How one chooses to go about balancing work and faith is completely personal, but we can all agree that these two aspects of life do indeed effect each other to a certain extent. When it comes to photography, whether you perceive it as an art or a hobby, the boundaries which we choose to set professionally vary from person to person. Being a woman has it’s general every day struggles, but being a south-Asian and Muslim woman who actively chooses to follow her faith every day, also makes for some interesting stories and experiences. Regardless of what it entails, I personally would not have it any other way.
We recently interviewed three female Muslim photographers to get their take on what it’s like for women like us in the art industry…
Nabiha Chowdhury, who loves travel and outdoor photography: @ennciao
Shefa Ahsan, who photographs nature, scenery and portraits: @photosbyshefa
and Fariha Tasneem, who does weddings and portraits: @fariha.tasneem.photography
NC: I find that clients generally do not treat me any differently, though if anyone were to ask me questions about whether I'm comfortable in certain situations, I would be appreciative of their consideration.
SA: Majority of my clients right now in terms of weddings happen to be Muslim. So luckily, we can bypass those aspects. If my clients did ask me, however, if it’s okay mixing with men or being present at events that serve alcohol, I would feel respected. Whether I do or don’t take part in either doesn’t matter to me, but them asking me does. It tells me that they care about me enough to be educated, and want me to be comfortable.
FT: Desi Clients typically start with bargaining, A LOT of bargaining. I don't mean that they ask for a discount. They ask for me to take my price down by more than half and then they start to why can't you do it if everyone else can. I no longer entertain those conversations. I would say that there is a sense of disrespect they feel is okay to show because I am a hijabi Muslim woman, and because I am south Asian. However, the nice ones are very very nice! They give us a table and give us 15 minutes to eat. When they tell me male and females are in different rooms, I usually bring one of my male photographers to cover that area. When they ask if I would be comfortable with a certain situation, I want to jump up and hug them because manners make me and my team feel very welcome and happy!
NC: I definitely agree that there is a cultural stigma within the South Asian community when it comes to pursuing any type of art as a career. This hasn't necessarily applied to me since I am not a career photographer and generally take on projects as a hobby but there is definitely a distinction between the way being an artist of any sort is perceived inside and outside the community.
SA: To be honest, I don’t think I ever see myself as a hijabi photographer, as opposed to just a photographer. It’s never really affected me in any way that I can notice when it comes to shooting. In terms of the community, I totally agree with you. I, too, am South Asian and to be a photographer is to be a failure in many people’s eyes. I used to feel like I wasn’t being taken seriously during my beginning years. It used to bother me because I care about this so much – photography was and still is my entire life – and I wanted people to respect it as much as they did other fields. But now I respect myself and my field, and that’s changed the way people also view me - for the better, Alhamdulillah.
FT: Oh definitely, 100% I am looked down on. But I am at a stage that I couldn't care less. I have two degrees and I teach at a college. Usually I don't tell people that because I want them to see me as a photographer, not anything else. Only my students know I have two careers and they are the only ones that need to know. I love what I do and will continue to do it so as long as I love it.
NC: I have turned down projects that I did not find interesting or inspiring, or if I felt I was the wrong "type" of photographer for the job. Of course, I am able to be more selective and sparse in projects I take on since I do not depend on photography to make a living and I'd encourage any artist to make sure to step outside of their comfort zone occasionally as it can be an opportunity for growth or a chance to discover a new interest.
SA: I’ve turned down work that didn’t align with my beliefs. Work that was not worth the effort when compared to the return. And work that doesn’t align with the kind of photography styles I do.
FT: I turn down work when I feel that the client might become an issue in the near future, or when the parents are very old-fashioned, handling everything for their daughter, which is sweet but I need to know that the bride is involved as well. The first two years when I started wedding photography, I used to say yes to everyone. But some people are never satisfied. I live for providing amazing customer service and quality work. I go above and beyond, do what is out of the budget, cover extra hours without extra charge. I keep my clients happy but if I sense negativity and doubt within the first consults and meeting; I drop it.
NC: I would say my work leans more towards the fine art category of photography than anything else. Yes, I have the skill set to do event photography, but I am more drawn towards abstractions and explorations of the dynamic of humans vs. nature and so I prefer to pursue self led projects like these. I love traveling and exploring nature as well so I'd love to create my own brand of travel photography moving forward.
SA: See, if you ask me I would say I don’t have a distinct style yet. I feel like I’m still trying to find it. But other people have told me they can tell when it’s a shot that I’ve taken, or similar things of the sort. Which I truthfully don’t believe, but I thank them for telling me.
FT: I do this to win hearts through well-captured photographs. My style reflects how my clients are feeling. My style in three words would be: vibrant, clean and contemporary.
NC: Being a hijabi myself, I know it requires constant vigilance to make sure pictures of myself aren't being taken and posted on social media that I would not want up there. With this in mind, I would never want to put a fellow Muslim in this situation and so yes working with a hijabi client definitely requires a bit more care and consideration to guard their modesty. There needs to be a conversation about their expectations and how they plan on using the photos before any shooting can begin. I can't say I've created a whole new pose, but I'd say there are definitely modifications to common poses that might need to be made, and again this depends on what the individual is comfortable with.
SA: Similar to my answer for one of the other questions, I never really have to distinguish between hijabi clients versus non-hijabi. I do my best to only ask them to do poses they are comfortable with or trust me with. So the difference I would say is based on that, and not exactly hijab or no hijab.
FT: So far, it’s been many years and I haven't seen any difference between hijabi and non-hijabi clients when it comes to poses or what they want. Once in a while, if the parents are around then a hijabi bride can’t do some cute couple poses but it’s never too bad, we always rotate back to it.
NC: My ideal client would be either someone who already has a specific vision for their photos and allows me to work from that so I have a set end goal or someone who lets me create my own vision for their shoot. It's the gray areas in between where it becomes more difficult to make sure you are working in the right direction.
SA: Love this question! My ideal client is someone who trusts me. Someone who has given me the privilege of taking photos because they actually like my style or something specific about my work that they can’t find somewhere else. My ideal client is someone who gives me the creative freedom to guide them through their shoot and collaborate with them, ultimately creating magic together.
FT: Thankfully I don't have an ideal client. Every client is different but they all want the same thing - AMAZING photos! And I am happy to deliver that to them! I am happy for whichever type of client I receive, so as long as I give them the images they asked for and more.
Many people we come across are considerate and do their best to make us feel comfortable. We are ever so grateful to those who treat us with respect and manners. All in all, we just wish people would see what we do as ART, and acknowledge the creativity that goes behind bringing beautiful images to life. We often have to work weekends, late nights, and early mornings, spending time away from our loved ones. What we do seems so easy and simple because of the years of practice we have put into perfecting our craft.
Thank you for reading! Please make sure to check out the work of these brilliant photographers who took out their time to participate in this project, and openly shared their stories and experiences with us!