by Yasmin Ali
I recently stumbled across Hawwa’s Instagram page and I instantly fell in love with her photography, illustrations and the messages behind her art. I wanted to learn more about the woman behind the work and get some insight into her techniques. She describes herself as an ‘amateur’, hard to believe when you look at her work, but her self-deprecating humour makes her all the more endearing…
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Hawwa – apparently just turned twenty years old (although sometimes I feel like a kid, and other times I feel like an old woman). My life consists of studying history at university, working 187583 different jobs, attempting to keep my art and creativity alive as a part-time/freelance gig (photography, illustration, embroidery – I’m trying everything), pretending I can skateboard, fooling people into thinking that I am a passable basketball player at the height of 5”0, and trying to explain to every Asian everywhere that my name is Arabic and means ‘Eve’ (like Adam & -), not Urdu which means ‘wind’. Currently waiting on copies of a little 20 page book/colour zine exploring identity/discrimination/hijab/creativity entitled ‘Some Brown Girl’ which should be available to order via my Instagram soon Insha’Allah (I’m gonna say a week?)
When and how did you get into photography and why do you find it such a worthwhile medium?
If I remember rightly, my dad bought me my first ever point and shoot when I was around 14/15? Honestly I can’t remember – what I do remember though is how long I had wanted a camera of my own. I’d always been into art and creating, but it had always been drawing. Then as I got older and started blogging, and finding other people’s blogs with their crisp flat-lays and fancy portraiture, and discovered the world of Pinterest, I was like HECK, I WANT TO DO THIS TOO. To me, the beauty of photography is its capacity to tell a story. If I had to define what I love in one word, it would be storytelling, through whatever medium. With photography especially, capturing a moment in time, a fragment of a situation or person’s life and character is such a powerful ability and something that – if discussing the merits of the medium in relation to how worthwhile it is – can hold immense potential in the grander scale to influence. Especially since the world is becoming more and more saturated by visuals every day.
What was the first camera you ever bought and do you have the first picture you took on it?
The first camera I ever bought is still the one I use now. I saved and saved and finally bought the Canon 600D two years ago, second hand because I live life on a budget, but still going strong now. The first photo I ever took on it was a shot of my lens cap lying on my bed as I tried to fiddle around with the settings and get used to using manual for the first time – and the first photo of an actual subject was a few seconds later, as my younger brother came in to take a look at my new camera and promptly left the room again as I started taking photos of him.
How would you describe your photography style and your illustration style? Do you prefer one medium over the other?
In terms of photography, I’m not sure whether I have a particular style or not yet as I’m always learning new things, I definitely gravitate towards experimenting with shadow, light, reflections, and blur however; and I particularly love taking portraits, but other than that I’m trying to stay as open-minded as possible so I can grow as much as I can.
With art, having been drawing practically since I could hold a pen, I’d say I’ve developed my own sort of style a lot more. Despite dabbling in as many different mediums within the bracket of art as possible, my drawings, whatever the subject, tend to be very illustrative, fluid and expressive. I’ve also started using a lot more colour in my work too, but again, still very loosely. Another one of my favourite things for both mediums is adding hand-written text to both sketches and photography. I’m going to be a cop out and say I enjoy both, I couldn’t pick one because it’s like asking a mum to pick her favourite child (although if you ask my mum it’ll *definitely* be me, obviously).
What do you have in your camera bag?
Again, to emphasise, I’m an amateur when it comes to photography, and I’m also both a cheapskate and living the broke student life. I literally just spent hundreds of pounds on a bus pass for the next academic year and my heart is crying. That means I don’t have a camera bag, and I only have one lens I use (I upgraded to the 50mm a few months ago from the 18-55mm kit lens and it’s my baby – if you want to touch it you have to ask permission and wait 5-10 working days for me to deliberate on a response while I research your past and debate upon whether I trust you enough as a person to use it – oh and yes, of course, it was second hand), and the same camera body (600D) that I’ve had for years.
Among your work, what is your favourite photograph or your favourite series?
Oh man okay that’s practically impossible to say. I’d say my favourite series of photographs has to be all the ones I’ve taken over the years of my little sister. I have so many she has a photo album just up to the age of 5, whereas I have one photo album for my entire life. I’d say another favourite series of mine are shots I took from when I participated in the last Reclaim the Night march, I didn’t have a 50mm then and therefore the quality and lighting in my photos is terrible because I couldn’t get the light I need, and some of the pictures aren’t even in focus – but looking at them reminds me of the energy and passion I was surrounded by that day and that’s something I value so much – again, the ability to tell a story.
Where do you look to for inspiration for your photography?
My surroundings. Light, colour, shadow, lines, windows – sometimes my family make fun of me because they’ll see me pointing my camera at the ground and they’ll be like – hawwa???? Why are you taking a photo of the floor?? But I always see something – I love taking photos of interesting shapes and lettering and all the sort of mundane, regular things people usually walk straight by and take for granted as just part of the landscape around them. I also use Pinterest, a lot, especially for portrait inspiration – and of course Instagram – always, all the time.
What artists or photographers have influenced you?
I mean I could probably go on forever but a few of my favourite photographers and creatives and just general amazing humans are:
Nadir @thebeniproject is probably one of my favourite creatives ever.
Do you have any tips for beginners?
I’m 100% still a beginner at everything I (try) and do, but I think the most important thing that I keep reminding myself of is that everything takes time. Sometimes I look at creatives who inspire me and I’m like wow they’re gear is so fancy and expensive I can’t afford that, or heck look they’re going travelling again, or okay um they’re selling *so much* of their work I’m not really doing anything. & then I remind myself to:
Get up off my bed and stop lying on my back staring at the ceiling feeling sad
Everyone’s circumstances are different and
Good work takes time
Work with whatever you have.
A lot of times I get asked *how* someone should start an art journal or what they should use, or what camera and lens do I use because they only have their phone and they can’t afford to buy an art journal and I say:
BOYYY USE WHATEVER YOU HAVE MY FRIEND. I make my own journals most of the time with scrap paper. If you’ve got a phone, use it, what’s wrong with it? You don’t need a DSLR to take amazing photos, just look on Instagram.
So yeah, overall:
Don’t be afraid to try, and make mistakes and hate your work and want to throw it away (please don’t though it’s called progress) and keep on going. If you really want to do it you’ll keep at it and keep developing and learning and that’s the beauty of it all.