Ikram Abdulkadir (24) is a talented young photographer who has built up a following on social media with her striking portraits of black women in the Muslim community. She sat down with Beyond The Crane to discuss her passion for photography, getting up close and personal with Swedish singer Seinabo Sey and what it’s like to be a photographer in her native Malmö.
BTC: Beyond The Crane
IA: Ikram Abdulkadir
BTC: You have a reputation for capturing black, Muslim women in your work. Is it because you feel that voice has been missing from Malmö? I.E. Where you document from within your own community.
IA: No. Many people think that I am trying to make a statement when photographing black, Muslim, women. But these are the people I have around me so it comes naturally that these are the people I photograph. It is not more difficult than that.
BTC: How did your interest in photography begin?
IA: It started with me taking pictures with my phone, which was really bad, back in 2009; the phones then did not have the best camera in the world. But it was fun! So I bought a camera on Blocket when I went to high school and a few years later (2017) I started my account @ikramianism on Instagram. That’s the platform I use to reach out.
BTC: Why do you take photos?
IA: Because it’s fun to take photographs! It’s not that much more difficult than that. It is fun to have an outlet for your creativity. For me, photography is that outlet.
BTC: The outlet. Is it about expressing something or is it just about creating?
IA: It is about expressing something but also about, it sounds a little selfish, to show that I am here. I want to document what I see and who I am. Is it narcissistic? (laughs)
BTC: Since the time with that old phone with the bad camera, do you see anything specific in your pictures that shows how you have developed?
IA: When I my bought my first camera on Blocket, I used all automatic settings; it was the camera that had to set everything up. I didn’t know what shutter speed or ISO and all that was. I didn’t know why my pictures were blurred and shaky etc. I’ve learned everything over time. There’s a lot to learn on YouTube!
BTC: Is technology important to you?
IA: It becomes important after a while. How to put it? It is not important to have the best camera; photography is also not precisely the cheapest hobby. My first camera, which I bought second hand on Blocket, was from a couple who used it only for holiday pictures. The most important thing is that there is a feeling in the pictures. You can take a crappy picture without any feeling with a camera that costs 100,000 kronor.
BTC: Do you want photography to be your profession?
IA: I have tested the water, taken some assignments and freelanced a bit. But, no, the most important thing for me with photography is that I have full control, or as close to it as possible. It is hard to be in control when you take on assignments and take pictures for other people. So it’s not the most important thing for me to become a professional photographer.
BTC: You take pictures of people in your community. Are you thinking of a project?
IA: It’s a lot about here and now. I am a spontaneous person. I’m very absent-minded. It is not often I think far ahead and what it will be. It is here and now in the moment that I want to take a picture because the light is nice.
BTC: Do you see the pattern in what you do?
IA: It is probably that I take serious portraits. I rarely take pictures of people smiling for some reason. It is not intentional; it’s just how it is.
BTC: What does light mean to you?
IA: Everything! It is the light that makes a picture. Without light, there is no image. I love sunlight. You said the sun was bright before, but I also like that kind of light. I think it’s because I want my pictures to be warm.
BTC: The serious expression and warm light in your portraits! Do you catch the moment or arrange the moment?
IA: I arrange but it happens, for example, that I don’t. I take pictures of Eid Day (breaking of the fast), which is after Ramadan each year. There’s usually a big gathering of people. Then it’s more in the moment. People greeting each other. Children running around. But usually I arrange my photos.
BTC: If you take a portrait, how do you know that you’ve captured the best image from that moment? How do you know when you’re done?
IA: It’s all about feeling. I said before that I don’t plan my pictures but I still have a picture in my head that I want the picture that I take to match. The feeling is about when the picture I have taken matches as much as possible with the picture I have in my head.
BTC: How do you get YOU into what you do? And do you even want to?
IA: I do not know. I don’t think so. Not what I know anyway. I’ve never had a conscious desire for me to be seen in the pictures I take.
BTC: Some photographers have a visual language that is immediately recognisable. Is it something you are after?
IA: I just shoot for the most part! I don’t really think about getting a message into the pictures. Many photographers do. Or that it should appear that it is I who took the picture. I try to be as direct as possible. You should not have to read so much into the image or try to confuse the viewer and make them interpret the photo in a specific way.
BTC: What inspires you?
IA: Other photographers’ work on Instagram. People also inspire me. It happens that I see a person and I immediately know what picture I want to take of the person.
BTC: Does the inspiration come from just seeing someone or in the conversation with the person?
IA: From just seeing someone.
BTC: Do you have a person in mind that you would very much like to photograph?
IA: For a while I wanted to photograph the artist Seinabo Sey, which I got to do! Next goal after that? I do not know. There are people I see on the street where I think I need to talk to them, I have to take a picture of them! Of course, it would have been fun to take pictures of other artists like Seinabo.
BTC: How do you go about getting a chance to photographing a famous person like Seinabo?
IA: The reason I wanted to photograph her was actually because of another photographer, Märta Thisner, who photographed Seinabo’s album cover and other photos of her when they were together in Gambia. It was when I saw those pictures that I thought “I want to take photos like those!”. That was why I wanted to photograph her.
BTC: What is it like to be a photographer in Malmö?
IA: There are many ways to answer that question. It is really not that difficult to take photographs in Malmö as there are many nice places and open spaces.
But if you think from a purely professional point of view, even if I said I didn’t want to become a professional photographer, then I feel that there are not that many opportunities (in Malmö). I think if I lived elsewhere, in Stockholm for example, I would have had more opportunities. But then I might have missed out on things I have here in Malmö such as the proximity to people and to other areas.
BTC: Do you have a favourite place in Malmö? (Based on your photography).
IA: Places where there are people. If I have a person in mind that I want to photograph, I actually like Västra Hamnen, unfortunately. Because there are many strange architectural buildings that you can use as a background; I have taken many pictures there. If it’s more about just photographing people then it is mostly Rosengård.
BTC: Where do you go in Malmö if you want to be yourself on a regular day?
BTC: If you had met yourself a few years ago, what advice would you give yourself?
IA: I don’t think I would have said anything. I already knew what kind of photos I wanted to take, but I didn’t dare to take them. I tried to take pictures of buildings and such but that was just not my thing. I couldn’t find that focus in buildings that some photographers can. It got to a point where I thought I was going to sell the camera as this was not something for me.
Yet everything has moved along; I have ended up here! To someone else I had said just go for it. Dare! When I started my Instagram account, I had just 20-30 followers. It is always important to visualize things. 20-30 followers on Instagram, that’s almost nothing. But if you put 20-30 people here in front of you who want to look at my pictures, for me it was Wow! I could fill a whole classroom with these people. Take it step by step. If you do what you like it is only a plus if people also like it.
BTC: What do you want to achieve with your photography?
IA: Long-term that more young women like me find a way into photography. Take up space within photography, and also in other parts of cultural life because, as it looks right now, it is a bit flat (laughs). It’s boring. I know we could have added a lot! Short term: To wake up and take beautiful pictures.
You can follow Ikram’s latest work on Instagram @ikramianism