Faculty Spotlight: Shirin Adhami
By Ava Scheibler ‘22
The photo pictured above, titled “Providence” was taken by Shirin Adhami as she was out for a walk in Providence, Rhode Island. She saw there was a fire and happened to have her camera on her, so she took a photo. During her interview, she explained why this is her favorite photo: it was unexpected, extreme, and it captured a sad situation that would eventually bring her community closer together. The combination of “a central heroic figure” and a hose that forms almost drawing-like lines “transects the composition and edge in a graphic way” as Adhami put it. She originally became interested in photography because she was “really bad at it” and wanted to improve—she worked hard and fell in love. For all the photography geeks out there, she generally uses a medium-format Mamiya 67 or a Sony Alpha, but if she has the energy, she’ll use a 4 x 5 film camera. The photo above was taken with a Canon 5D.
Adhami worked with Netflix on the documentary titled “Wormwood,” which investigated the death of a CIA worker. She described the documentary as fast-paced and awesome, and it scored an impressive 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. She got to meet people like Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, and Errol Morris, an oscar-winning filmmaker.
Adhami was originally born in Sweden, but has lived in England, Pakistan, and Massachusetts. Besides photography, she enjoys running, yoga, gardening, and cooking. Adhami came to Milton because she has a lot of respect for the model of education here. She was really struck by the motto of ‘Dare To Be True,’ and liked how small class sizes foste lasting relationships between students and teachers. While here, she hopes to be inclusive, both in her teaching and in running the Nesto Gallery. Her ambition is to get more students involved in the gallery and to let voices “who have been excluded from art history and exhibition have a chance to be heard.”
I sat down for a brief interview with Adhami to learn more about her as an artist and person.
What is your favorite Netflix TV show?
“Hip Hop Evolution.” Also, as an alternative service to Netflix, I love Fandor art films.
What do you think is most misunderstood about art?
I think a lot of times, people think art is one thing when it’s really variable-- it can be serious and research based or very expressive and emotional. I feel like everyone has his own idea and very limited definition when it’s really a broad thing. It’s very interdisciplinary: it can be math-based or history-based, and you can learn from it in lots of different ways.
What is your favorite food?
My very favorite food is something called ghormeh sabzi, which is a Persian dish that my mom makes. It’s an herb-based sauce with kidney beans and lamb, and takes a lot of chopping so it’s hard to make and a special treat. But it’s savory so it needs dessert—like Swedish Princess cake (Marzipan shell sponge cake with cream filling).
What is your favorite song that you think everyone needs to listen to?
Either Moondog, “Do Your Thing” or Public Enemy “Fight the Power.” I also think of John Cage’s “4’33,” which is 4 and a half minutes of the sound of silence.
If you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be and why?
I think an orchid because they are kind of tenacious in the right circumstances. Just give it an ice cube every other week and it’s fine in partial shade.
If you could have lunch with any person, past or present, who would it be:
I think my grandmother. I never met my grandmother (my mom’s mom) so I would want to know what she was like. That’s my first choice. Sometimes you meet people whose work you love or admire and it’s kind of a disappointment, and their work stands alone, so I can’t assume that I’d like any one person because of their work.
What color describes your personality and why?
Turquoise. It’s almost a primary color but it’s not. It’s often found in extremes in nature—cold glaciers and tropical skies, but not in New England, or flowers—I feel like it’s a bit of an odd color. And it’s bright.
If you were stuck alone on Mars, and all of your necessities (food, water, air) were taken care of, what would you want with you?
My cat, Tim-Tim, and my camera, but also tons of pencil and paper for drawing. There’d be a lot of amazing art scenarios happening, so any art supplies I could manage to bring. And I really like Emily Dickinson, so maybe a book of her poetry. And some Persian poetry by Hafiz.
On campus, you can find Ms. Adhami teaching Art History or maintaining the Nesto Gallery.