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Ali Shahrouzi

Photographer Extraordinaire

By Paige Smith Orloff

Ali-Shahrouzi-web.jpgThe 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.

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