Capturing Culture

Gabi Berchtold

A 10-year-old Arianna Shooshani ’18 borrowed her mom’s DSLR camera and ventured into her backyard.

There, she played with the settings and shot images of the plants and objects around her.

Shooshani is a two-time winner of YoungArts. This year she became a finalist in the competition, and she received an honorable mention last year for her portfolio.

“YoungArts is a really cool program,” Shooshani said. “I submitted [my portfolio] last year, and I got honorable mention, which I thought was going to be the peak. I submitted [my portfolio] again this year, and I didn’t think that I would win anything to be completely honest, but I ended up getting a Finalist award.”

Finalists in the YoungArts competition have the opportunity to participate in National YoungArts Week. The week-long program is located in Florida, where finalists are able to take classes and participate in workshops. Participants will also be evaluated for additional awards.

Internationally recognized individuals in the photography field will be Master Teachers in the program. One such teacher is Sylvia Plachy, a celebrated photographer.

“Not only will I be talking to professional adult photographers, but [I will also speak to] other people my age doing the same thing as me and figuring it out as well,” Shooshani said. “Also, there will be a lot of creativity and people trying to help [me] succeed.”

Shooshani first heard about the YoungArts competition in her ninth grade photo class when visual arts teacher Joe Medina told the class about the program and encouraged them to apply.

Medina said the program was a good opportunity for college because of scholarships and experience.

Shooshani has been interested in photography for most of her life, and her interest in photography further developed in her ninth grade photography class.

Shooshani said she was interested in taking photography when she first applied to Harvard-Westlake; however, she was not able to fit classes into her schedule until she was in ninth grade.

Shooshani took both Photo I and Photo II in ninth grade. During second semester, there was no class period she could join, so she and Kate Von Mende ’18 had their own section and did assignments together.

As her knowledge of photography expanded in her classes at school, her level of seriousness in the discipline increased.

“I only started doing serious photography in ninth grade in the photo class,” Shooshani said. “Mr. Medina introduced us to [the ‘Sense of Place’ project], and that was the first unified body of work that I’ve ever developed that I’m proud of.”

Shooshani also had her photography displayed in an exhibit at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica last year. Two works from her trip to Cuba and one from her “Sense of Place” project were featured in the dnj Gallery.

Photography is Shooshani’s favorite medium because it allows her to instantly have an end result and it is easier to continuously take photos until she is satisfied.

According to Shooshani, she tried to do other types of art, but she was never interested enough to continue with it, or she became frustrated that she wasn’t good enough.

“I’ve always thought photos are really cool as a concept because you’re able to capture a moment in time that may not be the same in a few seconds,” Shooshani said. “I’m able to express myself in that way. I can show people my point of view on something, and I am able to capture and keep it for as long as I want.”

She said she doesn’t take her camera out that much unless she has a set goal.

She always has her phone on her, and when she sees something pleasing to the eye, she will take a picture or two to keep for herself.

Shooshani’s favorite pieces draw inspiration from the people and things around her that she then combines with her unique perspective. Shooshani’s style is mainly documentary photography, but she still takes abstract and natural photos as well.

“My best work comes from stuff that’s closest to me, more specifically my family and my life because I’m able to see points of view that most people can’t see,” Shooshani said. “Even if you know me super well, it’s hard to explain some things that I show in my photos.”

Shooshani’s works depict her influence, she said. One of Shooshani’s recent photographs depicts her sister in her bathroom, gazing into a mirror.

“Recently, I was doing a project at my sister’s house with her, and she had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was really upset about it, and on top of her mirror in her bathroom, she had a poster that she painted ‘I will love life unconditionally’ on,” Shooshani said. “I think it’s a really cool photo because the lighting is interesting and it captures a mood.”

Shooshani said her sister Camille Shooshani ’13, whose house she shot at, was receptive to the idea of modeling for her.

Camille Shooshani thought that the idea was cool and encouraged her to photograph even more.

Shooshani said she has done photography projects at her grandparents’ house in Beverly Hills because it’s really unique and displays their culture in a meaningful way, and her family was happy that she did so.

Shooshani said she wants to go back to her grandparents’ house and work on shooting more to capture their family’s rich culture and heritage.

Printed with permission from Ari Shooshani.

Printed with permission from Ari Shooshani.