Let’s make this clear – I’ve never met Eraj Asadi. But he’s been in my home. In fact, he’s been everywhere I’ve been, although he doesn’t know it.
Eraj is with me when I open my computer or my iPad. He’s there when I turn on my phone.
It started when a good friend of mine gave me a Facebook link to a set of photographs taken at her son’s wedding. Clicking through the photos I couldn’t help but gasp at the beauty of every captured moment – these were wedding photos like nothing I’d ever seen. The intimacy of every shot was balanced with an almost circus-like absurdity that somehow caught the essence of the bride and groom and all their guests.
Instead of contacting the groom to congratulate him on his marriage, I contacted his mother, my friend, and said, “Who the fuck shot that wedding, Annie Leibovitz?!”
And thus began my friendship with photographer Eraj Asadi. Now, when I want a unique, visual perspective on life, I open my computer, or iPad, or iPhone and check out the recent uploads of his work.
Eraj has an exceptional eye. His photographs make me pause, and breathe, and reflect. As an author I often struggle to “see” my characters or the settings I wish to describe. I capture an image in my head and then I lose it. Eraj’s photos remind me that there’s more to it than merely describing the three dimensional characteristics of the body or the place. A description should capture the soul, the humanity, the intent. A description should describe the describer.
Eraj’s photographs tell me as much about Eraj as the characters he chooses to shoot. His work inspires me, and I thought they might inspire others at Murderati, too. This is why I asked him to join us today.
I asked Eraj to tell me a little bit about himself and how he came into photography. And then I asked him to pick a handful of photos to share – about a dozen. This is an almost impossible task, as I personally could never choose a dozen photos to represent the incredible breadth of his work. It was hard for him, too, but he came through. I urge you to “friend” Eraj on Facebook or visit his website to get a better understanding of the world he sees, all the time, everywhere he goes. And, although he’s chosen to show a select group of photos to demonstrate a select group of feelings that presently come to mind, I urge you to take a look at all of his work, particularly his portraits of the people he encounters every day in the streets of New York City. You’ll be amazed.
I’ll shut up now and let Eraj say a few things for himself…
Eraj: Thanks so much for having me here on Murderati, Stephen. Well, I’m the ’60s child of an Iranian father (now passed) and Indian mother (who resides near her son in Cliffside, NJ). Pre-school was a convent run by Italian nuns (!) who really didn’t want little boys in their vicinity, but were forced to take them by the govt, middle school was an English curriculum school called St. Christopher’s; at the age of 11, I was placed in 7th grade Bahrain School, an American school started by the US Dept of Defense geared toward the children of military personnel and oil executives living in Saudi Arabia (who would send their kids to this boarding school). These were very influential years for me as the school was run by Peace Corp teachers who were very open-minded and encouraged free thought (I’m still connected to some of these teachers on Facebook). My mother had a degree in Microbiology from an Indian university in the mid-1950’s so education was a very high priority for her – she put me in BHS because she intended for me to come to the United States to receive higher education.
In my last two years in BHS, I became very involved and intrigued with photography – these were pre-digital days, so it was all film, and I shot primarily B&W photos, both of friends in high school and then local characters of interest to me. For some reason, I suspected these guys wouldn’t be around forever so I wanted to preserve images of them (you can see some of these in my “Roots & Culture” album). I would develop my own negatives and spend hours in a darkroom I had at home working on them. Was so involved in my photography, I told my mother that’s what I wanted to do as a career, and her response, not unlike many Mom’s was “don’t be silly…you need a good job in order to support yourself and your family; you’re going to business school.” And that’s what I did…came to Georgetown Univ for a year only to fall in love with NYC so much each time I’d visit (my brother was in his last year at NYU), that I transferred to NYU after a year. Finished my BS and MBA (Finance, ’86) at NYU.
And then I got into the world that’s been my career, financial institutions/investment banking (today, I’m the Chief Operating Officer of a start-up finance company capitalized by a major, high flying hedge fund in NYC called Perella, Weinberg Partners after having run the securitizaton business for a major international bank, Rabobank, from 1999 until 2011). And it’s also how I’d describe my “dark period”…focused on career, put down hobbies and passions aside (other than running…I’ve run 5 New York Marathons, last one being in 2009) and didn’t do much to cultivate the artist in me.
I joined Facebook just about four years ago, and started to upload some of the photos I’d taken on the island, the character studies I’d mentioned earlier. I invested in a digital camera about three years ago. Combined with the difficulties in the banking industry and some personal tragedies, I literally threw myself back into photography in order to continue to find beauty in this world when there seemed none left. I met the burner contingent (Preston, whose wedding photos you saw on line, and all his merry cohorts) by walking into a party I thought was a rave two years ago only to realize I’d tapped into NYC underground nightlife, and the people in that scene are often the subjects of my controlled shoots. So, essentially what you’re seeing now is a person who’s almost come full circle, back to this passion that I loved as a child as it connected me to the world, now when I need it most.
