Arash Afshar

Photographer, Host of Burner Podcast and Founder of Justified Hype

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The following is a very personal post inspired by the passing of my grandfather. It includes reflections on death, memories of life in Iran, references to my spiritual views and a snapshot of my life as viewed from a couple years back.

I named this post “Bye Bye, Baba Karimi” because it had a fun flair to it with all the B’s. I don’t really believe in “bye bye” and it’s not all 100% about Baba Karimi. I just started writing and went with where it went.

My grandfather, Ahmad Nayeb Karimi, chose to leave this plane of existence at the age of ninety freaking seven.

Homie LIVED. He adventured, he traveled, he wrote poetry, he flirted and looked for any excuse he could to smile and laugh. He had this prankster energy about him; a reality distortion field of fun from which there was no escape if you happened to be around. He lived for the day and every day he had a joke to share. Some were repeats but you could rely on a daily joke as if it was your favorite sitcom in syndication. No – he didn’t die from Covid, by the way. He’d lived one hell of a full life and was simply ready to go.

Baba means dad. He was referred to by many, even those who weren’t even related to him, as Baba Karimi. It was kind of an unofficial title he’d attained as the patriarch of his family. Iranians are big on titles. If you’re an engineer or doctor, it is common for folks to refer to you Mr. Engineer or Mr. Doctor in casual social gatherings. My uncle from my dad’s side, whom I referred to as Amoo, was referred to as Mr. Colonel long after his retirement from law enforcement.*

Some of my earliest life memories were set in Tehran during the eight year Iran/Iraq war.

I’m not an expert on war history (nor am particularly interested in going down that rabbit hole) but I do know that there was a specific period of time where Sadam’s air-force had more successfully infiltrated Iranian airspace and were targeting the capital more efficiently. Tehran is a vast metropolitan city with buildings as far as the eye can see. When describing this period, Iranians often say “the bombing in Tehran had gotten really bad,” which is particularly amusing to me right now as I type this sitting in my kitchen in San Diego. Like there was an amount of missile strikes that was acceptable but for a while it was just too much, man. It was probably experiences like this that seeded in me a strong bias about the resilience of human beings. Why I don’t really buy into the doomsday narrative. It’s been my observation that no matter what madness is happening and how badly the world burns, humans find a way to live life.**

It was during this period that a large group of our family friends stayed at Baba Karimi and Maman Mehri’s (my grandmother, who passed in 2000) villa by the Caspian Sea, far away from any big city, in the simpler and not-yet-developed country regions in the north of Iran. Their place was big enough to house the most epic slumber party I’ll ever experience. Multiple families utilizing every corner we could. All the kids I grew up playing with under the same roof. Big epic dinners with all of our friends, spilling out into the massive, lush yard surrounded by thousands of roses and flowing scents of various flowers my grandmother had hand planted, meticulously maintained and named after each of us grandchildren. The sound of the water streams and clinging tea glasses. Silhouettes of lush green mountainsides looming over us. Finding the most creative corner of the house for multi-hour games of Hide and Go Seek and ghost stories on moonlit walks through undeveloped dirt roads dividing the surrounding farms and villages. Howling coyotes. Eggs and milk for breakfast fresh from the henhouse and the cows that grazed our surrounding greens. I even went to school there among the villagers for a couple of months.

It was there that Baba Karimi taught me how to play chess.

He beat me every day. Every day I’d throw a fit and cry and run into whatever empty room I could find. Then we’d play again and he’d beat me again and I’d do the same. I beat him on only two occasions. On one of those I’m pretty sure he just didn’t feel like dealing with me crying. On the second it was a legit win. I think. Point being, he didn’t pull his punches. Chess is a part of leadership development in the east. A right of passage I did not fully appreciate till I grew older.

I daydream about my grandmother often.

