Defying Reality | Fashion Photographer Amina Zaher
Many of us struggle with not finding our identity; always being pushed to conform to one expectation or another. It’s a constant battle to satisfy your soul in modern society when you think your choices are restricted by society, parents, or even our own selves.
To be able to succeed in what you love, you’ll have to challenge what you think you know about yourself, facing your fears, and taking risks for your passion. This truth is Amina Zaher’s life story. Starting out exactly like so many of us, but was able to develop through struggle & perseverance.
Zaher got acquainted with her first camera in 2008, and soon realized she found the missing link. Initially stuck in a mundane corporate career, she risked it all to attend a course at New York Film Academy. This prolific photographer and art director has been featured in some of the world’s most prestigious fashion magazines; the likes of Vogue Arabia and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as major local publications.
We sat down with Zaher as she walks us through what it took for her to pursue what she wants out of life.
How did photography change your life?
I knew who I am when I started photographing. It introduced me to myself. I see my emotions and my thoughts in the pictures. It made me stronger; it gave me more faith, and confidence. Leaving the corporate life was a hard decision, I didn’t have enough money to live on, but I was determined to become a photographer. It showed me my willpower, and it reflected on everything in my life. I had to stand up for myself, and learn how to say no. It taught me to be more patient as well. My passion towards photography freed me.
What doesn’t kill you make you stronger, how do you think this apply to you?
Those two months in NYC attending a course in New York Film Academy were hard, but it was a great experience. My credit card was stolen, my camera got broken, and I didn’t have money to repair it. Finally I had to leave where I was staying. I then met an Egyptian family; they were really nice and accommodating. They had nothing, literally nowhere to take me but they still did. Their lives inspired me. I ended up doing my final project documenting their lives; tackling how immigrants travel to the US for the American Dream, but in reality their lives were worse than before. I ended up
getting the first place in class! It felt like all those unfortunate events were happening for a reason. When I came back I had to assist in weddings for years -every weekend - which is something I don’t like. I continued to study photography the rest of the week till I reached where I am today.
Those two things taught me that everything in life will pass, and that the thing that you thought was going to end you is actually going to be the beginning of something better. If I had stayed in my corporate life I wouldn’t have succeeded.
Do you think this voice will continue to bully you, even when you reach your dreams?
I’m almost certain that it will. It’s a struggle that you go through every day. I look at my development in the past to now, and I see how much better I’ve become which really satisfies me. It needs faith by looking at the spiritual side of the world. This physical reality we see isn’t everything. To be able to succeed you need to acknowledge the existence of the metaphysical reality where you have to satisfy your soul.
How did the past ten years affect you on a scale of 1 to 10?
15! It changed my whole life on both: personal and career fronts. It made me stronger & more mature. I became a happier person, because I know how to satisfy myself now. I thank God that he gave me something that I like and have the capability of doing.
How do you see fashion? And why did you choose it?
Fashion and art complement each other that’s why fashion is an escape from reality. It’s a fantasy that I create & live in ... its a fantasy where everything is possible. I chose fashion because I am obsessed with clothes generally, every time I get fascinated and inspired by a picture it turns out to be a fashion photo. I guess my eyes were naturally drawn to fashion while browsing.
How do you deal with your clients and models?
It took me sometime to be able to deal with clients in the right way. I was used to getting my money at the end of every month, now I ask for it. I wanted someone to talk on my behalf. I used to get upset when the client didn’t understand my direction; it’s very hard to find someone who can understand your vision. It’s a struggle to maintain my relationships with the client, but also produce the work I envision but I had to find a way to make it work because it is a phase of becoming a fully rounded photographer.
I deal with the models as my daughters. I advise them and try to tell them what’s missing, what they need to work on to succeed, what they need to study, or how to present themselves in a better way. They also do the same with me.
What makes you most excited?
When I do any test shoot, send it to a magazine, and get good feedback on it. This moment is when I feel most alive, and excited. When I was in Kenya we used to go out a lot, nothing made me happier than taking pictures; it felt completely different, as if I have a treasure inside my camera. I printed all my pictures, and put them next to each other to look at them day and night.
What are you expressing with your work?
I want to create a fantasy where people can live in, and escape reality. I love black and white movies so I want to recreate the same feeling in my photographs; where every scene is comforting and beautiful.
What do you think about the competitive edge in the market?
Competition is healthy. It forces you to look for what makes you different and unique, not just better. Competition should not be for the sake of winning, it’s for the sake of being different. This is the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition. You should be looking at what makes you unique then you can have an identity then no one can copy your work. This type of competition that makes you grow not vanish.