Interview #24: Alex Shahmiri
CUS: First of all, the most standard question in the book: how did you get into photography?
Alex Shahmiri: I think the main reason that I got into photography was because of my family. My sister and dad were always taking pictures when we would go on vacation, and I guess it eventually rubbed off on me. Now that I think of it- I actually used to take a lot of photos as a kid, but I would never get the photos developed. I think I still have some rolls from when I was a little kid in my desk back home. I would use this tiny red plastic camera that my mom bought me, and a spy cam I had that was a massive camera that attached to sunglasses. If I successfully spied on anyone with that thing, they must've been blind. In my sophomore year of high school I got my first SLR and have been shooting ever since. I started out with just taking photos of friends and objects, and then really started to build on that.
CUS: Tell us a little about where you live.
AS: I actually live in two cities, Laguna Hills and San Francisco. Laguna Hills is located in Orange County, and it's about 15 minutes away from Laguna Beach. It's actually quite boring, because the beach can get old after a while. It's all suburbs, and you have to have a car to get anywhere, which was a bit annoying seeing as I never went to get my license until a few months ago. It was a great place to grow up and it's always nice to come back home to relax, but I can never stay there for too long. For when I'm not home I go to school in San Francisco at USF. There is always something going on in the city, be it a tricycle race down Lombard Street, or a pillow fight near the Ferry Building for Valentine's Day. The weather can range from being cold (for California standards that's like 50 degrees), to being perfect for relaxing in the park. The best part about San Francisco though is just the huge mix of cultures within the city. It's like a giant "melting pot". Oh and the fog.
CUS: What themes do you try to explore through your photographs? Is there any one in particular in which you explore often?
AS: I don't really think about themes at all with a lot of my photos. I guess that if I would have to pick some it'd probably be anonymity and solitude. I really dislike self-portraits, which is why I rarely show my face anymore in my photos . . . it creates anonymity and there is something interesting about seeing people when it's just them in the frame. Their attitude changes, because they are the focus point.
CUS: Do you have a favorite photographer?
AS: I actually don't. There are a lot of photographers that I do like, but it'd be too hard to pick one as a favorite. It's almost as bad as asking me who my favorite musician is, I've never been able to give an answer to that.
CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose?
AS: There are a lot of musicians that I would love to photograph, but I think if I had to pick just one I'd either pick Daft Punk (yeah I know... there's two of them) or Jeff Buckley. Daft Punk would be fun to shoot, and Jeff Buckley would be really interesting to be able to talk to and shoot.
CUS: What is your most treasured possession?
AS: That's a tough one… I really don't have anything that is a treasured possession because just about everything can be replaced… but I think if I had to pick something I'd probably say my guitar, or music collection. I've been playing guitar for almost seven years now and I would never give it up, I probably should for a bit so I can let me wrist heal, because it is all screwed up from drumming and playing guitar. My music collection is treasured just because it would take me eons to replace it all, even though I have everything backed up in like three or four places.
CUS: What's playing on your iTunes right now?
AS: I'm listening to Andrew Bird right now. The man is a musical genius; I've never heard anyone layer music like he does.
CUS: Tell us a little about your family.
AS: Well there's my mom, dad, sister, and I in the family. My parents came to the US back in the late 70s early 80s from Iran/Europe. My dad is pretty much retired now, but he worked in the tech industry so I have a very heavy technological background. My mom is a portrait artist and works from home, so whenever I go home I see both my parents quite a bit. Then there's my sister, who is nine years older than I am. We get along really well despite the age gap, and she's quite possibly one of the most creative people I know. I actually live with her while I'm in school in San Francisco, along with her dog, cat, and chinchilla. I rock an air mattress in the living room, ha.
CUS: What is your favorite photograph that you've taken, and what's the story behind it?
AS: I really don't think I could pick a favorite photo of mine, but the Le Brouillard series is probably one of my favorite series that I've ever done. I really just love shooting in the woods and fog- something about it is comforting.
This is one of my favorite shots, just because of the memory attached to it. I was finally done with school and was in San Francisco for a photo show I was in. I thought I'd walk up onto the roof because it was such a nice day. When I got up there I noticed I could jump up on the ledge right there. I never use a remote in my photos so I had to run across the rooftop, jump up on the ledge, and then run across it towards the corner. I had a solid ten seconds, but it was such a rush realizing if I over jumped or lost my footing I'd be plummeting twelve stories to the ground. For a while I just sat up there to enjoy the view. Oh and about ten minutes after I came down back into the apartment, I noticed there was a helicopter circling the area… but I'll never know if it was because of me.
CUS: What have you always wanted to photograph but have thought was too difficult to execute?
AS: This will sound absolutely ridiculous but I have always wanted to photograph someone running in an open space at night while on fire. Something about the way the fire would cloak the person's body just seems interesting. If you've seen the movie Electroma, you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about.
CUS: Who, or what, is your biggest influence?
AS: That's impossible for me to answer, because there is so much that influences me. Just about everything in some way influences my photography. Though, my photos change drastically depending on my mood. Things become much darker whenever I'm not in the best of moods, or if I'm hungry. Hunger takes a toll on my photography. Stupid nutrients.
CUS: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Do you think that photography will still be a big part of your life?
AS: Well.... I'd be 39, which is ridiculous to think about. I don't even want to think that far ahead. I guess by that age I would hope to have seen a good chunk of the world, maybe be married, and really just still be enjoying life. I'll be working somewhere, doing something that I hopefully enjoy, and I will most definitely still be doing photography. All I know is that in 20 years I'll be enjoying my life in one way or another.
CUS: Our last interviewee, Michele Mobley, wants to know: Do you parents openly accept and encourage your photographic work?
AS: Definitely… of course there are some photos I have that my parents aren't down for, but for the most part they are completely open and supportive of it. Although, just as a note: don't let your parents see a photo of you standing on the edge of a twelve-story building. Bad news bears right there.
AS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask our next Interviewee?
What is your favorite memory from your childhood?