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Photographer Omar Al-Sudani Dares to Go There
While Omar considers his photography practice a hobby, his practice resembles a form of guerilla journalism. Fann recently sat down with him to talk about his practice and his recent experience in Palestine.
Omar Al-Sudani is a photographer enmeshed in a deeply verité style. Born in NYC and raised in the Bronx and Brooklyn, Omar first learned about photography from his grandfather, who was not a professional photographer but rather picked it up as a pastime. While Omar considers his photography practice a hobby, his practice resembles a form of guerilla journalism — he interviews and takes photos of folks the world over, from North Carolina to North Africa and everywhere in between.
Fann sat down with him to talk about his practice and his recent experience in Palestine.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Fann Staff: Tell me who you are.
Omar Al-Sudani: My name is Omar Al-Sudani. I’m a 28-year-old Sudanese American photographer. I grew up in New York. I consider myself to be a street photographer.
Fann Staff: What got you into photography?
Omar Al-Sudani: When I was younger, most boys were into sports or rapping, but photography was my niche. I started taking photos of my friends in New York, then of people in the street.
Fann Staff: Have you ever been met with resistance or negativity while taking photos?
Omar Al-Sudani: The worst thing a person could say is no. I’ve been yelled at before, but not often. There are also cultural differences, like if you’re in the Middle East or North Africa, under no circumstances can you take a photo without permission. If you do, you could encounter a big problem.
Fann Staff: You attended and shot the Gathering of the Juggalos in 2020. What was that like?
Omar Al-Sudani: It was my first real experience going to what people call “flyover states.” I was under the impression that I was very different from these people; in many ways, I am. I’m not a fan of Insane Clown Posse’s music, but I am a fan of the culture. When a lot of people talk about the [Juggalo] culture, they satirize it, but when I went, I didn’t have any bad interactions. People were sharing things — it reminded me of free love, 1970s America. I met Muslim people who were Juggalos, including this Lebanese woman from Detroit named Habir and her brothers. I’ve since been back several times.
Fann Staff: You recently shot in Palestine. Tell me about that experience.
Omar Al-Sudani: I spent September 31 until October 6 in Amman, Jordan. Due to the influx of refugees, there are more Palestinans living in Jordan than Jordanians. So there are a lot of refugee camps, and [there’s a lot of] Palestinian history. I was doing interviews and taking photos. Then on the morning of October 7, I left my hostel at about 5:15 a.m. to go to the bridge that takes you into Palestine. There were a bunch of South Korean Christians in my cab with me, and we got there at about 6:30 a.m. As we were about to cross the bridge, the Hamas incursion into Southern Israel started at about 6:37 a.m. The authorities were telling us there was some kind of problem, but nobody knew the extent.
The cab driver told us there’s another bridge, but it’s only for people with Western passports. We went there, and I got held for hours. The Israeli authorities questioned me, asking why I was visiting that day, if anyone in my family is involved in subversive activities. You just say, “no, no, no.” I acted like I don’t speak Arabic, saying I was there to see the holy sites. They finally let me in, and I took a cab all the way to Jerusalem and met with my friend Issa. I spent the majority of my time in Jerusalem, but I also went to the West Bank.
Fann Staff: Did you take photos in the West Bank?
Omar Al-Sudani: I did. I wanted to pursue my own independent journalism, shedding light on things that I care about. A lot of my work is centered around young people. I went to a bunch of schools. I observed a girls’ play where they were doing reenactments of the Israeli occupation and how it affects people’s lives. Kids are very curious; I let them play with the camera. They asked me a lot about life in America.
Fann Staff: How do you hope the photos you took in Palestine will affect those who look at them?
Omar Al-Sudani: I think a lot of times when people photograph places like the Middle East and Africa, they’re looking for that “money shot.” You get a lot of American [and] British journalists that just want to get a photo of a woman crying over the body of her dead child. Then they win these awards, sometimes even huge cash prizes. But then we never see the subjects again, and they never get any of the money. I think that to an extent, that kind of photography is necessary to raise awareness, but these people are profiting off of our pain. If people are going to engage in that kind of photography, maybe it should be people from that part of the world. Not just some Australian that’s going to Syria and frothing at the mouth, trying to get the shot of this faceless, nameless dead Syrian boy. Personally, I think there’s enough poverty and violence porn. So through my photos, I’m trying to portray a more humanizing and endearing image. Children smiling, playing. Another side of our culture.
You can find Omar’s work on Instagram.