“You don’t take a photograph. You ask quietly to borrow it.”
- Unknown -
It's been a little while since I first walked into Ana Kamiar's studio as a fresh and super green college student at Ai MIUAD in Miami, Florida, but I still remember the feeling I had - immediately knowing that this class was going to be different. I knew that Black and White Photography was going to be a welcome challenge and learning experience for me. I had developed a love for photography early on - a hobby I picked up from my father, who is not a professional photographer, but is one of those rare individuals that just "gets it". He has "the eye" and he passed that passion on to me. I was excited at the prospect of truly getting to learn about film photography - to get a grasp and understanding of the origins of capturing imagery and developing those images from start to finish. What I could not anticipate were the depths of artistic abstraction that I was in for.
It's difficult for me to write an intro about Ana Kamiar without getting personal, so I decided to stop trying. On the surface, Ana is a brilliant artist, photographer, and a phenomenal arts educator. It's just beneath the surface that you experience the profundity of the way she sees and thinks - particularly about photography. A simple assignment for the week: "photograph light". Next week - "capture shadow". The week after - "photograph mass". It's not too long before you realize that your simple assignment is challenging you to see in ways you might not have bothered to try seeing before. Anyone can take a picture of a shadow. But to thoughtfully consider a shadow? That's a different conversation. That's the beauty of Ana.
I also didn't know those years ago that I would find myself in a position to reconnect with and interview one of my favorite college educators about her art, her journey, and her inspiration. I'm honored to share my conversation with Ana Kamiar here today. I do hope you will go beyond reading these words between us and thoughtfully consider them instead.
You can meet Ana and appreciate her work at A Vision For Art opening on April 26th.
It's truly and honor... Please introduce yourself to our readers...
My name is Ana Kamiar. I am an artist and an educator.
I was born in Iran, but my family moved to the states in 1977 when I was 3 years old. We stayed in Michigan until I graduated high school. In 1991 my father was offered a couple tenured teaching opportunities, one of which was at FCCJ/FSCJ. And though I was planning on heading to the University of Michigan I re-envisioned plans and became a huge advocate in support of a move to Florida. The OCEAN and the SUNSHINE! And well, I thought it would be cool. Back then, as a high-schooler in Michigan, Florida made the cut for being a cool place to move to: New York, California and Florida.
Jacksonville was not exactly the Florida I had created from my distant Michigan visions (lm sure Miami Vice had something to do with it). My idea of Florida did not have southern accents (no offense), no bigotry, no sexism and no navy this and football that (again, no offense) To top it all off, I got a LOT of speeding tickets for driving on otherwise empty roads that I had to be on for 40 minutes just to go meet a friend to study at a Village Inn. I took the speeding tickets as a final sign to get out. I say this in pure recall of my 18 year old mind. Believe me, I'm not mad at Jacksonville for not being an illusion, or I would not be here.
But back then, I was in a bit of a culture shock. It took a minute to find my tribe. And when I did, things were not as consistently ridiculous. But I still moved, first to Gainesville for my BS in Psychology and Post Bach work in the Visual Arts. Then surprisingly/not surprisingly, I ended up in Miami due to a full scholarship and assistantship towards earning my MFA at the University of Miami. Upon graduation, I stayed in Miami, living in South Beach as an artist and yogi while teaching full time at the Miami International University of Art and Design.
I left Miami in 2007 to grow my son with my husband who was a boat designer for Sea-Ray and living in Cocoa Beach. By 2008, the recession hit, and we needed to move. It became really obvious to me that I needed my child to grow with closeness to my parents and brother. So we moved back to Jacksonville.
I started teaching full time at the Art Institute of Jacksonville pretty immediately after our move to J-ville. The school had just adopted a photography program I helped develop in Miami. Such a blessing but also incredibly different from my teaching experience in Miami. I learned a lot.
So yeah… theorizing and research, connections and revelations, making images, yoga, creating and rejecting concepts, writing, helping students develop work, revising courses, helping revise curriculum...
On Repeat till 2016. When I left teaching full-time or when teaching left me. Just over 2 years, oh wait! ... 3 years now and I am experiencing a new season of myself as an art-maker first.
If they made a movie of your life, what would it be about and which actor would you want to play you?
I closed my eyes and held a minute of meditation on this movie of my life… this is what I saw:
Magical realism. In the style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Camera overhead, and following as I lift my arm to the sky... and as I do it grows longer and longer until it reaches through the atmosphere of dense but beautifully even cloud cover. I reach through to the celestial sky, joyously, knowing I am sharing something… maybe a poem from my heart to the stars. I'm exquisitely surprised as I am offered back this intangible thing that I pull back to to earth.
I opened my eyes. Pretty excited that I actually saw a movie starting to happen. I didn't really expect anything to show up. Anyhow, that's as far as my movie meditation went. If I have to answer what the universe offered back in exchange of my hearts poem, I will be forced into cliché and say my art. But it is true, as many cliches are, the exchange betwixt the universe and myself seeds my art.
