By Paige Smith Orloff
The throngs of tourists and smattering of locals who flock to the Sunday-morning art walk on Cabrillo Boulevard often stop to see Ali Shahrouzi and his lush landscape photographs. Nearly every week for the last eight years, Shahrouzi, 41, has exhibited in the same spot near Stearns Wharf. His older brother, Sean, helps set up his display. Several collectors check in regularly to see new work. Nothing out of the ordinary, except, as Shahrouzi said, “I shouldn’t be the one to say it … but a lot of people tell me, ‘You are an inspiration.’” Shahrouzi’s images, all shot on film, most with a medium-format camera, are stunning, and certainly provoke introspection. But his admirers are referring to the triumph his photography represents over, as he puts it, his “circumstances.”
Disabled by cerebral palsy, Shahrouzi relies on a wheelchair and has no use of his hands. His love of art started before his family immigrated to Santa Barbara from Iran in 1978. He remembers dictating drawings to his grandfather: “I would tell my grandpa, ‘Put a dot there, draw a line, draw a semi-circle.’ I wouldn’t say what I was drawing until I was done.” He thought photography might give him more autonomy. “When I was 13, I bought my first good camera. My brother held it in front of my eye, and it gave me more control, capturing what I wanted, instead of painting or drawing, where I had to rely on someone else’s hands.”
After graduating from high school, Shahrouzi was determined to pursue his art, and dreamed of attending Brooks Institute of Photography. 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.”
A love of light and of being outdoors led Shahrouzi to concentrate on landscapes. The choice is also practical: “Trees and mountains don’t move around,” he laughed, “so I can take my time.” Shahrouzi processes and prints all his pictures, but at every step, he requires assistance. Those who help benefit, too. His student aides learn techniques they can’t study in school: With digital photography dominating the industry, Brooks no longer teaches color processing.
Shahrouzi has met many of his goals, but he’s not done. He would love to have a gallery and darkroom under one roof, and hopes to find a publisher for a coffee-table book of his work. Meanwhile, he’ll keep shooting the splendors of the Central Coast (he prefers the winter light) and points beyond.
4•1•1 Ali Shahrouzi and his work can be found most Sundays at the Cabrillo Blvd. art walk. He may move from his regular spot in the triangle near Stearns Wharf to the other end of the walk, with the craft vendors. Visit alisalgallery.com.