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Fernando Astiazarán, The Artist in the Architect

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Budding architect Fernando Astiazarán approaches every photograph as he approaches every building; simultaneously creating & capturing symmetry, contrast, lighting, focal points, and perhaps most importantly—ambience. While careful design alone is often sufficient to produce an aesthetically pleasing product, Astiazarán’s talent lies in his knack for combining technical skill with his ability to construct ambience, the intangible element that transforms a house into a home, a photograph into a memory, an architect into an artist.

Made in Mexico, Astiazarán’s family immigrated to the United States in 2002, when he was six years old. Raised in Los Angeles, Astiazarán remained on the west coast for college, studying architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. While Astiazarán flirted with DSLR photography for years, photographing friends and documenting his design projects, it was film photography that captivated the architect’s gaze.

Astiazarán was first exposed to film photography in a beginner’s photography class through a program at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center. “I was immediately hooked,” said Astiazarán, recounting the many hours that he spent, far beyond the course’s requirements, developing photos in the dark room.

“Everything really goes back to film. Even the icons for the dodging and blocking tools on Photoshop are based off of the actual tools that you use to do that in the dark room,”

marveled Astiazarán.

Astiazarán initially focused on street photography, taking the metro into nearby Washington, D.C. while studying at the Alexandria Architectural Center and taking his camera along on all his travels elsewhere. According to Astiazarán, the skills one develops practicing street photography are extremely transferable to all genres of photography. “You have to be patient with timing…adaptive, using people and environmental conditions out of your control to help create atmosphere instead of just waiting for things to be ‘perfect’,” advised Astiazarán. “I try to catch people when they’re not looking—because it’s more genuine-feeling but also because I still get intimidated sometimes by taking photos of strangers. Do I ask permission? Is it weirder if I do or weirder if I don’t?” Astiazarán laughed.

While Astiazarán now focuses primarily on portraits for his commissioned work, his approach is clearly inspired by the documentary, cinematic style of his street photography. Astiazarán’s unique approach to graduation photography is particularly notable; instead of photographing solely the graduate, Astiazarán documents his subject’s journey to becoming a graduate. He documents where they lived, cooked, studied, wandered, and wondered—all with impressive technical skill and a confidential yet warmly familiar perspective.

While his documentary-style portraiture and street photography often assume a more serious tone, Astiazarán infuses his work with an unexpectedly subtle playfulness. In his most recent graduation shoot, he shot his subject awkwardly yet endearingly fixing his bike (actually fixing it, not just posing). In another shoot, he positioned a couple in the foreground, focusing the photograph not on them but on the gaggle of their peers observing their obvious flirtation. Even though the shot was clearly posed, as anyone who has flirted with someone else at a party can attest, Astiazarán’s art does in fact imitate life.

Astiazarán continues to develop himself as an artist by developing more film in the dark room, experimenting with new techniques, new subject matter, and commercials in addition to portrait photography. A quintessential Angeleno, Astiazarán hopes to dabble in movies as well, though his dedication to inspired yet intimate authenticity is atypical to LA in the very best way.

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