Photographer Kainaz Amaria has been born and brought up in America. As a child, when she’d tell her friends at school she was a Zoroastrian, they thought she was pretending to be a superhero.
Years later, Amaria came to India to understand her Zoroastrian heritage better by spending time with and documenting the lives of Parsis (which is how we know Zoroastrians) in India today. Amaria’s has selected some of her footage and made a video titled Being Zoroastrian. It includes beautiful photographs and rare scenes like a ceremony inside a fire temple. Amaria spoke to us about Being Zoroastrian.
At this point, Being Zoroastrian is a series of photographs and the little documentary you’ve put up on Vimeo. How do you see it developing?
I’d like to continue telling stories about the community and the faith. A natural place to start would be here at home in the US, but eventually I’d really like to visit Iran and experience the Zoroastrian community there. My work has really just scratched the surface and what I’d like it to do is to create a dialogue and inspire others to share their stories in whatever creative outlet they can find. What I’ve learned during my photojournalism career is that everyone has a story and that there is value in sharing those experiences.
You lived in Mumbai for two years, working on this project. How was that experience for you both as someone returning to our roots and also as a photographer?
Mumbai is a photographer’s muse. Actually all of India is, for that matter. It can be overwhelming at first, but if you are open to experiencing new cultures it can be a real eye-opening journey. One thing I did realize is that Mumbai runs on its own pace and time. To fight against it is futile. You have to embrace the chaos and allow yourself to be consumed by the energy. Mumbai is a city of extremes so it was important for me to try to keep a semblance of balance within myself.
You filmed inside a fire temple. Considering the secrecy over fire temples, would the priests mind this? Why did you want to include this footage?
All the footage from the fire temple was filmed with the proper permissions. I included the footage because many Zoroastrians haven’t had the chance to experience or see a ceremony inside a fire temple. It is an important expression of the faith and I don’t think the film would have been complete without sharing that experience.
Has working on this project made you embrace the faith any more than you had in the past?
Every project I work on gives me a deeper understanding of the human condition. This one was personal and it brought me closer to respecting my heritage and ancestry. I still struggle with the institutional aspects of the religion but I have grown a deep respect for our prophet’s philosophies. Zoroaster’s teachings still resonate in today’s popular culture; something many people aren’t aware of. That subject in itself can be a separate film.
How did the people you met react to you wanting to do this project? Did you feel welcome?
That wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Being American, many people were skeptical in speaking with me. They assumed I was too liberal to understand the orthodox viewpoint. Others were skittish in speaking with a journalist. So trust was something I had to earn and that took a long time. Access is a privilege that is earned and can never be taken for granted.
As a child growing up in America, when you’d tell friends in school that you were a Zoroastrian, they thought you were pretending to be a superhero. If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
I would want to be able to speak every language in the world. To be able to communicate freely with anyone would be an incredible superpower – especially for a storyteller.