carte Blanche Students at the beginning of July 2023 in France.  

Image title: The Woven Story


I’ve also joined the academic Foundation team at London Metropolitan University School of Art, Architecture and Design as an associate lecturer teaching Critical Creative Practices. The Blindness of the Mind’s Eye is my recent exhibition with Espace Contact in Neuchatel, Switzerland and with Exhibit Here at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf in London. 


All images © Mina Boromand


About Mina Boroman

My work draws on the rich history of revolution, displacement, idealism, and pain to inform my work which, mirroring my own life, crosses the boundaries of mediums, styles, tone, and composition.

I offer the viewer an insight into my memories which are concealed to me behind the veil of aphantasia, a condition which renders visualisation impossible – imagine not being able to imagine.

I use my art to piece together my memory – motivation – story – a journey of discovery and re–discovery.


The RPS Women in Photography Bursary

This bursary was made possible through the generous support of Karen Knorr HonFRPS. It was to be awarded to a female or female-identifying graduate to assist in the development of a photo project. Projects could include photo essays, exhibitions, documentaries, etc. We received 149 applications from graduate students taking courses in photography or undertaking research in photography.

In addition to the £3,000 award, bursary recipient Mina Boromand received one-to-one mentoring from leading photography expert Zelda Cheatle.



This article was published in WE ARE, The Women in Photography magazine, February 2024.


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