The past several months have been FULL. With school, part-time jobs, and plenty of other commitments in our lives (all of which are good things), Bill and I have felt stretched and tired. I’ve been compelled to dial back where I can. Therefore, this post marks the end of something to hopefully regain a bit of sanity in our schedule and also celebrates the opportunity I had to work with someone to grow our passions and learn new perspectives.
For the past six months, I’ve been working with Hakeemah, a modest fashion stylist, to showcase her business while I gained experience and pushed for creativity in directing our photo shoots. We’ve met every two to three weeks, usually early in the morning before her kid were awake and before the sun got too harsh for photos. Last weekend we met just after sunrise at Union Station in DC to embark on our last photo shoot together, at least for now.
Hakeemah reached out to me on Instagram in November to inquire about working together, and we met over Vietnamese food to discuss our visions. She envisioned pushing her modest styling business to a new level while promoting diversity in that industry. I was interested in having a platform to be creative and come up with locations and shots to showcase and compliment her fashion. Most of my photography at the time consisted of friends and family who put up with me waving a lens amongst our gatherings to capture candid shots. I was itching to break out a bit more.
Our first shoots were marked with nervousness because of our shyness, and we had to dig deep to drown out the watching eyes of others around us. Bill would pump me up the night before our shoots, giving me three simple words to focus on so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed and revert to ‘safe’ or boring photos. The words were often: close, simple, FIERCE. The first two were intended to make me focus on simple, clean photographic compositions, while the last was meant for me to channel my inner Beyoncé and pretend I didn’t have any butterflies. Hakeemah and I chuckled over channeling our inner fierceness but remembered to focus on it when we felt silly or even a bit uninspired at times. It also fueled us to remind ourselves and each other to focus on self confidence instead of doubting our own abilities and dreams.
Our early morning sessions also allowed us to explore new places in the DC metro area, sometimes despite crowds or weather. During the Cherry Blossom Festival, we wanted to feature DC’s iconic blooms. Not totally surprisingly, the Tidal Basin was already crowded when we found a parking spot before 8 o’clock in the morning, and we were just one group of probably hundreds doing their own photo shoots amongst the blossoms. On another morning in the city, we adjusted plans when one of the locations we chose was boarded up, and instead we drove into the heart of downtown in search of a particular rainbow-colored mural. I will not forget how proud I was of my parallel parking success in the tiniest parking spot after making many laps around the area looking for anything available! On another occasion, the temperatures dipped below freezing and we chose a location that allowed us to use the crisp white snow in the background. I was bundled up in my boots and winter coat directing Hakeemah and our model where to stand and walk. They were great sports, even while donning peep-toe heels! My favorite location might have been our last meeting when we walked to the US Capitol building before the rest of the city was really awake except for some dedicated runners and dog walkers. The skies were bright blue, and Hakeemah was decked out in her lovely draping dress that reminded me of a figure on the friezes of neoclassical buildings. I photographed her standing tall and proud in front of the Capitol and the waving American flag, thinking about the diversity of the city and the nation that is my home.
During these six months and myriad of photo sessions, Hakeemah and I moved from merely strangers working together to sharing aspects of our lives over early morning coffees or donuts between outfit changes. I learned about her (she holds a master’s degree in biology from the University of Chicago and teaches biology at a community college in Northern Virginia!), her family (she’s a wife and mom of two energetic girls), and some of their customs in the Muslim faith. We talked about our science and engineering backgrounds and our drive to do something creative as well. We shared stories of where we grew up, ways we celebrate holidays, and when during the week we attend mosque or church.
I also met new people when Hakeemah brought in models to show off the outfits she styled. I was able to spend mornings with these incredible women who I probably wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise. I think nearly everyone tends to spend time with people who are similar to themselves. In part, it’s human nature to look for people you can relate to. Yet, I am so grateful for the diversity of women–from different faiths, of different races, with different histories–that I have been able to spend time with while working with Hakeemah. I think it’s important for us, as people on this earth, to actually get to know people who are different than ourselves so we open our eyes to different perspectives. We may not change our own beliefs, but it gives us more compassion and understanding of what others value and what others are going through in their lives.
I am grateful for the last six months of early mornings with Hakeemah, not just for the platform it gave me to push my creative skills but also the time I could share with an incredible woman. A woman that in some ways is very different than me, and in other ways is very much alike!
Below are a collection of some of my favorite photographs I created during our mornings together.