Photos of Arab American and Muslim American life without stereotypes

Wesaam Al-Badry was Born in Iraq where he and his family might have stayed had it not been for the Gulf War which started when he was 7 years old. In 1991, the family ended up in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. There Al-Badry got his first camera, a Pentax K1000. “I didn’t understand the numbers above, shutter speed and aperture, but over time I understood the composition of the picture,” Al-Badry told me. Even without regular access to film or a reliable way to develop his shots, he saw in his hands a tool to tell his story as it unfolded.

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Eventually, Al-Badry’s family was relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska. “If you come in as a refugee, you think everything is beautiful. You think you made it to the promised land; everyone is the same,” he said. “But then you realize that there are small clues.” As he grew up, Al-Badry became more aware of racism. Teenagers mocked his mother’s hijab; He recognized that many Americans had been conditioned to see Arabs and Muslims as intrinsically odd, angry, or violent.

Left: A family birthday party for Al-Badry’s daughter. To the right: High school wrestlers in Dearborn, Michigan. (Wesaam Al-Badry / contact press photos)
Girl with dark wavy hair in light pink hoodie and sweatpants in front of window with long white curtains
Photographer Mya Al-Badry’s niece in Lincoln, Nebraska (Wesaam Al-Badry / Contact Press Images)
2 photos: woman in headscarf looks closely at face in mirror;  Man and woman in traditional clothes stand on green lawn in front of brick house with white shutters
Left: Wesaam Al-Badry’s mother at home in Lincoln. To the right: Friends of Al-Badry’s family outside their Detroit home. (Wesaam Al-Badry / contact press photos)

The images in Al-Badry’s From which I Came series, many of which show his own family and friends, could easily be described as cultural exploration – but his work challenges you to focus on the individual, the intimacy of everyday life focus . The people in these photos rarely smile. Al-Badry’s goal is to present them as resilient and dignified, even if that makes the photos less inviting for his audience. His loyalty is to the people he photographs; he wants his subjects to see themselves free from imposed stereotypes. “We belong here,” he said. “We bring this very rich culture with us. But we are not archaic figures; we are not stuck in the past.”

Girl in a ponytail and a pink leotard does a splits on green grass in a fenced yard near the house
Amirah Al-Badry, a niece (Wesaam Al-Badry / contact press photos)
2 photos: woman with long, wavy black hair in sportswear;  Woman in hijab and abaya carries handbag walking across dry lawn beside driveway with other houses behind
Left: The owner of a gym in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Most of her clients are Middle Eastern women. To the right: The photographer’s mother on her way to a doctor’s appointment. (Wesaam Al-Badry / contact press photos)

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