By Katherine Ellis
Photography by Kareen Mallon
Arash Moallemi’s passion for photography began when traveling with his father, an architect who worked abroad. During that time, Moallemi wished he could better communicate the sites he saw to those around him, feeling that words failed to capture their beauty. After buying his first camera at the age of 13, his passion for photography was cemented in his first editorial fashion photoshoot in 1993.
After assisting in Toronto, New York, Paris and Milan, Moallemi is now one of the most recognized photographers in Toronto, who does shoots with celebrities, high-end designer brands and large corporations on a regular basis. His career spans more than 15 years and includes shoots with John Irving, Deepak Chopra, Andre Agassi, Kevin Costner, Gene Simmons and Ivanka Trump.
KATHERINE ELLIS: In your 15-year career, what is the project or moment that sticks out the most?
ARASH MOALLEMI: I think I have been very fortunate to work on some really amazing projects with some really amazing people. I also travel quite a bit, and I’ve lived in Milan and Barcelona. If you get me started I will have a ton of stories about all these different and crazy shoots, and things going wrong. Ultimately, I always look back at them and laugh.
One of the funnier stories was when my team and I missed a flight from Dubai. We had to urgently fly out but were fortunate enough that there was another flight from a sister airline. The bad news, however, was that we had to catch this flight from another airport. The flight was in an hour, and it took an hour to get to that airport! So I ended up getting a bunch of speeding tickets rushing there, not knowing about a bunch of speed traps along the way. I was really proud, thinking no one is ever going to find out [how fast I was going]. We made our flight, only for the magazine to get their Visa bill a month later and have all these speeding tickets on their statement!
You’ve been shooting for many years. Who gave you that first camera that made you decide you wanted a career in photography?
When I first started, I saved up my money and bought myself a tiny little film camera that was, frankly, crap. (laughs) But after a while, I think my Dad saw that I was really struggling, trying to get anything out of it, and he ended up giving me his own camera kit, which was very nice, and which I still have to this day. It’s a 1967 Nikon F, the original Nikon F. The camera is actually older than myself, and even to this day I will occasionally run the odd roll through it just for fun.
What type of photography do you prefer?
Honestly, I shoot many different things, and any day behind the camera is a really good day for me. I think what people don’t understand is that it is a business, and I spend most of my time running it or doing post-production. When I first started out, I actually made it a point to assist everyone, from food shoots and car shoots to fashion and interior photography. I wanted to be exposed to as many different fields of photography as I could be, and I think one of the things I owe my success to is this “cross-pollination.” Sometimes you see a food photographer use a light that no fashion photographer ever uses in that manner. So I’d think, “Oh, that’s really cool. The next time I go on a shoot I will use that same trick on a fashion model and see what that looks like!”
Do you ever make compromises on the shoots?
Honestly, I think that the word photography actually means compromise. In general, every past photograph that I look back on, has a sub-story that no one sees, except for the crew.
Some people are very camera shy, has this ever happened to you and what have you done to deal with the situation?
Well, having photographed celebrities for Hello! Canada I’m actually amazed at how many people are on TV but don’t like having their picture taken! On one shoot, we had to get John Legend comfortable. I knew he absolutely hated having a camera in his face. It was kind of crazy; all the publicists were like: ”You are supposed to be shooting, why are you not shooting?” And I said: “I have 10 minutes, I only need 30 seconds to shoot 10 frames, but I have nine minutes to get him comfortable, so he can give me what I want.” At the last minute, we took a few pictures and he was totally comfortable with it. It’s quite important: if people don’t like to be photographed, just get what you need and get the camera out of their face.
How would you describe your personal style?
I am a pretty straight jeans/T-shirt kind of guy. I spend a lot of time outside, so it’s typically greys and blacks, sometimes a splash of white, but pretty earthy tones; non-loud boring clothes. Very casual, I don’t ever have to dress up for work, and I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to.
I think the most recent addition to my wardrobe was actually from my wife. They are these wicked, comfy pyjamas that I really like wearing at home. I also love watches. They have to look good and be practical. If it’s not functioning properly or not functioning in the way that I like it to function, it’s kind of useless. I have a bunch of Armanis; most of the pieces are very simple and elegant. They are all analog watches, very beautiful in their simplicity and they work, which is a bonus.
What is in your camera bag?
I mostly shoot with Canon, Nikon and Hasselblad cameras. It’s like being a mechanic, you have different bags for different jobs, and it’s not necessarily the same bag for every single job. But every single bag has the exact same pouch that includes Tylenol, Gravol, batteries, a travel toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s the stuff that is not associated with photography but that you definitely need on set all the time.
What do you like best about photography?
I wish I could give you a grand answer, that my vision changes the world or something. But that would be the worst answer for me.
My answer is: I get to do what I really enjoy with the people that I really like!
At the studio