An Interview with Arash Yaghmaian
By Rebecca Fulp-Eickstaedt
You often talk about how your childhood has impacted your work as an artist. Can you tell me a little more about that childhood?
When I was very young my parents got divorced, and as a child I was constantly going back and forth between their two separate homes, trying to find some kind of balance between the two. Always moving from one place to another, in a single year I remember changing schools three or four times.
I grew up in two very loving families. My mother’s side of the family lost everything during the war, and I remember questioning why some people have everything while others have nothing. Inequality was always something that I questioned, even as a child. These are the filters in which I look through when I'm making my work.
You have a real talent for capturing human emotion in your photographs. How do inspire vulnerability in your subjects? How do you connect with the people you photograph?
My subjects are vulnerable with me because I'm vulnerable with them. I try to create a safe environment where they can be themselves without any fear of judgment.
I always try to be as vulnerable and authentic as I can be, with myself and with others. I love people, and I try to treat everyone like an old friend.
I think that the people that I photograph feel the love and respect that I have for them, and that they can tell that I am unguarded. As a result, they let their guard down, too. And that is where the best work comes from, from a place of complete vulnerability and honesty, where we can just let go and be ourselves. In the end that's all anybody really wants, the freedom to be themselves without any fear of judgment.
Wow. I really admire your philosophy and your approach to creating your art.
Your career has taken you around the world, allowing you to explore social issues in many unique places. Can you tell me about some trips that have been particularly meaningful for you?
Visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota to photograph and protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline was definitely one of the most meaningful experiences that I have had so far.
I went to North Dakota in December 2016 to photograph the Native American protesters and their supporters against the construction of the pipeline. I knew about the situation months earlier, but I was out of the country and unable to get myself there sooner.
I drove to North Dakota from New York with a friend of mine, a photojournalist going there to protest against the pipeline. It was a long and challenging trip and all I wanted to do was get there and start photographing immediately.
But when we finally arrived, I was unable to connect with my environment and with my subjects, and I was not able to photograph anything at all. I felt that I didn't know enough about the Native Americans to be able to fully and completely understand the situation and their challenges. I felt very ignorant in regards to their history, especially because I had been living in the US for over 20 years.
And so I had no other choice but to put the camera down for several days. I had to attempt to understand the Native Americans’ fight and their struggles, so that I could connect more deeply with them and be able to authentically photograph what was taking place before me.
As with your photography of these protests, so much of your work confronts social and cultural realities that are difficult to swallow. How does your photography serve to address the issues you tackle? How can art act to remedy the problems of the world?
I think that through making art, we can bring social change and global awareness. I am drawn to pain, and I feel a deep relatedness to suffering. I feel a connectedness to people who live on the margins of society, in poverty, isolated, and excluded. As a child I needed help; I needed to be saved from my circumstances; I needed someone to speak for me, to be my voice. And now as an adult, I find myself with this overwhelming need to rescue, to help, and to be a voice for those in need, to be a voice for the voiceless.
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