Hadi Salehi is a photographer, but his complex analog process goes far beyond even his compelling image captures. Working in the idiom of portraiture, Salehi augments his images with layer upon layer of color, texture, multiple exposures, text, line, and pattern. The results are analog objects with a powerful physical presence, using photography to evoke far more than likeness and instead reach into the territory of memory, nostalgia, tradition, and migration. A survey of his work of the last 15 years is currently on view at downtown gallery, The Space by Advocartsy.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
HADI SALEHI: I always wanted to be a poet, and for a time I thought I was. Everything changed when I got my first camera. I was 16 and my Russian Lubitel was like a magic box that gave me the ability to tell stories, with images rather than words. I decided then that my photography would be my form of poetry.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
It’s difficult to give a short answer because at its core, my work is about combining fragments of life, memory, and stories into layered narratives which implore the viewer to build their own world around my images. My work invites the viewer to go on a journey.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
If I couldn’t be an artist, I would really love to be a chef. I think making food is a lot like making photographs, it draws on the same areas of the soul.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. I believe in constructive education and the structure at ArtCenter helped me own my process. I really believe in the power of critique and its ability to encourage constant learning, it was a beautiful time to be engaged with artistic peers and contemporaries.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I love L.A.! I do want to live in New York before I die — not now, but someday. My work often focuses on the endless stories contained within each individual, and a diverse and sprawling city like Los Angeles is home to multitudes of subjects for me to document and draw inspiration from.
When was your first show?
For a short time, there was a gallery in Silverlake called the Ministry of Defense. In 1991 I was part of a group exhibition there comprised of local artists experimenting with analog photography. I have been a part of the city’s artist community for the past 40 years, as an artist, teacher, professional photographer. My current exhibition with Advocartsy is my first solo exhibition in L.A. and it’s been a long time coming.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
My first solo exhibition in the U.S. just opened at The Space by Advocartsy, and is currently on through November 3. The show, entitled Layers, focuses on more than 15 years of my experimentation with analog techniques and methods. It was curated in conjunction with a documentary made on my life and process which was premiered at the opening of my show. It has been an amazing ride working on this exhibition and film for over the past year.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
My work is inspired by many great artists but if I were to pick one I would have to say Robert Frank, because he captured decisive moments. I feel I am showing the same moments in many ways, except in my own style.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
Music is a huge part of my world and hugely inspires and informs my practice. I listen to everything. There is always a record spinning on my turntable when I am at work in my studio. Some of my favorites are The Clash, Curtis Mayfield, Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone, and Johnny Cash.
I will be sharing my music at the closing reception of the exhibition, as I play records selected from my personal collection. Come hang downtown on Sunday, November 3, 4-7pm at the gallery to catch my exhibition and get a taste of my favorite sounds!
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