Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

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Many of you may remember my post on Can't Take It With You, a landmark photo exhibit showcasing Muslims in America that's opening next week in New York. Omar Mullick, the photographer of the exhibit, invited me to the gallery space yesterday and we had a little chat.

Bassam: How are you feeling?

Omar: A little tired, a little happy. We've been working around the clock.

Bassam: So, first things first, where did the title for the show come from?

Omar: It's the opening lines of a Radiohead song called Reckoner. It had a pretty strong impact on me when I heard it. I realized that I was as capable of going to Radiohead or The Brian Jonestown Massacre as I was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the same notes of transcendence....

.....I think that speaks volumes about me being Western and Muslim. It evokes other things, too, but some things I think are better left unarticulated. I'll tell you some thing great though: a photographer friend mentioned to me that he thought the title was a comment on photography and the effort to fix things and moments that slip by. On the same day a Muslim friend read the title as a comment on mortality and shot me an email to that effect.

Bassam: Seven years is a long time for a road trip to take photos.

Omar: It was on and off, in between commercial gigs or when I was traveling.

Bassam: Why show it now then?

Omar: Well the point of the project was to make a broad brushstroke -- I wanted to get at some thing about the country, about the sweep of the place and this moment. This community was a way in to that narrative. They are at the center of what we will accept as American or Western - right on the edge of what we think of as the 'other.' What can I say? I am not one to look away. I don't think I answered your question, though. I only feel now, I think, that I got a sense of this being an American narrative, and an irrevocable one, and the sheer breadth of it.

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Bassam: So how do you edit that down?

Omar: With difficulty! I tried editing photos as if I were marrying the images to statistical facts about the community. That was an abject failure. The whole thing died on the page. It's a series of impressions in the end - I make no pretensions about being objective. I think the job is to be transparent about your biases. Consistently, I was drawn in the gallery edit to photos of people or moments who problematized some of the prevailing stereotypes. In the end though, when the high concepts paled, I kept coming back to things that move me about photography: wonder, awe, light - looking for the humanity in people.

Bassam: Why black and white? Why film?

Omar: I can give you all these explanations but to be perfectly honest I liked the aesthetic for this project. It's that simple. I also love what film does when you point it directly in to the light. I am interested in where all that starts to break. My bread and butter is digital though, so don't read in to my remarks some aversion to digital - far from it

Bassam: Getting back to the edit, we had a question from a reader asking after the emphasis on scarved Muslim women in the edit. Do you have women in the show who do not have scarves? And is my reading of this emphasis fair?

Omar: Great question. Yes, I do have women in the show who are Muslim and are not wearing scarves. Of the photos that come to mind, there is one photograph I am particularly fond of that shows a young girl wearing the hijab (headscarf) in New York talking to an elderly Afghan Muslim woman at her store in the West Village. The elderly woman is not wearing a scarf. I like that shot because the prevailing stereotype of scarves is that an elderly generation imposes it on the younger one. The expectation is reversed here. Incidentally, that same photo has the Afghan husband, cheerful and beardless, smoking a cigarette outside his shop. I loved that. I also have another photo where a young girl is wearing a hijab and riding a bmx and another girl behind her who does not wear a scarf has got a riding helmet on, probably for safety. I thought that's subtle, and a little playful.

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Bassam: Any other photography books that depict Muslims that you like?

Omar: Sure, Joachim Ladefoged did a book called The Albanians - I used to travel with that in my backpack. Fazal Sheikh: Ramadan Moon. Stanley Greene did a book called Open Wound on Chechnya. All wonderful.

Bassam: So what's next?


Omar: I've been shooting a lot of pictures of a corner in the Brooklyn music scene that I am particularly enamored with. I am curious to see where that goes. I have to shoot things I am a little in love with.

The gallery opens October 8th and runs till November 5th in New York.

RSVP at the Facebook event

(photos by Michael Kirby Smith, taken on the fire escape at GalleryFCB)




31 Responses to “An Interview with Omar Mullick”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Omar,

    It’s great to see a muslim brother on the come up in the photography industry. Wish you the best of luck and InshAllah i will be at your event this up coming week.

