Archives for category: photography

Hey Folks! If you’re in the Baltimore/DMV area, look out for this upcoming show at Meroe Gallery. It is a merging of visual art and poetry. I have two photographs featured in this exhibition:

Soul Revival. Opens May 1st!

The opening reception is May 1st from 6pm-9pm. See you there!

visit this site for more info:

Telegraph (c) Nijla Mumin

What happens when I decide to look? To not be looked at. What happens? Lately, I’ve considered putting my camera down. Leaving it in the drawer of things one leaves behind. The things that one outgrows. But I haven’t outgrown photography. Photography has outgrown me.

If I am to call myself a photographer, I am to call myself a documentary photographer. I get the most joy in photographing people I don’t know, or even the ones I do know in the most emotionally telling situations. Evaluating the light half cast on their face and eyes is like a dream. I am most comfortable with my 35mm film camera. No studio, models, and light kits can ever match the feeling I get when I frame and execute photography outside in natural light; when I document people and situations that tell stories words cannot. I am in love with this way of photographing. So why would I want to be put my camera away?

Lately, it has been extremely hard to be a black female documentary photographer. As if it wasn’t hard enough to be a black woman in the world, a black woman who takes pictures of the world and frames images of the world adds a larger dimension of difficulty that impedes my ability to create art. Recently, a male photographer colleague advised me to “take off my ‘lady’ hat and just shoot.” I nodded, because it sounded so simple coming off his lips. I wish it were simple to take off my “lady hat,” but it’s not. My gender and race mark me in any space I venture. In my neighborhood, I am whispered to, catcalled at, grunted at, and expected to respond to every male expression of attraction around me. I am uncomfortable almost 95% of the time I’m on the sidewalk. The times I do bring my camera, it ends of being suffocated in my purse for the whole day because instead of me wanting to spend time on the street documenting my people, I really just want to get away from them. I want to get away from men feeling like I’m obligated to speak to them, rub their egos, and respond to sexually charged comments and aggression. To stay that this doesn’t affect my ability to document, would be to lie to you.

I find my very presence as black female to impede my ability to “just shoot,” to just appreciate the beauty of my people. Because of the attention I am given on the street and in my community, a largely West Indian and black community, I am unable to document in the way that I want to. In the way that I was trained to do. In this sense, photography has outgrown me. I am unable to grow with my practice because that very practice is limited to discomfort and quick, rushed shots that take the enjoyment and excitement out of what I’m aiming to do.

I’ve begun to ponder taking alternative methods to my practice- asking certain people if I could photograph and follow them, or devoting time to a specific project or group of people. But I am always pulled back to that one image on the street that I miss out on capturing because I’m fearful that my photographing may draw dreaded, distinct attention to me. It has happened before, and I didn’t even have my camera.

I just want to shoot.

Baldwin @ Guerilla Cafe

I’ve taken some photos. Here are some that I rather appreciate.

Oscar Grant's daughter, Tatiana, at the "Gone but Not Forgotten" rally/vigil in Oakland

A very talented Haitian musician at D'Wayne Wiggins House Party Tour of Relief- Haiti Benefit

peace of pomegranate

more to come…


One of my favorite photographers died today; he was 89. His name was Roy DeCarava. He was one of the most skilled and talented photographers EVER. He created incredibly moving images by documenting Black life in the 1950’s, 60’s and onward. His use of light, juxtaposition, texture, tone, and emotion remain unrivaled. He maintained a certain intimacy with his subjects that rendered beautiful images.

I was introduced to his work when I was becoming a photographer. His ability to capture the essence of a mood or moment struck something in me.

Anyone who calls them self an image-maker- painter, photographer, filmmaker – should experience his work.

RIP Roy DeCarava






See this link for more information:

Naomi jumping rope with monkeys

Naomi jumping rope with monkeys

Naomi running with cheetahs

Naomi running with cheetahs

These images appear in the September 2009 issue of Harpers Bazaar magazine. They were shot by French photographer Jean Paul Goude.

Okay, so I don’t have time right now to write about how extremely problematic, racist, and stereotypical these images are, but I will say that there’s been a deliberate and intentional trend of advertisers and high fashion magazines continually linking black women and women of color models with the likes of animals and the jungle- leopards, cheetahs, monkeys, etc, historically and presently. Our bodies have become “things of the wild,” encompassing the unruly,  and “exotic.” The first image is particularly absurd as we see Naomi Campbell playing double dutch with monkeys as a white man looks on. This finds its foundation in “Orientalist” European Explorer folklore/propaganda where white men venture “into the wild” for a look at the “exotic” life in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, etc. I argue that a white model would not be placed in this same “jungle” theme.