“The Fisherman” is a milestone photo for me as I took it when I was only 16 years old in the old fish market in Bahrain, the island on which I grew up. I had the feeling that that market, and the people who dressed and looked like this wouldn’t be around in a few years as the island was rapidly modernizing. I liked the fisherman’s “get a load of this kid wanting to take my picture” expression. I entered it into a local photography competition and won 1st Prize with it. Even back then, I was always interested in people, their characters, and the way they looked upon life.
“9-11” is a photo I shot from Weehawken as I watched my adopted city burn. I always loved the Twin Towers and couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t hear or smell anything as the wind was blowing in the opposite direction on an otherwise picture perfect day. No one spoke a word. It was like experiencing a silent horror movie. A part of me died on that day.
“10th St” speaks to me because it was taken at the corner of 10th and Stuyvesant, in the East Village, where I lived for my entire NYU years. This was one of the first snowfalls I’d ever seen. I was struck by the quiet and serenity of the city as the snow fell. Looking back upon it now, it just seems like a much quieter and simpler time. I love the cars in this capture too.
“Canyons” is a photo I took just about two years ago as I was driving home to NJ from the city. The sky was lit up this bright orange, and as I always do, I had my camera with me and realized traffic would prevent me from getting to the West Side of the city before the sun dropped. So, I just shot the image this way, and in hindsight, actually prefer it to an open sky. This is just one of the incarnations of my beautiful town.
“City Abstract” is just another one of those images that “appear” if you happen to look around in NYC. I was actually waiting for a meeting to begin in a conference room high in the GM Building on 59th and 5th, and happened to look down, saw this, ran for my camera bag, and shot it. It’s how I think of NYC when I see it in my minds eye – a meld of yellow cabs and people everywhere..
“The Blind Man” represents one of my most recent street candid “portraits.” This man passed me as I walking along 18th Street and I was struck by his features, gaze, dress sense…and aura of pride, even though he couldn’t see. I doubled back and tapped him on the shoulder and asked if I could take his photo. He asked why and what I planned on doing with it. I said that I take photos of New Yorkers and put them in a “cool people” album if they strike me, and he certainly did…and that’s when he said “sure” and I shot this. I can’t imagine the fearlessness of a young, handsome man like this facing life with the hand he’s been dealt, with the grace in which he was doing so. Inspiratioinal, to say the least.
“Culture Clash” is a photograph I took earlier this summer, on “Sikh Day” in NYC. I was pretty much done with shooting the festival itself and was on my way out of the park when I saw these two eyeing each other up. On Facebook, I captioned this photo “Close Encounters of The Hipster Kind”…it still makes me laugh every time I look at it…this city is a huge melting pot, but seeing two totally different cultures getting a load of each other in this manner was priceless.
I shot “Gulf Oil” in the dead of winter in Hunt’s Point Market which is in the South Bronx of NYC, early one Sunday morning. It’s an industrial area, so absolutely no one was around. What I like about the image is that it reminds me of what Andy Warhol might have done if he focused on gas stations instead of soup cans.
In my heart of hearts, I’m a portrait photographer, trying to capture people’s essence. “Maria” is Maria Kreyn, a formidable and incredibly talented (and beautiful) Russian artist who paints in the tradition of The Masters. She is incredibly creative and artistic and we’ve done a few shoots of her together with her art. This happens to be one of my favorite portraits of Maria…I was fiddling around with the settings on my camera, looked up and saw her doing this with her gorgeous hair, and shot it.
“Panda” is a wedding photo I took of my friends Preston and Annie (Preston and Annie makes PANDA, get it?!) in Nov. 2011 in Mexico. They’re burners, so completely unconventional, and I told them the night before that I’d like to try and catch them both as they prepared for their wedding service later that day. This photo is a clear homage to John & Yoko’s classic, but it still makes me laugh at just how game these two were to play along. It’s the wedding album cover, and it was a huge hit with them and their friends too.
“The Guitar Man” is a guy I saw walking across the street when my wife, son and I were returning home from The Bronx Zoo…I walked over to him and asked if I could take his photo, and he said, “Are you going to publish it anywhere?” Usually, the “right” answer to that question is “No…its just for my personal use”..which is what I laid on him, and that’s when he said “No, man…I need someone’s who’s going to make me famous!” and so I now had to back-pedal, tell him about how I have a following on FB etc etc and how “you never know”…at any rate, he finally acquiesced and let me take this pic, and I really enjoy it…
I shoot a lot of things, even though people and portraits are my favorite. It’s interesting, some of the people that follow my work prefer my naturescapes and cityscapes the most, even they’re probably the least interesting to me. “Fall Leaves” happens to be a nature shot I really like; those leaves appear “gifted” to us by the many trunks of that magnificent maple tree. I took this photo about four years ago near Wayne, PA.
Eraj – thank you for giving us this opportunity to get to know you and to see the world through your eyes. I hope everyone will take a moment to friend you on Facebook and get to know you better through your vast collection of photographs. Keep up the great work!
