Aside from being a recent addition to the Wonderful Machine family, Atlanta-based conceptual photographer Pouya Dianat, is also the team photographer for the Atlanta Braves. Exciting, I know! Pouya spends much of each baseball season shooting on Turner Field, however, unlike many team photographers, Pouya also maintains a steady freelance photography business as well (one of his reasons for joining Wonderful Machine was to expand his commercial/editorial work). Intrigued with his photos, goals, and his behind the scenes baseball knowledge, I decided to interview Pouya to get the inside scoop. Enjoy!
How did you first get into photography?
I got into photography by default. Growing up I was terrible at pretty much everything. My parents tried to get me involved at a young age in sports, music—you know, the sort of things kids do after school so they can be active and social. I was not very athletic, possibly tone-deaf, and the only reason I was ever in a play was to goof off. The summer after 7th grade, I took a photo class at the local arts center in Rockville, Md. and everything started off there for me. Something definitely clicked. I wasn’t crazy about darkrooms, which were a big part of the work back then, but I saw them as a necessarily evil. I would rather spend my time out shooting, meeting new people and seeing different things. It was a fun way to experience the world, walking around with a camera slung on my shoulder.
What do you like most about being a photographer?
I very quickly realized this is one of the few jobs in the world where I could see and do pretty much everything while working. This career meant having the front row seat in the show of life. Being a photographer for me has meant finding things I’m absolutely fascinated by and finding a way to photograph them. I love that I’ve been able to spend a time on a lobster boat and in a major league clubhouse for a historic moment.
How would you describe your photography style?
I don’t think I have a style, not yet anyways. I’ve got a few decades and a couple thousand more assignments before I have a style. Even then, I think it’ll be something organic that just comes out of having worked for so long. I wouldn’t want a style to define anything I do right now. I really think that STYLE can be a little problematic, you shoot something one way, with one approach for so long you forget that what made you a good photographer in the first place was your ability to see things differently. For now, I approach each job by trying to get the most unique images possible. I try to deliver something I’m proud of and do something different with each shoot.
How did you become the Atlanta Braves team photographer?
I was working for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I had previously interned at three papers including the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the AJC and the Washington Post. But I was sitting there at the precipice of the collapse of the newspaper industry. I looked around me and saw that every reason I had worked at newspapers had been thrown out the door. The type of work I wanted to do—whether it was long-term projects, elaborate lighting setups, assignments that showed me something new and exciting—had all but vanished at the paper. I wasn’t really worried about my job being taken away, but I was more concerned about putting myself in a position to do the kind of work I wanted to do. The Braves had an opening and because of the relationship I’d nurtured with them, they invited me on board. I jumped at the opportunity to not only get phenomenal access to cover a sports team, but also having the off-season to work on my personal projects and other freelance work.
What do you do when you’re not shooting for the Braves?
I have a bevy of ideas in my to-do pile for personal projects. They range from documentary projects to commercial concepts to some random ideas that I want to pull off. I also have a few folks that call me for freelance work. Right now, the top priority outside the season is positioning myself to do the kind of work I want to do. I’m focusing on a lot of portraiture and motion and I’m starting to learn a lot more about the commercial world. The off-season can be summed up pretty simply by saying that assuming all goes as planned, it’s the time to take ideas from wherever they’ve been scribbled and deliver a completed project.
What’s it like being a team photographer?
Familiarity can be a double-edged sword when it comes to sports photography, but that really puts the pressure on me to produce different images. Whether that means try a new shooting position, camera, lens, or get more access or do something unique with the images. My main goal with the Braves is to outdo myself every single year—with every element of the work that they’re looking for.
Any dislikes with being a team photographer?
I don’t like how much hair I’ve lost in the many many bottom of the 9th inning walk-offs I’ve witnessed.
Where do you want to take your photography?
I want to really focus on four areas of work for the time being—growing in the realms of sports, portraiture, commercial and motion. The things I’m drawn to right now tend to be a combination of all four of those things. I like conceptualizing the still and motion elements of a campaign myself. I think it tends to provide a strong continuity in ad campaigns. I think I have a strong sense of what sorts of images excite sports audiences. I know the names and faces of the game well enough to create portraits that fit their personalities on the field. I spend a lot of days dreaming up ideas and I think the key to my success right now will be putting the time and effort into making those ideas a reality.
What’s your ideal photo assignment?
My ideal assignment right now would be being approached by any client/agency to direct their visuals for an ad campaign. So for instance, a major sports apparel company wants to do a series of print and broadcast ads for an upcoming Olympics. They want the broadcast and print ads to be visually connected and they want me to dream it all up. I know its a long shot, but that’s what I’m working toward.
What’s your ultimate photography goal?
My ultimate goal is to love the work I do and be able to have the time/resources to explore the vast world of photography and keep trying new things. I think exploring and learning is crucial to growth as a photographer. I believe if there’s passion and creativity behind your images that the money will come. And to get that passion and creativity is a result of putting pressure on yourself to grow, learn and take risks. I remember seeing an old Ansel Adams documentary a long time ago, and while the details are spotty, what has stuck with me most was that the preeminent master of large format black and white photography was futzing around with a digital camera. He must’ve been in his 80s at the time, and his calling card was his gorgeous landscapes and here he was sliding a floppy disk into some terrifyingly large digital camera. He knew that technology drives how we do our work, but he must’ve reconciled that with the fact that the least important thing was the camera in his hands, but rather the eyes behind the viewfinder.
How do you plan to reach your goal?
I am going to be devoting a significant portion of my year to learning the advertising industry. I’ll spend the rest of that time working on personal projects. I think those projects will challenge me and force me to learn a lot very quickly. I strongly believe that there’s no substitute for learning other than throwing yourself into the mix. I am going to shoot a couple spots that I’ve had scripted/storyboarded for a while. I’m going to seek out portrait projects and really start developing my skills in that area to new levels.