If you want to read more about race and representation and why these types of images are problematic and have a very troubling history, refer to works by bell hooks (Black Looks: Race and Representation + many more), The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, by Deborah Willis and Carla Williams,  writings by Shohat and Stam, Edward Said (Orientalism + others), Maurice Berger (White Lies), + read this poem by awesome poet Suheir Hammad that directly confronts the “exotification” of women’s bodies:


suheir hammad

don’t wanna be your exotic

some delicate fragile colorful bird

imprisoned caged

in a land foreign to the stretch of her wings

don’t wanna be your exotic

women everywhere are just like me

some taller darker nicer than me

but like me but just the same

women everywhere carry my nose on their faces

my name on their spirits

don’t wanna

don’t seduce yourself with

my otherness my hair

wasn’t put on top of my head to entice

you into some mysterious black voodoo

the beat of my lashes against each other

ain’t some dark desert beat

it’s just a blink

get over it

don’t wanna be your exotic

your lovin of my beauty ain’t more than

funky fornication plain pink perversion

in fact nasty necrophilia

cause my beauty is dead to you

I am dead to you

not your

harem girl geisha doll banana picker

pom pom girl pum pum shorts coffee maker

town whore belly dancer private dancer

la malinche venus hottentot laundry girl

your immaculate vessel emasculating princess

don’t wanna be

your erotic

not your exotic

© Suheir Hammad

DC is

(my take)

DC is scuffed black Nike Boots

bad roads that snarl at tires

teenage girls talkin’ bitches and niggas on the bus-

making a grandma sweat in her flower print dress

is schizophrenic weather

and schizophrenic black homeless men with stained shirts in downtown

pressed black suits and stiff ties,

blue eyes stare away from the homeless men in downtown

is black fathers holding black babies on the way to somewhere


DC is loneliness

Go-Go in the air

a boy’s rattle snake hands

jumping out for a taste

of me

humidity so thick I can’t scissor through it

feet jumping on a basketball court

cherry blossoms and police sirens

empty pockets and the white house

decaying buildings

and their half a-million dollar replacements

DC is female fistfights in Southeast


DC is dreadlocks

short and limp

long and medusa

conscious sistas spreading rumors about me

then blaming it on the wind

DC is babies everywhere

on the metro train, waving at me

out of car windows

DC is maternal


DC is silence and mambo sauce

carry-outs and dark alleys

El Salvador and injera

men yelling hey baby, why don’t you smile

or Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?!


DC is where I live

for now

-Nijla   (C)2009

roses and wire

roses and wire

mother and daughter at BART

mother and daughter at BART

Photography has been hard for me since last summer when I was physically attacked while walking home in DC. The attack wasn’t precipitated by my camera but the fear that the attacker might take my camera, which was in my purse at the time he tried to rip it from me, ran deeper than my physical scars. I’ve struggled with this.  I discovered my love of photography through documenting the people and things around me- complete strangers who become closer to me with each frame- a young mother holding her child’s hand as they walked down the steps or a young nomad staring off into the distance in Berkeley. The beauty in everyday life brought me to a place, a feeling, which I have not recently encountered.

Now, 1 year to the day of my attack, I am going back to that place. I am returning to the days of snapping life- perfect strangers who become my best friends when I develop their photos in the darkroom.

I’ve been doing a lot of commercial/staged photography lately, and while I enjoy creating images with people, I also yearn to be back on the street, walking, framing, evaluating the natural light, and adjusting my f-stop and shutter accordingly. I witness poignant moments everyday- three little boys with no shirts standing at a crosswalk talking and eating pop sickles, a black father taking his young children into the library. In an age where we’ve become inundated with the “Save Africa,” “US vs. them” images of starving, dependent “third-world” people by the mainstream media, it is extremely important that photographers of color (and other marginalized groups) take back the camera in an attempt contribute to the way that we are framed and presented in today’s visual landscape.

Famous war photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” I like to get close enough to capture the essence of what’s going on. I cannot wrack my mind worrying about the danger that may befall me in these endeavors. I am but a servant of the people and things I photograph, a channel through which their beauty is magnified. I am there to connect with the people and the moment, not to judge it. Most times, people don’t even know I am taking a photo of them, but I still operate with a foundation of sincerity.

I’ll be shooting this weekend with my Pentax. I hope for light.

young nomad in Berkeley

young nomad in Berkeley

taken in Mamelodi, South Africa

taken in Mamelodi, South Africa

Juma (taken in Mamelodi, South Africa)

Juma (taken in Mamelodi, South Africa)

South Africa

South Africa

Art of life

Art of life