Interview by Kyla Jamieson.
Get to Know is an interview series dedicated to introducing you to our favourite writers and contributors by way of a range of questions that touch on quotidian details, public spaces, risk-taking, and advice for emerging artists.
This week it’s our pleasure to introduce you to our summer cover photographer Yumna Al-Arashi, a Muslim American who was raised in Washington, DC, and holds a degree in International Politics with a focus on the Middle East. Al-Arashi’s work often focuses on the self-expression and strength of women—from North African matriarchs with face tattoos to nude women in a Beirut bathhouse. This October, her work will be projected onto the International Center of Photography Museum’s windows as part of “Projected,” a series that focuses on photographers “exploring empowerment, catalyzing social change, and giving voice to the unheard.” Scroll down for morning routine inspiration and some stellar music recommendations from this visionary artist.
1. What’s happening around you—either right around you or outside of where you are?
I just drove into Los Angeles after road tripping with my partner down the West Coast. It’s beautiful, relaxing and dreamy here as always. There’s a lot of love here.
2. Why do you live where you live?
That’s a funny question right now, because I’ve just officially moved to London with my partner, but I’m currently visiting my last city of residence. I left the US for many reasons—but what I love most about London is the diversity and the greenery in such a big city.
3. What are you looking forward to this week?
Seeing all of my family and friends here in the US, and introducing them to my partner. But—I’m not looking forward to leaving sunny LA.
4. What advice would you give an aspiring or emerging photographer?
Be patient. Be humble. Don’t let the pressure of social media force you to grow too fast.
5. What’s your morning routine?
Lay in bed for 20 minutes and think about what I need to do for the day. No phones allowed in bed. Wake up—make coffee and listen to something dreamy and inspiring for the brain. Dorothy Ashby, Alice Coltrane, or Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou are my favorites lately.
6. What are the first photos you remember taking, and how do they relate to your current work?
Really, really crap self portraits. My photos are always, in some way, a direct reflection of my experiences—so I guess that makes sense that my firsts were self-portraits. I just hope they never see the light of day.
7. Do you have a favourite word? Or a least favourite word? What is it and why do you like/dislike it?
They change all the time, but, my current favorite is acquiescence, because it’s inspired a project I’m currently doing research on. My least favorite is hubris, because it’s a kind of ugly word for an ugly thing.
8. Is there a public space you’re fond of? Describe it.
I love parks, I’m pretty in love with London for them.
9. Do you have any “vices”? What’s the relationship between your vices and your photography practice?
Probably way too many. But I’m still a total control freak with each one of them. For instance, I like smoking 1-2 cigarettes in the evening. But any other time of the day, I’m totally disgusted by the idea of smoking. This is pretty reflective of a lot of things in my life, not just my work. I’m a total control freak and sometimes very complicated and, sadly, sometimes hypocritical, (I’m working on it).
10. Is there any advice you like ignoring?
Most of it.
11. What’s one risk you’re glad you took?
Speaking my mind every day and not caring about what people think about it.
12. What are you most proud of?
My own personal growth. Becoming what feels like an adult. Not feeling the need to compete or be better than anyone but myself. Learning how to love myself and others. Learning how to express myself. I’m proud of how all of the above has helped my work get stronger.