In Conversation With: Chris Behroozian

Emerald Arguelles: Can you discuss your introduction to photography? 

Chris Behroozian: I feel like I got into photography more as an adult, my first significant introduction was taking a black and white darkroom class my last year of undergrad. I studied civil engineering and for whatever reason needed a creative elective credit and had to convince them to let the photography class count as that credit. That was the first time someone asked me why I took a certain picture, previous I had just been taking 35mm pictures with friends for fun. And I remember learning about Lee Friedlander and really loving his work, still do. 

EA: Who and what are your inspirations? 

CB: I think a big motivator and inspiration is just the fact that photography pushes me to learn more about myself and challenge how honest I’m being with myself. I’m also motivated by keeping a record of relationships in my life, like showing myself the fullness of human connection that exists around me. 

I am also inspired by projects that I feel really connected to and see myself in, that portray scenarios that I want to find myself in or that I think are meaningful or hot or give this really great feeling of queerness. Seeing that in art is very exciting to me, I think maybe because I didn’t have a formal education in art or photography and they give me such a personal entry point into the work. To name a few of those projects.. ‘Complicit’ by Matthew Morocco, ‘Variable Embrace’ by j Bilhan, ‘Heaven is a Prison’ by Mark Mcknight, ‘Lovers: Ten Years On’ by Sunil Gupta. There’s many more but those are the first that come to mind. 

EA: You document intimacy and a sense of safety in queer spaces, what led you to choose that path? 

CB: Finding some of the projects I mentioned in the previous question definitely helped get me on that path, they made me think about what interactions and relationships in my own life I wanted to bring a camera into. But also I think just leaning on my intuition and figuring out what mental place I wanted to make work from and what subject matter I wanted to focus on. So it’s my personal path I guess, I feel an intense need to be cared for as a lot of us do, and I’ve found safety in many of the queer relationships I’ve made over the years. That’s kind of a basic way of putting it but I guess my own internal emotional world has lead me there. 

EA: What has been your biggest challenge/accomplishment? 

CB: My biggest challenge is probably resisting the urge to compare myself to others and continuing to believe that making work is worth my time and energy and that there’s a purpose to it. So basically just controlling my anxiety lol such is my whole life. I also think a big challenge has been writing about my work and voicing the “why” behind it, that’s always been a struggle and source of insecurity for me. 

I wish accomplishments were as easy to think of as challenges. But I’m proud of myself for a lot of things, for continuing to make work that feels genuine to myself, for the amount of growth I’ve done in the past 5 years, for teaching myself 4×5. I also shot 4×5 on assignment last year for VICE, and shooting 4×5 on assignment was a big goal of mine. 

EA: Can you talk about your self-published zine “God Is Gay”? What was your process creating it? 

CB: That was almost like an assignment I gave myself to practice more portraiture. At the time I was still very scared to take pictures of people, it’s still a very nerve racking thing. I was also semi recently out of the closet, I think it had been maybe two years, so I was still very deep in the process of shedding a lot of catholic imposed guilt and pain. So that topic came up in a lot of conversation among queer friends of mine so I just turned it into a little project called God Is Gay. I’d record a conversation with a queer friend about being raised religious and then take their portrait, and I’d put two or three interviews into a little printed zine. I made 4 issues. I’m still really fond of that project, and connected to the topic. I think from there I moved on to making these pictures of intimacy and of queer bodies and affection or sex, and it at times feels like a rebellion of that religious past, but it’s really just me finding meaning and happiness for the first time so I also consider it a reformation of my spirituality. 

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EA: What inspired your decision to use 4×5? 

CB: After shooting medium format for a while I’d sometimes feel like I had to think of all these different pictures to take to fill up a roll of film, it would make me feel more nervous and like I didn’t have enough ideas. So the idea of 4×5 sounded nice where I could just have one or two pictures I wanted to take of someone and I could just focus all of my effort on that. I also felt like it would push me to make stronger singular images, like sometimes I’d have pictures pop into my head that I’d like to make, and with 4×5 I’d be more inclined to make them. For a couple years I went strict 4×5 and now I’m opening up to using all formats again and not forcing myself to use the 4×5 when it feels like too much. But honestly I love the whole process of it, it just feels like the most rewarding way to take a picture. 

EA: What have you learned by being invited into people’s homes to document them? 

CB: Well there’s definitely a level of trust involved. On one hand I offer to photograph people in their homes to try to inconvenience them as little as possible, and I assume that it might be the most comfortable scenario for them. But on another hand I’m asking them to invite sometimes a total stranger into their home. Usually it does lend to a more comfortable and relaxed shoot for both of us, like we can have a seat and take a breath and just hang out and get to know each other, and the photos kind of come with ease. I don’t often shoot in a studio but when I do it’s much more like okay let’s make the work, because you’re both just standing there in a room with nothing but the camera. 

EA: What do you want readers to take away from your work? 

CB: I’ve been thinking more about this the past couple years now that I’m realizing it’s necessary, since viewers can’t have the same personal connection to the people and memories in the pictures that I have. I think one thing I’d like readers to take away is a more expanded and gentle view of masculinity. I’d also like them to be left with some feeling of presence and contemplation, and maybe a sense of being held.