And because of my past, but deep appreciation of the movie Amelié, Audrey Tautou would play me. ^_~
You're originally from Iran. When did you permanently move to the states and does your cultural background have an influence on your art?
My family moved from Isfahan, Iran, where I was born, to the United States when I was really young. In 1977, I had my 3rd birthday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my father was a PhD student. In Michigan we stayed until I completed high school. Staying in America was not my parents initial intention, but with the Islamic Revolution in the works my parents worked very hard towards ensuring our permanent stay in the United States.
I believe that everything can be an influence in one’s life and one’s art. And so yes, definitely my cultural background has created a wonderful influence for me.
Probably the greatest influence is through language and poetry. I might be building a singular narrative here, but at least, it is positive. Persian people are deeply poetic and in this incredibly sentimental way. To offer some practical context, rather than to political figures, all of the most breathtaking monuments in Iran are made in homage to their great poets. The book of Hafiz, a book one refers to for guidance, is a book of poetry. And most every Iranian carries memorized poems to speak into life at any moments cue.
I think my Persian ethnicity finds itself in my overall manner of expression. My rhythm of thought, use of language, sensitivity towards beauty, and manner of movement/dance is formatively Persian first.
Another influence my background has offered me is from the actuality of being a sort of an outsider to the society I am in. It helps me take note of many culturally specific things (to both Persian and American ways) that may have had no emphasis if I was completely of the same culture I was raised in.
And finally, a connection to the unknown or unseen, through my Mother, is another giant influence. My mom carried certain traditional rituals and blessings for warding off negative energy and for safe keeping. She did not practice them often and when she did it was in a matter of fact sort of way, so I did not recognize their value when I was younger, but the rituals created this beautiful line connecting me to ancient patterns. I am incredibly grateful for this line, I love knowing the truth in them.
Oh! And the privilege of knowing heaven through saffron, cardamom, rosewater and honey.
How long have you been a photographer? What initially drew you to the medium?
From Ana Kamiar's Transmit:
"Transmit considers the interconnectivity between utility grids of power and organic forms of energy transmission. The work seeks to offer a visual balance between these varying modes of conductivity to suggest the possibility of communication between them. It also hopes to create a poised window, between and through these exchanges, with which, one may open into space."
I carry an overarching sentimentality within my psychology and so I carved this concept of preservation through image pretty early in my formative years. I got my first camera, a 110 Kodak, point and shoot in middle school, at a coming of age summer camp. Previously, I wrote all that I wanted to remember in my journal, I wrote a lot and really fast. I remember it feeling like a chore because my hand would ache from tension but I had to get it all out on the page. When I was given my little 110, I wrote “I finally got a camera! I don't have to write all this down anymore!” My first film/darkroom class was 10th grade. I have been thinking about photography in some way shape or form and using it ever since.
I think what drew me to the medium had to do with this idea of being able to touch something that no longer exists. As a young child, whenever I had the blessing to be home alone, my secret activity was to climb precarious furniture to get to the top shelf of my parents closet. Stored there were two leather briefcases. Within them were all the negatives and photographs that never made it to the photo albums. These briefcases were magic - the end of the roll light leaks, the blown out exposures, the half frames, the strange double exposures... all were a sparkle filled path to time travel.
I know that activity imbued the way I think about photography. For me, it is easy to fall completely, head over heels, into photograph, and replay the reality I initially constructed. I designated photography to hold what I want to be a memory. And rarely do I remember anything that I have not photographed. For better or for worse, I have been very good at outsourcing my memory.
My art using photography has changed in a lot of ways and I am sure it will continue to do so. I have made projects that attempt to recreate the pictures not good enough to be in family albums, I have documented melancholic children at Disney World. A good portion of my past work was devoted to using my body as object in an attempt to figure out my own gaze relating to my body (kinda impossible to step outside of societal constructs but the attempt is worth the work). Currently, my work is about exploring time and space as a way to consider a balance beyond duality. For me, the work feels like confirmations, that beauty is a thing to behold, and I am grateful for it.
In every way, photography is always a document allowing light to write the frame I construct. And I always seem to use it to preserve the fleeting. But what is fleeting includes more than just physical experience - fleeting too, is inner experience. And inner experience for me is vital to document especially when I am learning something. The quest towards and/or the many answers become my photographs. Those magical revelations that we have as people. I want to remember mine, so I photograph with them.
In the end, I love to try and document the feeling I have towards something, not just a representation of a thing.
Who are your photographic idols? Who or what are your muses?
I am pretty sure I don't have any photographic idols. I have been impressed upon by so many artists for so many different reasons and at so many various moments in my past. My list of favorites is a good semester long, as my history of photography students might attest to. Here is the shortest list I can make:
E.J. Bellocq, Man Ray, Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier Bresson, Minor White, Robert Frank, Hannah Wilke, Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Francesca Woodman, Roy DeCarava, Sebastiao Salgado, Sophie Calle, Shirin Neshat, Lorna Simpson and Sally Mann.
