photographs by saddi khali
about two years ago, i saw saddi khali’s photos on tumblr and fell in love. they were portraits of black men, women, and children that made me proud of my people’s beauty. soon after, one of my best friends told me about her good friend who was a dope photographer. we browsed his facebook page and i instantly recognized his pictures–i had seen them re-blogged thousands of times on tumblr. turns out, her friend is saddi khali. i know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes; it’s a small, small world.
although he didn’t pick up a camera until late 2004, saddi’s eye for detail is so precise until he makes seemingly mundane body parts breathtakingly beautiful. during his recent trip to washington, dc, i had the honor of being on the the other side of his lens. after my shoot, we sat down to rap about photography, standards of beauty, and his massive facebook following. first, i was surprised to learn the artist who constantly encourages others to recognize their beauty, didn’t always see himself this way.
“[when i was younger] my family celebrated african features, which i don’t have, so i felt like i didn’t fit. when i went outside, if people liked me because of my more european features, then i thought they were brainwashed. regardless of how many people thought i looked good, i felt like i didn’t fit on either side because i didn’t have a context that made how i looked be ok. because i didn’t see myself as beautiful, i didn’t treat myself as such. i made a lot of self destructive decisions.”
with candor, saddi described struggling against a self-destructive tendency to please people in spite of his discomfort. he found himself “always trying to be cool to other people.” he says photography allowed him to transcend his former insecurities.
“helping people see their own beauty has helped me see mine. i do what i do because i wanna feel better about myself and i want other people to feel better about themselves too.”
while some may find the prospect of photographing women alluring, saddi says his job can be difficult. he described challenging moments working with women of color who “would rather accept defeat than fight for the possibilities.” he lamented, “you shoot some people who just decide they are ugly, and they will fight you until the end, as opposed to making any room that there may be another perspective.”
before departing, i had to inquire about his massive facebook following. i gushed–having nearly 10,000 facebook fans/friends surely speaks to the power of his iconic images. unfazed, saddi thoughtfully stated, “most photographers want to take pretty pictures or technically sound pictures or be famous. i want people to heal themselves and feel better. my work speaks directly to that need. i’m working to make you feel more beautiful or feel better about what you see in the mirror.”