Photographer Sara Shamsavari Embraces the Bold Beauty of Men

Photo: Brendon Mochia, Copenhagen.

Photographer Sara Shamsavari is a master of balancing the subtle with the bold, combining the foreign with the familiar to unforgettable effect, crafting a body of work so powerful you don’t realize what is happening until the experience is complete. The Iran-born, London-based artist observes, “One of the most amazing things someone ever said to me about my work is, ‘What you are doing is changing people’s perspectives more effective than any campaigner’s fight for rights.’”

Also: Exhibit | Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity

Perhaps this is because art operates in a space that is both sacred and profane, combining the materials and spiritual realms into a single frame. Shamsavari’s portraits of men and women around the world appear to be lush, vibrant images of beauty, grace, and style, but that is just on the surface. With Shamsavari, there is always more than meets the eye.

Caligraphist Librea

Caligraphist Librea

She observes, “Photography has the ability to touch people in a different way and to take people to different places. I have no interest in preaching to the converted. I have so much to share. The only way the world is going to change is to talk to different people. My mission goes beyond just pleasing myself. I believe in sharing without preaching. You share ideas but you give decision making back to the audience. You don’t shove it down their throats. I cannot stand people telling me what to think. I like to be presented and given space to think about it.”

Shamsavari rose to international prominence with “Veils,” her portrait series of women in New York, London, and Paris wearing the hijab—a subject that is more timely than ever in light of France’s recent efforts to ban both the veil and the burkini. Shamsavari, who notes that she is neither a critic nor advocate of the veil, uses photography as a means to look beyond the surface of the topic at hand. Her portraits are a celebration of beauty, personality, and grace—of the depths of soul that flow underneath.

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More recently, Shamsavari began photographing men as part of curator Shantrelle P. Lewis’s touring exhibition, Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity, which will make its UK premier at the Brighton Photo Biennial in October 2016. The first comprehensive exhibition of its kind, Dandy Lion pays homage to young men who remix Victorian-era fashion with traditional African sartorial sensibilities against a contemporary cityscape. The exhibition gives a new look into a time-honored tradition, one where style and originality are matters of personal integrity.

Shamsavari’s photographs embrace this tradition effortlessly, revealing the power of fashion and art to change our perceptions of the world. On the surface, her work captures the cool and the chic, the people who embrace the power of aesthetic elegance. But a closer reading reveals there is more to these pictures than meets the eye. Shamsavari’s portraits create a connection between her subjects and the world, acting as a portal to a land where dignity and respect are the basis on which our humanity is met.

Kevin Kittoe, London

Kevin Kittoe, London

Taken as a whole, Shamsavari’s portraits are a new page in The Family of Man, offering a fresh look at life in the new millennium. She reveals, “What draws me to a person is their energy. It goes beyond what they are wearing. What I love about photography is its ability to create an instant bon between you and the person. It is a collaborative experience; you feel like you know them. We are seeing each other as human beings, and this takes it to the next level.”

It is on this new level that Shamsavari emerges, a secret polymath with plans to reveal the full scope of her talents and vision to the world. She credits celebrated photographer Jamel Shabazz as having a powerful impact on her work, noting, “What I love is his ability to elevate people. The whole world loves it because thy think it’s cool, but his work is much deeper than that. He tells people’s stories. He cares. It’s more than clothes.”

Louis Charles, History Lesson, Paris, 2014

Louis Charles, History Lesson, Paris, 2014

Indeed, the clothing is just the gift wrap; underneath is the real present: the mind, the heart, and the spirit of the individual being celebrated. The joy Shamsavari brings to the act of portraiture is evident in her work. As her subjects stand before her camera, we feel their pride and their pleasure beaming with extraordinary grace, a feeling that evokes the power of love and its mystical ability to transform our experience of life.

All photos © Sara Shamsavari.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.