Ali Rajabi: In the Dark of the Day
Interview by John Hutt
Ali Rajabi is the most recent winner of Hasselblad Masters. His most recent series In the Dark of the Day features eerie, lonely images that, while they are shot during the day time, seem cloaked in darkness. The series is exposing the misery and shadows in everyday life, brought into contrast via Rajabi's eye for the morose and lost. What we do in the shadows has always had a greater resonance, but we se here that what we do in the day is just as moving. Rajabi's question is not what does light offer, but what does shadow?
We were able to sit down with Rajabi and speak with him about working in New York, and how he achieved the singular look of his work.
You produced this work with a commission from Hasselblad, or they were involved somehow, can you speak about this relationship?
The In The Dark Of Day project is one of my personal projects that I started 3 years ago in New York. As you know I won the Hasselblad Masters competition this year and the project that I cooperated with Hasselblad was for the book of Hasselblad Masters based on the theme "INSPIRE" and it unveiled a week ago at Photokina 2016. Also, I was one of the few photographers around the world who did a project for their new Mirrorless Medium Format camera X1D.
What kind of post production goes into these images, they are very unique. Is most of the work in post shooting, or do you work with setting up the camera before every shot – as a technical magazine we are interested in this.
Honestly, the majority of photos that you are seeing in this project is very close to the original image. As a technical point of view it is all about controlling the light with shutter speed and f/stop. Although finding the spots that gives me this atmosphere is very helpful. I always scout the places before that I want to shoot and it helps me to reach the photo that I want. In just few of them I removed some elements to create the idea that I wanted and working with Camera Raw is my main part of the process.
Do you think this project is something that could only work in a place like new york, because it highlights the isolation in a big city, could it work in your home town, or somewhere like Iran?
Yes, you can do it in Iran but I am sure that it will be another project. At first look it seems my project is about playing with highlights and shadows but it is not. The concept that I have in my mind need the cities like New York. So I chose this place to express my thoughts and ideas.
You moved here from Iran, can you talk about some of the differences working here versus working there?
Let me answer this question very simple. You can not grab your camera and walk in the streets of a big city in Iran and do your daily photoshoot. In most of the times you need to get the permission even if you want to take some street shots.
There is a sense of loneness that these pictures bring, a kind of isolation, do you think this is some kind of evolution that we connect the dark with fear, solitude? What do you think it is about dark days that make us feel this sense of separateness?
I am happy that you get this sense, because part of this project is about solitude. I, myself has no fear from the darkness and I believe each and one of us has this side and it is a very important part of our lives. So, we need to discover it. Let me talk about the darkness and solitude in a positive way, Even if you have a fear from darkness and loneliness, you need to face it and it can be anything in your life but as soon as you passed that situation it will becomes of your soul and that darkness will settle in the circle of your life, So it helps you to move forward. In my pictures we have no idea about the people and the subjects that we see. We don't know them, we can not figure it out where is this place, we don't have no imagination of their feelings, thoughts and situations in their lives. Maybe it seems they are in the dark but simultaneously they can be in their bright part of their lives. No one can predict what is at the other side of the darkness. In The Dark Of Day is about two different aspects of everybody and anything. The aspects that are opposite but they are exist at the same time. So we can not judge about darkness, fear and solitude.
What drew you to this project, was there a moment or an event that happened that showed you that the day could just be as dark as the night?
Mystery was one of the strong reasons for creating this project. There is always a battle between Dark and Light. I loved to discover it and I think the story of this project has not an end.
Do you do any photography at night, as a comparison? Could we see a In the light of night project coming soon?
What an interesting question, Right now I am working on a night photography project. but I never thought that it could be an opposite side of In the dark of day. So maybe I consider it for the future
What is the end result of this project, is it mostly finished or are you still working?
No, It is not finished yet. It is still an ongoing project and I think it is part of me that I can not stop it now.
What is next for you?
For me, The next step is to have an exhibition here in New York and I am trying to find a right Gallery to show my works. Also I have two other ideas in my mind that I want to start and complete them. Moreover I really want to continue my teaching here in US. I believe continuity is the key of every success.