" Samra Habib stands at the crossroads of queerness and her religion with a camera in her hand"
By: Joshua Cameron
Growing up queer in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Canada left Samra feeling like an outsider. In early 2014, the writer and activist set out on a search for others like her, Muslim people who are not necessarily accepted by mainstream Islam. Samra began travelling across North America and Europe to find other queer Muslim people with stories of being between the worlds of Islam and the LGBTQ community. The photographs from her trips became her series, Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project
Samra explains, “A lot has been written about queer Muslims in academia, but unfortunately it’s not very accessible.” With work experience in fashion journalism, she knew photography was the perfect way to document the stories she found in a universally accessible way. Historically, photography hasn’t been allowed in Islam, so there is very little photographic archival evidence of the existence of queer, Islamic people.
The need to see herself within a community fuels Samra’s work. The Just Me and Allah project combines photographs of her subjects and written accounts of their stories, in a first-person interview format, on her website. It tells the stories of queer Muslim people that would ordinarily be marginalized in an approachable and beautiful way, something Samra wishes she had access to growing up.
“I think everyone has an emotional reaction to photography,” says Samra. “I like that people are drawn in because of imagery and then can go down a rabbit hole of exploration. I do that, too, when I’m intrigued by an image. I want to know the story behind the subject, who photographed them, where they were photographed, everything.”
“I’m inspired by the spirit of my subjects, and how they carry themselves,” says Samra about her creative process. “Before photographing, I like to spend some time with them so I can understand some of their life story, their strengths and their vulnerabilities. I like to ask them to take me to spaces they feel comfortable in. This way, before I start photographing them, I have a sense of who they might be. I like to try to capture their essence instead of projecting my idea of who I think they might be.”
Samra travels to meet her subjects so she can best capture them in their own element, and as a result her photographs are usually street-style and naturally lit. “I think natural light lends itself well to a photo documentary project where I am trying to represent who the person is in an authentic way,” she says. “I don’t want my photographs to look staged, and studio photography can often look that way.”
Samra’s work has been exhibited at the Contact Photography Festival in Toronto, the International Center of Photography in New York, SOMArts in San Francisco, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Project series is part of Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives’ permanent collection. A book detailing Samra’s stories is slated for publication in 2019.
Find this story and lots more in our CANADIANS ABROAD - ISSUE #53
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