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Matinee: Ali Shahrouzi Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

23 March 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 194th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Ali Shahrouzi: I Am Photography.

This 11:20 video by Carolina Anselmo paints a portrait of Santa Barbara photographer Ali Shahrouzi. Not to mention his assistant Camila Bianchi who is seen throughout the video helping the Iranian-born photographer, who suffers from cerebral palsy, with both his movement and his art.

Shahrouzi is a fixture at the Sunday-morning art walk on Cabrillo Blvd. where he has been selling his matted images for 21 years. Unable to use his legs or arms, his older brother Sean sets up the display.

You might wonder how he can take his mostly medium format black-and-white images and how he can print them in his darkroom. And Anselmo's video will reveal the secret as it shows you a sampling of his work.

As a child, he wanted to paint. He would tell his grandfather where to place dots on the page. Then his grandfather connected the dots to form the drawing Shahrouzi had imagined.

But when his brother came home with a Canon F-1 and he could see a whole composition in the viewfinder, he fell in love with photography. His brother took lessons in photography at the camera store across the street and repeated them to his brother at home.

He left his home in Iran in 1978 to attend the now-defunct Brooks School of Photography. Paige Smith Orloff told the story in her 2006 profile of the photographer for the Santa Barbara Independent:

A family friend knew Ernest Brooks II, son of the school's founder. After hearing Shahrouzi's story, Brooks arranged for the aspiring artist to study for free, auditing classes and completing assignments as his abilities allowed. Shahrouzi became a fixture on campus and his determination made an impression: "Mr. Brooks said I did such a wonderful job that he wanted me to participate in graduation with the regular students."

Shahrouzi's focus on landscape isn't an accident. "Trees and mountains don't move around," he told Orloff, "so I can take my time."

Throughout Anselmo's day-in-the-life portrait of Shahrouzi his cerebral palsy is evident. But you quickly are struck by something more impressive about Shahrouzi. He's doing something he loves. "I am my photography," he says.

And that helps us appreciate what really makes someone a photographer. It's not the act of pressing a button so much as being able to ride the tide that ebbs from perception to expression.

He asks Camila early on as they arrive at Goleta Beach Park for a shoot, "Have I taken you anywhere that was not beautiful?"

She laughs. He never has.


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