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BAIT is a publication made by creatives for creatives in the Clicke community. 'Meet the Clicke' posts will provide you with an intimate look into the origin stories of our featured artists. You can view more of their work, with accompanying narration, in the Exhibitions Section.
In 2017, photographer and videographer Sana Ullah was thrust into the national spotlight when her Places You’ll Pray thesis project—a multimedia project featuring Muslim-Americans praying outside mosques—went viral, earning her prestigious journalism awards and national media attention from the likes of Good Morning America.
While there is plenty of well-deserved press coverage surrounding the creation and impact of Places You’ll Pray, this article is about the creation and impact of the artist behind it, Sana Ullah.
Sana vividly remembers the first time she held a camera. She was eight years old, her elder brother had recently passed away, and her parents had sent Sana and her siblings to stay with their uncle in Oklahoma for the summer. Her uncle was preoccupied with his medical residency, so he gifted her a disposable Kodak camera and a green floppy disk, instructing Sana to document her days by taking photos and journaling on the computer.
“...He told me he had one rule: I couldn’t take photos of animals or people, so all of my first photos were of houses, gardens…it forced me to be creative. And I fell in love with it. Ever since then--on field trips, with my friends--I was always ‘the girl with the camera,’” she smiled.
When Sana graduated from high school, she attended Florida International University (FIU) and enrolled as a pre-med, biology major. “I was interested in the idea of being a professional photographer, but I didn’t think it was a possibility for a South Asian person like me, who didn’t know anybody who had gone this route,” Sana recalled.
However, Sana never gave up on photography. She started a freelance portrait and event photography business during college, cheekily named SUP? [Sana Ullah Photography]. She also joined her university’s student newspaper as a staff photographer. Increasingly drawn away from biology and toward journalism, Sana switched her major and graduated with a degree in Digital Media Studies from FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“[When I graduated] I went through what I feel like every undergrad goes through. I didn’t have a lot of internships and didn’t have a job lined up, so I was like, ‘what do I do now? Grad school!’”
Still facing internal self-pressure to pursue a more traditional career, Sana studied for the GMAT and began applying to business school.
However, encouraged by her friends, she submitted a sole journalism application to George Washington University’s Master of Arts in New Media Photojournalism program in Washington, DC. Sana was accepted.
Prior to starting at George Washington University, Sana took a gap year and worked as a full-time freelance photographer for her business, SUP. Within one year, she shot several weddings and many portraits, cultivating a strong reputation for herself within her surrounding communities of her hometown Davie, Fla.
There was no one [she personally knew] in her South Asian and/or Muslim community that had pursued a professional career in visual arts, so while heading off to grad school, Sana was eager to prove herself.
Walking into class on her first day of grad school, Sana was initially determined not to be pigeon-holed as “the Muslim journalist who only tells Muslim stories.” She prepared a diverse portfolio to present to her class, and quickly skipped through the photos focused on Muslims praying—ironically, the very same photos that served as the basis for her award-winning MA thesis. Thankfully, Professor Toren Beasley changed her mind.
“He [Toren Beasely] told me that if we weren’t telling our own [marginalized] communities’ stories, someone else would, and it wouldn’t be told as authentically or powerfully as if we had told them ourselves,” Sana said.
Prompted by the rise in Islamophobia following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sana ideated her Places You’ll Pray thesis project as a medium through which she could counter Islamophobia in the American public and inspire the Muslim-American community in the face of rampant discrimination.
While Places You’ll Pray originated as a personal project, Sana has since democratized it by creating an Instagram account to which Muslims around the world submit photos of themselves and others praying outside of a mosque.
“I know it’s kind of ironic that in trying to help people see the real Islam and how Muslim-Americans are more than just Muslims, I’d choose to photograph them praying, which is inherently ‘religious,’ but when people think about prayer, they think about peace. And since we pray five times a day--no matter where we are or what we’re doing--you get to see how easily observing our religion blends with normal American life: people praying in the middle of sports, in the library, or in my short film, for instance, my sister in the middle of making Thanksgiving dinner!”
Upon graduating, Sana was most lauded for Places You’ll Pray, but she also completed several other projects focused on elevating marginalized communities and empowering women and landed a position as a Photo Editor at Discovery. Sana is currently a Program Officer at National Geographic and continues to work as a freelance photographer.