What gorgeous and evocative shots, Eraj! It's great to read about someone coming back to their passion, and especially when they are so amazingly gifted as you.
Thanks, Stephen, for sharing Eraj with us!
Simply stunning — and I love the stories behind them.
I'm delighted at the expressions on every single face (the dignity of the Blind Man and the raised eyebrows of Culture Clash) and the way each photo conveys a mood (the quiet of 10th Street).
Thank you both for a terrific start to the day.
Thank you so much, Sarah; I'm truly a story-teller at heart and I love that you picked up on that through the few photos I selected. I really appreciate your feedback. Happy to connect on FB if you'd care to see more as well.
Thank you again!
I love the breadth and the depth of your work. The snow picture reminded me of my first snow in NYC, and how the city turned serene and muted for a little while. The culture clash image is AMAZING. Must feel wonderful to be at the right place at the exact right moment. The expression on the boy's face is incredible.
Thank you, Lisa…I remember the quiet of those days so very distinctly too; perhaps there were fewer people then, or perhaps more, deeper and sound-insulating snow, but it hasn't seemed that way to me in a long while. Re" "Culture Clash" believe me when I tell you that mutual "gaze-off" went on for a while…long enough so that I could actually switch to a zoom lens and capture it. The little boy was relentless..hahaha! Thanks for having a look, and your kind words are making me smile..
These are really striking, and I believe you have a fine sense of humor embedded in there. I look forward to seeing more of your work. I was raised in in NYC, but was too young, alas, to appreciate it. You've helped me do that.
I was glad I got here when I did, so that I had something to which to compare the frenzy and energy of this town. I loved it from Day 1…I hope my photos show that…as for humor, I can't walk down a NYC street and not find something amusing! Thank you, sister..
Eraj has given me a greater appreciation for NYC, too. I love New York and its people. Whenever I'm there I walk from Tribeca all the way to Central Park and back, any hour of the day or night. I love walking the city. I can't imagine a place with more energy.
Eraj & Stephen:
Wonderful interview, breathtaking photos. Whenever I feel my creative juices lacking, I turn to photographers to get things flowing again. For some reason, great images like yours Eraj strike a part of my psyche that words seldom reach, but must if I'm going to get to my own creative vision. You're now a member of the pantheon.
It turns out I have a photographer relative of minor renown, Consuelo Kanaga. One of her photos was included in Weston's Family of Man exhibit, and she recently had a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.
Other inspirational photographers include Jeff Becom, whose photograph of a Honduran fisherman's cantina provided the cover for BLOOD OF PARADISE, and Susan Meiselas, Juan Carlos and Eros Hoagland, all of whom had a huge impact on DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING?
Thanks so much for joining us. This was a rare treat.
The photos are amazing.. Not only are the photos are beautiful…Eraj is one of the most beautiful people I know.. inside and out. The passion in his life and his photography are so evident. He knows the story behind each and every photo. If you haven't become his friend on FB.. You are missing out..
David, what an honor to be asked to do this by Stephen…truly…and thank you for those kind words. I think I visualize "stories" as I'm taking photos…there's lots of that on my chosen medium to share (Facebook)…would love to continue to share, and engage you in a banter, as I've done with my host here today. You guys are great!
Oh, these are gorgeous. Stunning and evocative. "10th St" looks as if it could have been taken in Uptown Minneapolis and made me so instantly homesick for that place I got a bit choked up. There's nothing like that first thin blanket of white and how it emphasizes rather than covers the stark winter bones of the city.
What a gift you have. Thank you for sharing these with us, Eraj. And for inviting him, Stephen.
I have a few friends named "Karen", but I have a feeling I have a good idea which one of you posted that comment. Thank you…I love you.
KD, thank you so much! I took that photo in the mid-1980s, which seems an eternity ago now…coming from a small desert island, I thought NYC was all skyscrapers (I had no appreciation for brownstones and townhouses of the ilk found in the East Village), so that "surprise" always stuck with me. I really appreciate you sharing the fact that these images moved you.
Oh, these are fantastic! Thank you, Stephen, for bringing them to Murderati. Thank you, Eraj, for bringing them to the world!
Pari, thank you kindly! Come, join me on FB and have a look at more.. : )
I'm sure you have the wrong Karen.. I only go on to see your beautiful photos… I'm a silent friend..But I love you..
"Mystery Karen"….reveal thyself! I want to know those who love me, and reciprocate…
It's not about me.. We are here to celebrate the gift you have of capturing beauty in everything you see.. It's all about you..
Late to the piece, but what amazing photos. Thanks for the intro, Stephen!
PD, thank you so much…you are very kind.. : )
though newly aware of his work myself, i am continually inspired by eraj's photography. thank you for this bit. well done.
Viva…thank you so much!
I'm so glad you went back to taking photos Eraj. it would've been such a loss if you hadn't. miss you…
Zhana…I love you…I miss you all the time…finish that PhD already and come back to NYC…thank you for those kind words..