Duration: Five years.
Location: Los Angeles, California.
Education: BA in communication, University of California, San Diego; BFA in photography and digital imaging, ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California.
Career path: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in Los Angeles, California, so Los Angeles feels more like my hometown given that most of my memories were first formed here. My family had escaped Iran shortly after the revolution in 1979, and I was the first family member to be born in America. My parents never fully assimilated into American culture, which created a divide between us. Rather than simply accepting custom and tradition, I questioned and often fought against it. Being confronted with two cultures that often felt diametrically opposed, I learned early on that choice—rather than circumstance—bears more weight on the value of one’s life and identity. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how privileged I was to gain that perspective and have the freedom to exercise that choice with less opposition than others. Growing up, I didn’t fully relate to any groups and felt like an outsider until I learned to use my fluid sense of self to relate to individuals person to person.
I graduated from the University of California, San Diego, where I studied identity, media production and social structures. During that time, I learned how most of my beliefs—and what I thought to be inherent traits—were not only shaped but dictated by corporate and governmental systems. When given a predetermined set of possibilities, I only saw the illusion of choice, so I felt disillusioned with the world and unsure of my place within it upon graduating. On a whim, I took a photography class. From the moment I picked up the camera, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to bring hidden things to light—and to do so with compassion.
A few months after I first learned how to shoot, I left my full-time job to pursue photography as a career. I learned as much as I could on my own. About a year later, I was accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Before leaving, I visited the ArtCenter College of Design for an informational interview, and two or three weeks later, I started my first term there instead and graduated in December of 2014.
Cultural influences: I’ve always been interested in the components that form our identity and what motivates our decisions. Lately, I’ve been interested in the impact that popular culture has on individuals and our society as a whole. It’s a force that drives commerce, shapes identities and, unfortunately, sometimes helps elect inept people to office. I find it interesting that pop culture is looked upon as being lesser than in terms of cultural value within the art community. I’ve been working on a new series that looks deeper into that concept.
Favorite projects: A personal series that I created of my uncle Afshin. I started the series thinking that I knew him well enough to represent him through images. During the process of shooting the series, I realized how arrogant and close-minded that approach was, as it robbed him of any agency in his own representation. Identity is something that’s fluid, and going into a shoot with preconceived notions limited the scope of possibilities.
Work environment: Even though every environment is different for each shoot, my preference is to work alone with my subject. It creates a greater sense of intimacy, and there is less pressure for them to perform for others. When working with a larger team, I like to create an environment that’s still conducive to having trust and connection with the subject.
Approach: My approach is distinguished by my openness to spontaneity. Oftentimes, the images for a shoot have been meticulously planned ahead of time, and you’re working backwards to get to that image. While that’s great as a starting point, I personally like to allow room for creativity to bloom on set. I like to build the ship as I’m selling it.
Philosophy: Be honest.