While Sana continues to cover client weddings, she prefers portrait photography and visual storytelling. Sana’s approach to any shoot, whether it’s a wedding, portrait, or journalism project, is to sit down with her subjects beforehand over a meal or coffee to learn more about them. She does this in order to stylize the shoots on a more personal and photojournalistic level.
Many of Sana’s clients are Muslim and a majority of them are women. Sana’s female portraits are oftentimes focused on capturing not only her subject’s beauty, but their strength. “I try to capture the strength in women, rather than this timid image men often portray women as.
I don’t just want my clients’ to go, ‘wow, that’s me?’ because they look so beautiful in a shot. I want them to say, ‘wow, that’s me?’ because they look so strong and in control. That’s the kind of image we need to see of Muslim women,”
“Your dreams and priorities constantly change—no one tells you that. You get inspired by different people, different events,” Sana explained.
We are eager to see what inspires Sana Ullah—and how she will surely inspire us— next.
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Former fashion model Chaniel Andran has spent plenty of time in front the camera, but he has devoted the past several years to mastering the art of being behind it.
Andran’s photography is not only characterized by his striking balance of vibrant color and minimalist composition, but by how he leverages his experience in the fashion industry to give modeling agencies, brands, and his subjects, of course, “bookable, bankable, and beautiful” photos.
Andran’s coming of artist-hood story begins in quintessential NYC fashion—at 3 a.m. wandering the streets of SoHo—catching up with a former acquaintance who happened to also be a model-turned-photographer.
Andran expressed that, like him, he was also interested in seriously pursuing photography. Andran had taken some headshots for fellow models, and he often found himself creatively directing his own photoshoots.
“I had an eye for photography, but I just needed a camera,” Andran recalled. This photographer, who had never met Andran before that night, offered him his camera for free. While Andran initially dismissed the offer as a drunken, 3 a.m. musing, the photographer made good on his promise the next afternoon, giving Andran his first camera. If that isn’t kismet, what is?
That was December of 2015. One month later, Andran had created a website, lined up bookings using his network of fellow models, and launched his photography Instagram.
It’s only been four years since then, but Andran has already been featured in multiple magazines, worked with NYC and LA’s top agencies, and shot top models, including Victoria’s Secret Angel Shanina Shaik.
Andran has an exceptional knack for transforming any situation into a set, offering unique perspective and injecting artistry into otherwise mundane settings. Whether he’s transforming the sparse landscaping of the West Side Highway into a secret garden or chasing down specks of sunlight in Central Park as the sun sets, Andran always finds a unique way to capture his subjects in their best light.
Andran especially enjoys working with newer faces in the modeling industry; rather than just capturing a model’s signature look, he can help them create their signature look.
“I love when people don’t know what they have. I love when I can help people see themselves in a different way, like ‘woah, that’s me?’” said Andran.
Offering advice to photographers just starting out, Andran stressed the importance of adaptability and creative confidence. Just as Andran enjoys helping models discover their potential, “you have to believe in yourself too; focus on how you can do something rather than why you can’t,” Andran insisted.
When casting directors for acting auditions suggested he model, Andran learned how to model. When his modeling experience led him to explore his interest in photography, he pursued it.
While Andran attributes some of his adaptability to his experience immigrating to New York from Jamaica when he was nine years old, Andran’s innate adventurousness and can-do attitude deserves much of the credit.
Andran is completely self-taught, and until January of 2020, he was still using the same Canon 50D DSLR camera gifted to him that afternoon in SoHo in 2015.
“People are always shocked when they hear that so much of my work up until recently was shot on that camera, but it’s not the camera that matters—it’s the person behind it,”
While Andran focuses primarily on fashion photography, the recent Black Lives Matter protests inspired him to not only document the protests, but to advance the movement in the fashion industry as well.
For years, the fashion industry has failed to enact inclusive hiring practices for fashion photographers. For context, Naomi Campbell’s fall 2019 cover shoot with The Guardian was her first time shooting with a Black photographer in over thirty years.
While racism and favoritism in the fashion industry have stood in the way of equity and inclusion, Andran is among the ranks of the photographers of color intent on ensuring that Black Lives Matter extends to the fashion industry as well. Because just as Black Lives Matter, Black Artists Matter, and Chaniel Andran is one to keep your eye on.
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