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.
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.
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.”