Journalist and photographer Sara Afzal shares how her relationship with her father spawned her love of photography.
I opened up the old boxes to start the ritual. It was time to dive into the past to see the hundreds of photographs capturing my childhood. Me feeling small standing in front of a towering redwood or me running after a golden retriever at the beach—these were glimpses into the nature I loved as a California kid. The stacks of photos showed other common themes: my mother’s flawless ability to match our outfits so we twinned into the vibe of Annie Hall, the family gatherings where I was the youngest among my cousins, and the valued presence of my grandparents who had left their homeland of Iran without a word of English to see their grandchildren grow up in the U.S.
As we age, our memories become foggy, but these photos allow me to live these moments over and over again. My father created these stacks with his flawless composition, his use of the rule of thirds, and his experimental framing of shots. Each time, I go through his photo collection, it informs my own photography style. His vintage Nikon 35mm camera sits next to the photo boxes in Santa Clarita, California, where I grew up. He remains so attached to the idea of hard-copy photographs he has even printed out my recent selfies to give the photo stacks a modern update. My father gave me a gift I carry closely: an eye.
My impulse is to photograph my surroundings. The prospect of capturing a photographic moment among the ordinary scenes we see every day is something I live for—an element of finding magic in the mundane. For example, I recently photographed the random appearance of abandoned ‘OC’ DVDs in the middle of a park and a pedestrian fighting the city heat with a neon umbrella. There is a story behind these moments. I’m consumed by capturing these unique scenes that may otherwise go unnoticed if I’m not hyper-aware.
I often go on photo adventures throughout New York City’s boroughs. The Lower East Side has become a new infatuation as it’s easy to find NYC’s signature grittiness through the street art coloring the cityscapes. I suddenly become an observer in a city greater than 8 million people on a search to find the moments worthy of a DSLR click. This year, I launched the Instagram account, Afzal’s Planet, so that I could share my work publicly.
My father and I live nearly 3,000 miles apart, but we can speak in the language of photography. My version of the hard stacks he created is to text him the photos I take digitally. I want him to see what life in New York City is like. Every time I go back home and look at those stacks of photos sitting back in Santa Clarita, I’m in awe of my father’s creative eye and thankful that he’s inspired it in me.