Photography alumna talks passion and success
For 33 years, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) alumna Lila Aryan ’90 (Photography) has honed her craft to become one of Milwaukee’s most accomplished and sought-after business and event photographers. Her not-so-secret trick is passion: from large-scale event photography and CEO portraiture to capturing ballet dancers and recording the joyful, everyday experiences of Wisconsin Muslims, Aryan deeply loves her craft.
In her senior year at MIAD, Aryan started working for the Milwaukee Art Museum as their events photographer. Upon graduation, she continued photographing for the museum and started working with other nonprofits. Aryan began freelancing, branching out to other types of photography and building her own business. “My father owned his own business and my grandfather before him in Jerusalem owned his own business, so I guess it was in my blood,” she says. “Their examples showed me that I could do it.”
Far from employing a scattershot approach, Aryan carefully built her business by specializing in certain kinds of photography. “I really don’t do everything,” she explains. “I do people, anything from a senior portrait to a business portrait. People, products, architecture, events, food, editorial and industrial.” Knowing her passion was vital to the success of Aryan’s photography. “I’m a huge people person, so if I shoot an event and I meet somebody, I instantly connect with them on LinkedIn,” she says. “It gets busy, but I always try to reach out to the people I’m working with or meeting out in the world.”
Building this network of relationships has served Aryan well. The skilled niche that Aryan carved for herself in Milwaukee’s photography community caught the attention of several local publications, especially the BizTimes Milwaukee. “They just revolutionized my business because they connected me to all these new businesses and people and restaurants,” explains Aryan. She also began working with MKE Lifestyle. “Between the two magazines and all the different people in the city… I’m still doing the events, but as far as portraiture, it just exploded.”
Recently, Aryan’s tenure of combined excellence in photography and dedication to relationship-building resulted in an invitation to shoot portraits for the Wisconsin Muslim Project through PBS. Although not herself Muslim, Aryan grew up in an interfaith Muslim and Christian family and had previously documented her cousins’ journeys to America. “[The Wisconsin Muslim Project] has a basic, simple premise: to show Muslims in everyday life,” says Aryan of the PBS collaboration, which was released this past April. “The whole project was about shattering stereotypes in the media.” Her portraits capture Wisconsin Muslims “enjoying life, playing with kids… all the simple joys that we all have, Muslims have those too.”
One distinguishing feature of Aryan’s portraiture is her ability to capture her subjects’ unique spirits. “I appreciate that compliment so much,” says Aryan. “Showing people’s passions, showcasing their stories, really getting that spirit to come across in the photos. That’s key!” Even though her photography may look effortless, Aryan worked hard for over three decades to hone her skills and credits MIAD for helping to develop her vision in the field of photography. “I use my fine art vision that I got from MIAD in the business world and in the editorial world, and in all of my work,” she says.
“You have to respect where you came from to know where you’re going,” Aryan continues. Since graduation, the alumna has remained closely involved in MIAD’s community, maintaining membership in MIAD’s Alumni Association since its inception in 1992 and serving on its board, where she leverages her numerous connections with many of Milwaukee’s major corporations.
“I’m definitely living my passion. I’m thankful for that every day,” says Aryan. In her line of work, she gets a lot of questions about the technical aspects of her work, like lenses and cameras. “Photography is about people, it’s about life, it’s about passion, it’s about really having an interest in what they do,” explains Aryan. “What you can learn and showcase about who they are and their story and passions in life. When you look at it in that perspective, my lenses become really boring.”
Aryan’s passion shines through in her work. Selected as the PBS NewsHour event photographer for the first-ever all-female presidential debate in 2016 and the photographer for the Democratic National Convention in 2020, Aryan continues to be recognized locally and nationally. Next up, Aryan is excited to photograph a series of artists, actors, dancers and creatives for MKE Lifestyle coming out in the fall. She is also honored to continue her involvement with the Wisconsin Muslim Project, which will be coming to Milwaukee in October 2023.
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The Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) selected the design of MIAD alum Debbie Sajnani ’16 (Communication Design) for its 2023 annual ornament. The ornaments are recreated each year by artisans using a reserve painting technique, according to MAM.