    JZK

  2. Anonymous says:

    Its always a pleasure to see Omar’s work, cant wait!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Looking forward to it!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Your work has left a lasting impression on many. You’ve captured amazing quiet moments. I’ve been blessed to be able to visit the Middle East and if only more Americans could see and understand the power, strength and beauty of a Muslim woman. I’ll be up to see your show in a few weeks. Best, Linda Cherry

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is a wonderful interview – best of luck to you!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Omar,

    Good Luck,

    Salaam

  7. Anonymous says:

    omar!

    checked out your website again and your work looks great!!! hope the gallery opening goes well. i will be telling all my new york friends to go!! hope i can come too!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Very excited about the opening night! Looking forward to this event.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful interview. Not enough work out there of this sort. It’s simplicity doesn’t fall short of demonstrating how Moslems are truly part of the American fabric. Sets precedent and begs to inspire! I anticipate a diverse turn out at your event and look forward to the viewing.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Profound work. I’m sure a lot of people will be surprised how close to home Muslims really are. Touching, really. Good luck!

    - K.S

  11. Anonymous says:

    Omar I like your ways of showing hidden messages, through your pictures, I felt connected with the pictures you took, great work, and best of luck.
    power to youth.
    B.H.

  12. Xeni Jardin says:

    Just when I thought our guestbloggers’ posts could not possibly get awesomer.

    Omar: I LOVE YOUR WORK.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Good Luck Brother Omar.I saw some photos from your show on the website. SubhanAllah. Bring the show to Los Angeles.

  14. Anonymous says:

    where can i find some textual background about the images. im so curious about them yet have no wehre to go?
    keep up the work.
    this is a step into the future for islam in america.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Wah Wah!

    I can now officially say “I knew him when…”

    Nice job mate!
    k.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Salam Salam.

    We look forward to having you here in San Francisco brother Omar.

    Keep us posted! We wish you success with the future.

    Peace.

    Y.

  17. Anonymous says:

    His art style is very elegant and has a lot of depth in it. Mashallah great work brother.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Omar Mullicks work is amazing!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Keep up the great work Omar.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Your ideas are amazing. What an amazing photographer

  21. Anonymous says:

    Salaams…Omar, your work looks amazing mashallah…so happy for you and best wishes on your gallery opening! I have posted it to my Facebook profile and several friends hope to attend. Really incredible stuff! Salaams, Maureen and Jason

  22. Anonymous says:

    whether or not there is a q&a session, you have the pictures of omar now, go up to him and engage in any dialog you wish! he’s a nice guy and i wish event success.
    later.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Omar your the man!! You work very hard and as you can see it is paying off! I hope I can come down to NY sometime soon. I hope the gallery event goes well for you!

  24. Anonymous says:

    This is fascinating interview. I can’t wait to go to the opening Oct 8th to see and hear more!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Omar,

    Your work is one of a kind. I have visited your site and i am truely impressed with your amazing work. I am very excited for the opening of the Gallery on thursday.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Your work is beautiful. Best of luck on your gallery opening!

  27. Anonymous says:

    I really liked the questions you’ve asked, esp. the “why now?.” I am obsessed with contextualizing people, without putting them into a closed box. I liked the answer even if it didn’t fully answer the question. The last bit about how only recently he’s come to realize his collection of American Muslim photos constitute something deeper than just the banal melting pot American narrative was most interesting. I’d love to learn more about his own biography (intellectual, social, aesthetic, etc. etc.) and how that constitutes the specificity of his edition of images at the gallery. Hopefully there will be a Q & A session. I’ll definitely be there, God willing.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Salaam Omar,
    I have always been impressed by your work. I look forward to seeing your exhibit, inshAllah. -Liz N.

  29. Anonymous says:

    A huge step towards Islam and Muslims

  30. craic69 says:

    I’m glad to see a follow up interview with Mr. Mullick as the photos in the previous post have brought me back to his website a few times this week.

    I look forward to seeing more at the show

  31. Anonymous says:

    Very excited for the Gallery Event.

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