Scrolling through the hundreds of photos on Davood Dashti’s Instagram is like taking a grand tour around the world. From the Coliseum in Rome, Red Square in Moscow, the beaches of Hawaii and even University Avenue at UMass Lowell, Dashti captures vibrant, expertly composed images that he shares with his 4,000-plus followers.
But of the thousands of pictures Dashti has taken, you won’t find his favorite online. It has a special place on the wall of his off-campus apartment.
“It’s a portrait I took of my mother, Fatemeh, at home before I came to the USA,” says Dashti, a native of Yazd, Iran, who arrived at UML in 2015 to study international business in the Manning School of Business. A friend in Iran had earned his MBA from the Manning School, which inspired Dashti to enroll through the Global Student Success Program (formerly Navitas).
“I couldn’t speak English very fluently at first, so it was definitely helpful to be around other international students for the first few semesters,” says Dashti, who had to adjust to cold, snowy winters and American food (he’s become a fan of cheeseburgers).
Photography also helped Dashti become more comfortable. In his free time, he would grab his Canon EOS 6D and explore the campus and surrounding city. He soon widened his lens to Boston and New England, captivated by the colorful changing seasons.
“My favorite place to take photos is definitely New England,” says Dashti, who’s had the opportunity to travel across much of the U.S. – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon – since coming to college. He finds the UML campus uniquely photogenic. “It has a lot of beautiful landscapes, especially on South Campus. And I like behind Wannalancit Mills, the park with the trees along the river. It’s so colorful in the fall.”
Dashti enjoyed drawing and painting as a youngster. When he got his first camera (an iPhone 4) in 2012, he realized he had an eye for photography.
“I started taking pictures of whatever I saw around me – flowers, windows, doors – simple things, and I shared them on Instagram,” says Dashti, who chose the nom de guerre “David Saurik” as a nod to a software developer known for jailbreaking Apple’s operating systems. “My friends encouraged me to take more photos. They said, ‘You have a unique view. You are gifted.’ That really motivated me to continue.”
As his Instagram following grew, Dashti upgraded to a “real” camera and learned how to use photo editing software. He filled his memory card with photos of the traditional clay buildings in his home city of Yazd. He entered a photo competition in Iran – and won. “Everything changed in my life,” he says of discovering a passion for photography.
Entering his senior year in the Manning School, Dashti looks forward to using his business degree to help launch a career as a professional photographer. He would love to travel the world and take photos for National Geographic or the New York Times. Or maybe he’ll start his own company.
“My business degree can definitely help me become a professional photographer,” he says. “It teaches you how to deal with customers, promote your product, find your location or manage your money.”
He’s already on his way. He’s had two photo exhibits at the Eggroll Cafe on North Campus and sold almost all of the prints displayed for $10 each. He also offers his services at weddings and other events.
Not bad for someone whose only formal training is a few summer workshop classes in Boston.
While Dashti is always thinking about how to compose a photo, he says the real secret to his images can’t be taught.
“Photography is something very close to my heart,” he says. “When I feel something with my heart, then I capture it. Hopefully, the result will be something awesome.”