Through and through, Saadia Sumrall is grace. She carries herself and speaks her mind with an intense gracefulness and a fierce power you can't ignore, not even through a screen. As a photographer, she aims to tell stories. As a story-teller, she aims to give her subjects a voice. We had the opportunity to pick her brain on vulnerability, femininity, and inspiration. Brace yourself. You're about to fall in love with her words and her work.
BWM: Something you mention on your website is your desire to tell stories through your portraiture. When you photograph a subject, what's your creative process for telling that story?
SS: I always ask my subjects to tell me what they envision for themselves before being photographed. Before anything else, I want my subjects to have a voice know that their voice is forceful. I personally love to sit down and listen to the story that they want me to translate into a photograph. It also gives them the opportunity to release if needed. I guess you could say I’d like to be their friend first and then their photographer. It is also important to me that I build a connection with this person, even if it’s just for the session that we spend together. From there, I usually put together props, colour palettes, outfit choices or other necessities that I think would match or enhance their vision. Opening up and being vulnerable (especially in front of a camera) can be so difficult yet so incredibly beautiful. When a subject allows themselves to find comfort in being vulnerable, then they are the one telling their story and I am just there capturing it.
Opening up and being vulnerable (especially in front of a camera) can be so difficult yet so incredibly beautiful. When a subject allows themselves to find comfort in being vulnerable, then they are the one telling their story and I am just there capturing it.
BWM: What unique perspective do you bring to your work? How do you see your identity as a womxn feature in your work?
SS: Most of my work has been focused on inclusion or diversity (ie: people of colour, LGBTQ+, gender neutrality, body positivity.) These are topics that have meant a lot to me even before I have ever picked up a camera. I truly want to rid the societal standards and expectations of the mainstream. In my body of work, I want to shed light and celebrate the beauty and perseverance of those who have ever been silenced by dominant groups. Recently, my work has been centering around femininity and how fluid and powerful it is. Regarding my own identity, I have always been rather gender neutral with the way that I present and express myself. I have been working towards exploring femininity more within myself and unlearning the conventional ways of what it means to be a woman. I think it is quite serendipitous that my work right now is paralleling this stage in my life. Honestly, I just want to showcase that women, men, and non-binary do not have to be a specific sex to be feminine in nature.
BWM: In the name of shining light on the womxn who make us stronger, who inspires you?
SS: There are so many talented and inspirational women that I have met personally (or through their work) that inspire me. I would be here all day listing names and IG handles but I just want you all to know that I see you and your work moves me. I do want to take the time to acknowledge my best friend, Ellie Nguyen. She inspires me endlessly and makes me a stronger person and artist. This woman’s drive, talent and creativity is on another level. It has been a blessing to be alongside her through her growth while she has been alongside me through mine. I’m not sure I would be where I am artistically (and personally) without her.
BWM: In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
SS: Wow, really I appreciate this question. It gives me the chance to reflect on those moments that I have had many times before. Right now I am not working on any major projects or photographing as consistently. Sometimes I still have those urges of needing to create even when I should be giving myself a break. I used to constantly feel that my worth as an artist amounted to how much work was producing. I’ve had to remind almost relentlessly that that’s not true. That will never be true. Creator’s block can be too real though. Moments of stagnation happen and when they do, I use that time to rest. I use that time to brainstorm any ideas that I want to execute in the future. I also find it helpful to be around other people who create. I love being surrounded by people who appreciate or contribute themselves to art in any way because it gives me the motivation to keep going.