Live Unchained had the pleasure to interview Kameelah Rasheed. She is a documentary-based photographer and co-founder of Mambu Badu, a photography collective that highlights female photographers of African descent. Kameelah discusses her photography and inspiration here. Her work tells the stories of people from South Africa to New York.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and background?
In a small Bay Area neighborhood named East Palo Alto, I was raised on a harmonious, yet eclectic mix of Islam, old Gil Scott-Heron records, and tofu as the other white meat. I was the black nerdy kid who read too much, hung out in the science lab selecting daphnia from the Carolina Biological company catalog for the next science fair, and wore cornrows with beds when perms were the norm. By the time I got to high school, I was 13 and the sole Muslim kid at an elite private Catholic school and one of maybe eight other black students on scholarships. I graduated from high school at 16 and attended Pomona College, a small elite liberal arts college in Claremont, CA. There I studied Public Policy and Africana Studies graduated as a Harry S Truman Scholar, Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellow, and Phi Beta Kappa. During my senior year, the U.S. State Department awarded me with a U.S. Fulbright Grant to study urban planning and housing in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Throughout my education, I loved to tell stories and focused solely on written narratives. It was not until I moved to South Africa that I explored the possibility of telling stories with photographs. When I lived in Cape Town, South Africa as an exchange student in 2005, I photographed the children I worked with at the orphanage. When I moved to Johannesburg in 2006, I began to photograph townships, nation-wide strikes, political events, community events, and city life. I was eager and insatiable. I was learning and lacked the confidence to take more risks. Despite being in a few gallery shows, I did not take on the title of “photographer” until a few months ago. Now, I consider myself a documentary-based photographer. Simply, I like to tell the stories of “regular” people through photographs. I also love poetry especially Harryette Mullen, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, and Yusef Komunyakaa. I imagine photographs as a visual poetry with it’s own set of grammar rules that should be broken at times. In my mind, the power of a poem is the achievement of depth through some clever manipulation of brevity. The same goes with photographs.
Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
Do you carry around your camera wherever you go,
or do you set out to shoot something in particular?
Last night, I walked pass a group a young Caribbean boys and girls talking to a young group of Hasidic boys in Crown Heights. The juxtaposition of skinny jeans, Caribbean accents, and brown skin with black suits, Yiddish phrases, and peyes was something worthy of several shots and an interview. These moments fascinate me. I was curious. Whenever my curiosity is peeked, I shoot. Unfortunately, it was too dark to shoot, but am looking forward to similar opportunities.
And yes, I carry my loves with me everywhere. I used to carry three cameras, but I now limit it to EZRA, my Nikon D90.