Saam Gabbay

A commercial photographer and director, Iranian-born Saam emigrated to the U.S. as a child. The trauma and loss from this childhood transition made it difficult for him to retain memories well He began photographing as a means of documenting his experience as well as overcoming cultural boundaries and forging connections.

Saam was drawn to many different tools growing up and initially dove into music composition and as an autodidact composed from a young age into his 30s. His first career was as one of the pioneers in the motion graphics industry. After directing national commercials and working on campaigns for Apple. Acura and Shell he noticed that his clients were asking him to shoot stills as well and became a commercial photographer in his mid-40s.

Iranian culture is one of deep attunement. When one is socialized to say “yes,” one must constantly scan micro-expressions for whether a “yes” is really a “no”. Similar to improvisational jazz musicians who listen for micro-cues, when Saam is shooting, his goal is to create that same sense of connection and attunement that he experiences culturally and when playing music.

His films and images aim to show that sense of connection and the sensation of being alive.


This project unfolded because my birthday happened in the middle of the coronavirus quarantine. Uncertainty created a shared vulnerability and heightened sense of daily gratitude.

I canceled a planned gathering and decided to see my friends and family at their homes.. Not that I could go near them. Instead, I photographed them from outside, looking in. I mapped out a route from Venice to Pasadena and asked to meet at their windows at a set time.

Shot from 7:45AM to 9:00 PM, the #touchlessbirthday photographs became a document of our shared isolation while the accompanying video shot concurrently became the birthday party and about the exuberance of connection.

Full project:

To view more of Saam Gabbay’s work please visit their website.