Muses: winks from the universe, time, gold, colors, lines, space, anything that teaches me, and anything I find beautiful, usually they are all one and the same.
Your work seems to consist of predominantly black and white/monochromatic photography. Is that intentional? What about black and white photography is most appealing/inspiring to you?
Is it?! [laughs] Its funny, actually, my work is just as much in color as it is in black and white. I have just printed and shown more of my gray images these past few years.
I started being really curious about gray values when I realized how much more of itself a single color is when presented against a gray. There was this plant full of yellow flowers outside of my south beach studio that I always overlooked because it was so bright outside. Then one day, while the flowers were in bloom the sky was not the usual bright blue but this absolutely terrific solid gray.
Those yellow flowers were just so amazing, under the gray sky. The color was sort of enclosed and contained into itself. The gray sky let the color feel whole. And I could breathe it in more fully.
In Translation Collection, Ana Kamiar 2017
I do love color. I am entranced by it. Almost everything I researched and wrote about in my biofeedback psychology days had to do with the visible light spectrum. I categorize all of my life through colors. I notice when I am attracted to certain colors and when my attractions change and what that might mean to my inner growth patterns... there's more, [but] I’ll spare you.
As a visual arts educator and instructor, what is your teaching style and do you believe there is such a thing as bad art or bad photography?
As an educator, my motivation draws directly from an accumulated respect for the history, craft and influence of photography on contemporary culture. Equally important to my style of teaching is to nurture the use of photography as an authentic form of visual expression. The best part of my work as a teacher revolved around encouraging students to figure out a concept authentic to who they are and to what they hope to visually explore.
History, technique, and the influences of photography are really important to me to teach but that doesn't mean that I think following any lineage is the only way to create photographic works. I just believe in being informed first, and then by all means, reject it all, if you want.
Any such thing as a good or bad photograph? - Yes but my yes is relative. It depends on the intent of the photograph; as well as, the perspective one chooses to carry at the time of viewing. To the extent that a work is judged as good or bad, for my heart only, I base that on a sort of whimsy. It just depends on if I like to keep time with it. The more time the work inspires me to offer it, the more I will like it, and I call that good.
You recently closed two shows - Eyes Full, at Bold Bean in San Marco; and Horizons at Kent campus, FSCJ - tell us about these recent shows, what's next for you, and where can we follow your work in the meantime?
Both of these exhibits were fantastic for me! I love my work, and seeing this sort of edited collection of my images from black and white, to color and my collage pieces sharing space together was just lovely. I didn't really know what I was going to feel, this work is so different from what I used to make and it had been a really long time since I shared so much work and at once.
I am incredibly thankful that the feeling was joyous. In the sharing of my images, I gained an extra confirmation I needed to continue to create this sort of poetic significance in my life. My work will always have value to me, but knowing that it can be of value to someone else is quite a cozy feeling.
Next, I will continue to spend my work time making images, photography and collage. I feel incredibly compelled to further learn value and line through working with ink and paint. All my efforts to practice craft are really to afford me space to understand time travel. [big smile]
Most recently my work has been included in two local exhibitions: ArtRepublic teamed with GenW to create a collection of works by some amazing local artists. The work was installed in the UNF theater lobby on April 4th. Also, A Vision for Art teamed with Space 42 to create an exhibit of works by 30+ wonderful artists, opening on April 26th.
Please follow my work through Instagram and my website!
Finally, I really want to invest more time back into teaching and/or mentoring. I have a honed ability to help one dive into his/her/their psychology and use what is found to create authentic visual expressions. I find myself being deeply called into offering this type of service again.
What have you learned about yourself through your art?
Everything! My art process was created out of self inquiry. I find it thrilling to learn this way. To extend a sort of quest to research and resolve, it helps keep my sense of purpose. The attempt at organizing all of what I am learning many times becomes a visual project. Like many of us, I categorize everything through this giant perspective that all is connected energetically. I love to learn through, not just visual art, but though sound/music, poetry, and dance. I learn so much from all of them. I think because each form is an emphasis of a particular type of energy exchange through the physical self. I love noticing efficiency in the movement of energy.
What experience do you intend to create for the viewer of your art?
This changes, but right now, I am sharing works that I created with a sort of romance. A document of something with which I visually fell in love more and more as I made the composition. I think of the images as visual poetry. I hope that the works I choose to share with others evoke a similar sense of poetry, that they may elevate the ordinary into the space of the surreal.
How do you define success in what you do?
I love having my awareness invested in the magic of life. If anything I made offered a reminder or a connection to someone else, of this type of reality, my heart feels incredibly lifted.
Lightning Round Bonus Question! Digital or Film? Why?
Both and even more!
Photography means writing with light. There are many ways in which we can allow light to make a more permanent imprint, beyond even both digital and film, and it will still be photography.
I will probably always go back and forth between traditional processes and digital technology. Writing with light is completely open and potentially ever-changing.
We'd like to thank Ana for her participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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