I’ve felt my Maman Mehri walking with me. This current more spiritual version of Arash triggered into existence for the first time when I felt her presence after recording a very strange Halloween episode of Crappy Awesome Podcast. We were recording in a haunted room in Old Town San Diego and being our typical snarky cheeky selves when I suddenly felt myself overwhelmed with emotion and had to run out of the room to breathe. When my co-hosts inquired what might have happened to me, our interview subject, psychic medium Bonnie Vent, said that I’d just accepted a spiritual reality that I may not have been ready to accept till that moment. As we were saying our goodbyes outside The Cosmopolitan Hotel, the scent of those flowers I most associated with my grandmother’s presence suddenly filled the air with such potency that I burst back into tears.

Baba Karimi was an atheist who wrote poetry on the subject and regularly poked fun at my grandmother, a practicing Muslim who prayed five times a day. They had five children. My mom and Uncle Mo are here in San Diego. I have an aunt and another uncle in London and one last aunt still in Iran, where Baba Karimi had remained. I wonder what Baba Karimi would think of my spiritual leanings. I feel like his beef was more with organized religion. I wonder what he would have thought of agnosticism.

A couple of years ago, I sent Baba Karimi an envelope of images.

I wanted to share with him a snapshot of my life. The life I often wished I could physically share with my grandparents. I feel pretty certain they’d love my burner friends. Baba Karimi would love playing with the art my friends make. My grandmother would have botanical input. They’d love to see the laughter and creativity that populates my chosen family’s daily lives. Now they’re energetically infused into my daily life rather than physical walking beside me. Last night, I ran into the folder that contained the images I’d sent my grandfather. So I decided to write this post and share those images here.

Here it is, in no particular order, a snapshot of my life as viewed from 2017(?), which I sent to my grandfather in Iran.

Me looking like a photographer in Los Angeles.

 

My nephew Adrian on my shoulders.

 

A photo I snapped of my Uncle Mo from the early 2000’s during a Father’s Day hike.

 

My cousin and uncle during that same Father’s Day.

 

Surfers on the beach. I snapped this after having not picked up my camera (like, at all) for a couple years while I processed the dissolution from my longest monogamous relationship. It was the lengthiest artist block I’ve ever experienced.

 

In a studio recording session. I believe we were interviewing DJFM, who’s face we don’t show.

 

Interviewing Dr. Steven Schlozman, Professor of psychiatry at Harvard and author of The Zombie Autopsies. Being on texting basis with him was one of the coolest things that had ever happened to me.

 

On the roof of Holiday Inn on a gig. I’ve been on a lot of rooftops. Due to security clearance factors I can’t talk about it here, but ask me about the coolest one I’ve ever experienced in person. 😉

 

Looking disingenuously important at the San Diego Asian Film Festival Awards Gala. I’ve served for multiple years as the day-of assistant to board member Sheila Kanoya who serves as the event’s Floor Manager. It’s pretty fun running around the event in a suit.

 

Photographing Shiela’s amazing daughter, Marissa, for a Maritime Month campaign.

 

Interviewing Trance icons Super8 and Tab for SoCal EDM Magazine in the green room before their show.

 

My first Burning Man.

 

On my way to my second or third Burning Man?

I discovered running thanks to the volunteer-lead November Project movement. I do miss my sweaty Wednesday mornings!

My brother doing the Race for Autism with my older nephew, Daryan, in his arms.

 

Modeling for another photographer, Monik.

And finally, some randomly selected examples of my work that happened to be on my desktop at that time.

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My grandfather transitioned in the time of Covid and he was very very popular so a physical funeral was not a possibility. We all know it would have been a pretty big event. Iranians really really show up when it comes to funerals. My cousin and I coordinated the creation of this video to honor him. It is a collection of stories and thoughts some of his closest family members. Some of it is in Farsi and it was meant to be shared really mostly with his own family, but here it is.

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*I wrote about my Amoo’s (dad’s brother) passing on Facebook when he passed back in 2017.

He was the other elder in our family I felt the strongest kinship with. A lot of similar feelings and words swirled in me. So here is the text I wrote when my Amoo passed…

 

Our uncle passed away.

People often ask me if my dad is tall and I respond that my uncles and grandpas are/were.

