Mustafah Abdulaziz links disparate places and issues by throwing a piece of himself into everything he shoots.

Mustafah Abdulaziz links disparate places and issues by throwing a piece of himself into everything he shoots.

I don’t necessarily believe that photography can be objective, certainly not my photography anyway. Everything about me is subjective.

My mother is white, my father is black, my name is Arab, I grew up in Brooklyn and the only language that I speak besides English is German. I’m none of these things, but I’m all of them – perfectly ambiguous.

Princess Tea Party at the Raddisson Hotel, Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Princess Tea Party at the Raddisson Hotel, Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I can’t just go out into the world and funnel everything I am into something objective. Instead, I’m trying to go out and create a world, then create certain rules of gravity for that world that make sense and that people can believe. Finally, I invite people in.

Photography is basically a tool and I’m basically a fucking woodworker who’s trying to create a space that is larger than any magazine or exhibition but still gives people that same visceral feeling I had the first time I opened a Richard Avedon book.

Konso Region, Ethiopia, 2013.

Konso Region, Ethiopia, 2013.

The transcendent power of photos has always attracted me. Right now, my main project centres around our relationship with water, one of the most critical issues of our time. The question is how to present this gigantic issue in a finite space and in a way that is going to make sense and have an impact.

Take a picture of a melting iceberg – Camille Seaman has done an incredible series of photos on melting icebergs – it’s supremely beautiful, metaphysical even, because you can’t quite grasp the magnitude of this thing.

Meeting of the elders, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

Meeting of the elders, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

It has a certain limit, though; it only addresses a single facet of our relationship with water. But take that same iceberg image and imagine it alongside a picture of a flooded coastal metropolis, or a picture of someone dying from diarrhoea from bad drinking water, or bathers in the Ganges and you suddenly have a larger look at the many facets of the topic.

I’m not trying to make one sentence; I’m trying to make a very lengthy poem that talks about a global issue in a global way. I don’t necessarily feel the same sense of separation from my subjects that others might, perhaps because of my background.

Water in Sierra Leone, 2012.

Water in Sierra Leone, 2012.

I connect with people based more on our interactions than a shared sense of experience, so when I travel I’m not looking for what appears foreign or different, I’m looking for a red thread of narrative that unites seemingly disparate stories and takes me from one place to the next, and then on again to the next.

This space I’m creating with my work is all based on my own perception, so why should I change my style just because I’m in a different place? There is a certain honesty in subjectivity, a lack of pretence.

Wyatt, 11, Mound City, Missouri.

Wyatt, 11, Mound City, Missouri.

It shows a world that still feels big, but is perhaps a little more believable. I strive to be so subjective that the only parameters I’m trying to break are my own.

This article first appeared in Huck 41: The Documentary Photography Special. Buy it in the Huck Shop or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

Check out the portfolio of photographer Mustafah Abdulaziz.

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