In our latest instalment of ONEOFTHE8, we catch up with Shirin Tinati - New York-based artist, actor, photographer and conqueror and yes, believe it or not, those titles all belong to the same person. It’s not often you come across people in your life that make you wonder if superheroes really do exist after all but Shirin is certainly one of them, despite her convicted belief that “the human thing to do is not heroic” but more on that later…
Shirin has a very special place in the heart of our co-founder and chief podcaster, Jake after they met during his time at university in New Jersey, USA. Shirin was the girlfriend (now, wife) of Jake’s head tennis coach, Jeff Brandes with whom he struck up a strong friendship - one he still treasures today. Now, both on opposite sides of the pond, Jake sits down with Shirin (albeit across a virtual table) to share her story with you, our readers - and what a true privilege it is too.
“I was standing facing the ocean and it was a beautiful sunny day - a calm ocean - and I turned my back and seconds later, a tidal wave knocked me down”
Shirin has the kind of presence which lights up a room. Not a filament tungsten bulb in the corner of a trendy whisky bar but a bright, blinding illuminance that spans for as far as the eye can see. What’s truly remarkable though is how she manages to bring such lustre to life when she has known such darkness. On June 17th 2013, Shirin received a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer - one of the fastest growing forms of breast cancer which came to her like a brick in the face.
“I was standing facing the ocean and it was a beautiful sunny day - a calm ocean - and I turned my back and seconds later, a tidal wave knocked me down”, she analogises. Shirin was athletic, health-conscious, a non-smoker and nothing more than an occasional drinker with a family gene pool that had a clean bill of health. The kind of person these things don’t happen to but hey, wouldn’t it be great if life was that simple.
Sitting in the waiting room of a surgeon’s office one day, Shirin laid eyes on a photo book which sat across from her on the coffee table. What was between the covers was a series of images which made her feel “physically sick”. Photographs of women who had gone through mastectomy surgery, looking gritty and defeated, and what Shirin would consider to be exploited by the unknowing male behind the lens.
During another one of her many chemotherapy appointments, influenced by a medicated mental lull, Shirin decided it was time to create her own photo book. “I wanted to make the book I needed that day when I was in the doctor’s office” and so she did - a book entitled I Am Warrior, which was published a year after she went into remission.
The book showcases a series of women at various stages of treatment for cancer, which Shirin “depicted as literary, historical, mythical warriors” because that’s what they are - and that’s what she was. Unlike the photo book in the surgeon’s office which had had such a profound impact on Shirin, I Am Warrior was empowering, almighty and uplifting because for her, “the purpose of all art is to make people connect and not feel alone”.
“The purpose of all art is to make people connect and not feel alone”
Perhaps we should backtrack a little here in telling you that Shirin is a rather accomplished photographer, hence why she poured her passions into creating the I Am Warrior photo series. It all came about whilst working on a photoshoot one day as the make-up artist, after Shirin picked up the camera and as she describes it, “[hasn’t] looked back since”. Her subjects are mostly actors and dancers, with whom she works to capture movement and range of ability to help her clients fulfil the diverse role demands of today. She doesn’t pose her subjects, but rather directs them as she would if she was shooting them in a cinematic capacity - a motif which comes from her background in studying acting and directing throughout higher education.
Through her synonymous photographic strategy, Shirin shines the spotlight on the most unique and fascinating facets of a person - a lot like what we’re trying to do here at ONEOFTHE8, just through different medium.
She hasn’t always been behind the lens either… Shirin actually started her career on stage, in front of the camera and is now a member of the prestigious Actors Studio in New York City. She waxes lyrical about the society, which has legends like Al Pacino at the helm and tells us how she fell in love with acting for the sense of “immortality” it allows her. For her, acting is “the only way in your one lifetime that you can genuinely experience other lifetimes” and we think that’s a pretty awesome way to look at it.
“A lot of people say be strong, don’t shed a tear, but when you put a coat of armour on, you’re not feeling anything. I think strength is really being in the moment and owning what you’re going through”
For Shirin, work is more than just something she does to pay the bills. She shared with us how, during her conquering of breast cancer, “working was a constant reminder that this wasn’t defining [her]” and that work was her medicine, her mentor and a guiding spirit which reminded her that the disease was “just this difficult thing that was part of [her] life - it wasn’t all of it”.
Her work fuels the fire of her every day life too. As with all ONEOFTHE8 guests, we asked Shirin what inspires her most and she paid homage to the people she photographs every day - “my career is a consistent infusion of inspiration from the people who walk into my studio”. She finds true inspiration in how they choose to break down their layers and share their stories with her through the art of photographic image.
Shirin also referred to Miep Gies who lived through Nazi-occupied Germany as the Frank family secretary, helping to conceal Anne Frank and her relatives. She admires how, in her memoirs, Miep never allowed anybody to refer to her as a hero because she didn’t deem what she did as heroic. To Shirin and Miep, protecting the Frank family in the face of danger “was human - something that is in all of us to do” and “the human thing to do it not heroic”. So, back to our earlier comment about Shirin’s rejection of heroism at the beginning of our article… her humbleness is one of the things which makes her so endearing but there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that Shirin is a superhero in our eyes.
If you’d like to see more if Shirin’s incredible photography, make sure to check out her website. To find out more about her truly inspirational story, her refreshing outlook on life and her remarkable time healing in a natural mineral spring in France, don’t miss her episode on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.