FEATURE OF THE WEEK – Zaakirah Nayyar – “Photography Saved My Life”

Hello readers, every Wednesday here on When Life Gives You Lemons I feature the work of another artist, writer, and creative thinker. Today, I have chosen to feature a young woman I met in high school named Zaakirah Nayyar. As a photographer, Zaakirah is two parts determination and three parts soul, making up an individual who truly represents the human spirit in her work. For Zaakirah, photography is more than an art-form, it is an expression of her being, her passion, and has become a creative outlet for helping others and connecting with people emotionally. At a young age Zaakirah was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer and her struggle (being blind in one eye and wearing hearing aids in both ears) has been a catalyst for her artistic pursuits. In a recent conversation I had with her, she gracefully expressed to me, “No matter how hard I tried, I could never be like anybody else, and I never would be.” This statement, hauntingly true, has colored Zaakirah’s approach to photography with a sense of strength and empowerment – as an artist she has embraced her difference. In asking Zaakirah how she handles the adversity she faces day-to-day, her response was quite beautiful, “Photography saved my life.” Photography has become a therapeutic outlet for her and is a way that she clearly channels her strength and perseverance. Her work reflects her vibrant resilience and is very honest. Her style is raw and original, capturing the essence of people. Her editing process is often limited, as she likes to keep her photos as true to the subject as possible – “Cameras don’t lie and I don’t lie,” she gleefully expressed to me.

Here’s an interview I had with Zaakirah to learn more about her artistic vision:

Zaakirah, at what point in your life did you discover you had an interest in photography?

My interest in photography peaked at the age of six years old when my mother introduced me to a Kodak Polaroid camera. I don’t think she spent much time teaching me how to use it. You know, there are children, you put them in front of a piano and they just play, like it’s their natural talent? It was like that for me when it came to using a camera. From that day forward, I would use film cameras, the Kodak 35mm cameras from convenient stores and just capture my day-to-day life; the places I went and the people around me. When I was transitioning into high school is when I converted to digital photography, because I received my first digital camera as a birthday gift. It was a camcorder that took photos and videos. In high school, my technical program was Commercial Photography, and it was through those courses that I really learned that I could actually make a living off of photography.

How would you describe your artistic vision, as it relates photography?

My photographic vision is to connect with the subject and capture their candid personality. The only way I can really capture the essence of the person the way that I have been able to is by laughing with them, listening to them, hearing their stories and finding some commonality to be able to share stories with them, which then welcomes comfort and letting down their guard during a shoot. I believe in natural beauty, so to be able to photograph their personality and inner beauty with the right lighting, background and composition, achieved in camera, is what is most important.

I can only imagine that being diagnosed with eye cancer has been a struggle. How has your disability influenced your life as an artist?

I have been blessed to still have vision in one eye. I was once told that I already have the Photographer’s eye. Although it does not have a lot to do with me having Retinoblastoma, I have always been a quiet and observant person. I’m deep, I’m an old soul, and using a camera has been my voice. I say photography has saved my life because it was a baby photo taken of me, where instead of seeing a red eye, it was white, and the doctor discovered it was a tumor growing in my right eye, resulting in the diagnosis of Retinoblastoma and the enucleation shortly after. So photography has played a huge role in my life. Despite having hearing loss and limited vision, I don’t let that hold me back from achieving in life, doing the things I want to do. When one sense is lacking, the others kick in. My ability to connect with people and understand emotions and body language has always been a benefit when it came to the arts, whether it’s photographing, traveling, writing, filming, or in relation to music.

What has been your favorite event/subject to shoot as of late?

It is hard to choose one favorite subject because I just love to photograph artists. Music has always been an outlet for me, so having the opportunity to photograph music artists, especially before they become famous, is an honor. Every artist has an interesting story behind their art and why they do what they do. There is just a different kind of fire in their eyes that shows through their photo and throughout the shoot. I love being able to converse and bond with them, mainly over music, and take a photo of them that states who they are as a person.

Lastly, what advice would you give to other artists and photographers?

My advice would be to keep shooting, keep doing what you’re doing whether it is photographing, filming, writing, painting or singing. The more you shoot and work on your art, the easier you will find your niche. When you find your niche and continuously work hard at it, one day someone will notice you and appreciate your work for the artist you are.

Below you will find a sample of Zaakirah’s work and ways you can contact her and view more of her photography. 🙂













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