Yadollah Afshar was a big guy. He retired a colonel in a pre-revolution era narcotics task force which he described to me as being something like the Iranian equivalent of the D.E.A. In fact, his first visit to the United States was so he and some other members of his unit could take an F.B.I. led training course in New York City. We called him Amoo. Amoo is Farsi for uncle; specifically from one’s father’s side. Amoo is also how my brother’s son refers to me.

Amoo was a gentle and kind man. But he also had a lot of cool cop stories. One of his favorites involved going undercover as a villager through the northern mountains, near Turkish and Russian borders, in pursuit of cartels. He had told me he had a reputation as being the guy who’d fearlessly walk into rooms and bust heads when necessary. I believe his stories not have been embellishments specifically due to the fact that he was such a gentle and kind man. The confidence of a physically imposing alpha male who never needs to bark like a Chihuahua. The physical confidence that he can defend his family’s honor. He was the kind of man any man could aspire to. The warrior poet.

As a seeker of truth, I’ve almost tried to find someone to say something negative about him and have, as of yet, been unsuccessful. His calm demeanor was something I often mentally refer back to. His energy came through his every pour. He was a great example of how much more youthful a person can seem, no matter the number of decades they’ve spent in their human skin, when they actively maintain a positive energy. His philosophy was that “life is short” and that there is no logical reason to allow negativity to fester.

Amoo suffered a stroke and the last six months of his life was spent in varying degrees of silence. This was happening on the other side of the planet so it was, for me at least, difficult to feel a connection to what was actually happening. It was like reading a news clipping rather than watching the movie. Amoo’s human ego is no more and his body no longer animated. The energy that animated his body returns to the Godhead.

The entity I refer to as Amoo now lives among the ghosts that roam the hallways of our minds and consciousness. I am reminded of Alan Watts’ bit about the terrible relationship humanity has with death. About how our intensive care units are these drab, lifeless and depressing places filled with anxiety and sadness. About how silly it is to attach so much negative energy to an inevitability. Watts suggested that perhaps the death-wards would be so much less debilitating had they been designed to be cheerful places, with colorful walls and rooms for families to gather in order to celebrate a passing of consciousness… Where you’d have this menu of drugs you could take so that your final breath was taken through a euphoric smile. Now that would have been an interesting way to for a narcotics law enforcement professional to go.

We’re told his final breath was as gentle as the way he’d lived. I got to see him last year. We walked around Seaport Village and he tried on hats. We laughed together at the silliness of all the ridiculous reasons our family members quarrel with each other. This is silly… But I feel satisfied with the end of my journey with Amoo because he got to see the Arash that I am today. He got to see me with bigger arms, a smaller waistline and the confidence to walk the streets of this city like it’s my city. It’s hard to describe; it’s a man thing.

I haven’t cried yet but I’m sure I will. The body needs to process things regardless of what the mind says or perceives to know. And I’ll shepherd this experience, as I do with all things, by creating art to interpret it. I love you Amoo. Your essence continues on in everything I touch.

Peep this dope photo of my dad, Amoo and their dad.

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**If the period of time in Iran I referenced is of any interest, I have a very unorthodox movie recommendation for you…

Under the Shadow is, in many ways, a traditional haunted house movie. The protagonist is a mom and there’s a daughter who is creepily communicating with ghosts and you’re not sure if mom’s going crazy or what… Which is a pretty familiar setup. But wow did writer/director Babak Anvari do something truly transcendental with the themes in this film! It takes place during the period of time in Tehran I was describing and the little girl is about the age I was. But it gets so much deeper than the average fright flick as it explores a woman’s place in Iran, the escalating loneliness and unique cultural pressures. One of the reasons I’m often disappointed with scary movies is that usually I find myself yelling at the screen “JUST MOVE OUT OF THE STUPID HOUSE” but with this one, I truly understood and accepted why it wasn’t that easy. If you don’t mind your international cultural history conversation pieces being delivered via raised hairs all over your body, Under the Shadow should be your Halloween movie night plan this year.

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Here’s three fun photos of my Uncle Mo and Baba Karimi in three very different periods of their lives.

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