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Interview With Ahad Subzwari
Ahad is a mutli-media specialist from the DC area who somehow manages to have expertise in as many art forms as we, the comparative amateurs from Skinny Dipper, have questions. We look up to Ahad as a selfless guy and very aware citizen who mentors and inspires his peers to clarify and chart a bold path through those messy worlds of art, youth, and social consciousness.
Our conversation here focuses on his concert-going camera-work -- one dimension of his talent -- and how that work spurred the +1 gallery, which is set to open on Sunday, April 15th. In his own words, “the +1 gallery aims to connect you with the emotions of a live show as they are experienced by the audience & myself. The concept of +1 comes from all the times I asked a friend to come with me to a show I was shooting.”
You can find all the details for the gallery at at the end of this story. We’re going on Friday the 20th, see you there.
Now let the lights dim a bit and the crowd press forward as you listen into our conversation and look through the selection of photos Ahad shared with us.
How and why did you start shooting live music?
I started shooting live music in college. A bunch of friends from various schools, where people of color were always a minority, banded together to bring concerts to our campuses. Before we knew what "content" was, we always wanted to capture and convey what it felt like to go to one of our concerts and to show people what they were missing. After college, I continued working in music through Trillectro Music Festival in DC and working with IMP, shooting at their venues (e.g. 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall). Honestly, I just like going to concerts a lot and I also suffer from this thing where I hate seeing something in front of me that could've been a fire picture and I don't have my camera. So I always try to get mine in.
What are the principal emotions you experience during a show that you want your audience to feel?
I think it really depends on the artist. Every artist has a different tone for their show. Like a Sampha show is super different from a Future show. I want MY audience to feel what I felt, which can depend on different variables. Was I hungry when I was shooting? Was it really hot? Do I love this artist? Is the crowd annoying? All of those things play into it. But since I mostly shoot artists I really like, it's mostly about the connection I have with that artist and their music.
What have you learned from this work?
I've learned a lot about the music industry and the way it works. There's a lot of finessing that goes into it. There have been plenty of times where I've gotten into a show just because you walk in with confidence and a camera or know someone who knows someone who knows someone. I've learned how much work goes into putting on a single show and it really puts into perspective how grueling a tour can be for an artist and the dozens of people that work on it. I've also learned it's not all glitz and glamor and that this is their job, but it's still an emotional experience for them to connect with their fans.
What was the story behind the most transformative moment in your career?
I'm not sure when it happened, but it was when I realized that artists are professionals who put a lot of effort into their craft. On the other side of the same coin, I realized that so many concert photographers clamor to get tagged by their favorite artist, but a tag and some likes hasn't paid anyone's bills yet. I think people who want to be concert photographers need to expand their skillset and realize that they can always be replaced by someone who will do work for less (or free), even if the work isn't as good. It's important to differentiate and stand out from others. I can easily be that dude with 30k followers who takes the same photos as everyone else, but I would rather create something in my own voice and capture what I see and feel.
Above: Portrait of Ahad Subzwari
You've mentioned that you are not just a photographer. Tell us more.
Photography is just one of the many tools and skills I aim to master in order to become an effective storyteller. Every form of media that we consume is some kind of story; whether it's the story of what I ate for dinner or the story of a rare species of mountain goat that Nat Geo is covering. With all the different ways we can consume media, it just seems silly for me to hone in on one form while not looking into the rest. It's hard to verbalize, but I want to be able to convey and invoke emotions in an audience using a wide array of tools and skills, whether it's a photo, a video, a structure I built by hand, some unique lighting, sound design, whatever. I've been working towards taking a more holistic approach to media/art/whatever you wanna call it. As of late, I've been growing tired of screens and their limitations, so this gallery is a way for me to bring something to life instead of capturing someone's attention for 8 seconds while they're on the toilet or the metro.
Anything to tell readers before they make a visit to the gallery?
Not much to say other than pull up!
You've got your plate full with this gallery opening plus the recent launch of First Family DC. Before you go, can you tell us about that?
So First Family circles back to the answer to your initial question. It's a collective of friends who have gotten together to curate and create experiences that cater to our tastes and our interests. DC can be a weird city sometimes in that you see all these cool people doing cool things, but they rarely have the spaces or the platforms to really express themselves properly, especially with the rapid gentrification we're seeing. The city would rather put up another Sweetgreen and Warby Parker than keep a venue open that doesn't have a drink named after cherry blossoms. To be frank, we just got tired of going out to the same places doing the same things and not having any meaningful interactions with people. So we took it into our own hands and the best way to put it is: doing cool shit with my friends.