Soraya Zaman’s work encompasses so many subjects from portraiture to travel to fashion, and more. Across disparate subject matters there are common themes to be found: a power in the raw and emotive, and the sense of a deep and profound connection between subject and photographer.
Start with Soraya’s incredible project, “American Boys.” Over the course of three years, Soraya (they/them) traveled to 21 states to photograph and interview 29 transmasculine subjects. Bound in an unforgettable book, “American Boys” weaves together powerful essays with intimate and empathetic portraiture that gives voice to a far too underrepresented experience.
Whether it’s using their camera as a way to understand the world, or offering their lens to tell the stories of folks who may not otherwise have the opportunity – or as is most often the case, doing both at the same time – Soraya’s work is one to watch.
We asked Soraya, and all of our featured Pride instructors, to listen to this guided audio meditation, and we hope you will too. It’ll help you dream bigger and welcome and claim the parts of your own self that are sometimes underrepresented. Listen, then read my interview with Soraya to inspire you to dream bigger.
What role has creativity played in the expression of your own identity?
It’s played a pretty significant role. With my project American Boys, it was really a vehicle for me in exploring my own identity. I created this project in conjunction with me exploring my gender as being non binary. I don’t think I knew at the time that’s what I was doing, but I was using this process as an exploration within me. It really helped me get to a very sound sense of my gender and feel very affirmed and comfortable in that meeting these people and documenting and talking about their process and my process. We had a lot of shared stories. The connection is really important, it really drives my process. It inspires me if I’m shooting somebody who’s inspirational.
What fear have you had to overcome to share your creativity fully? What stories and limiting beliefs did you have to overcome?
I feel like a lot of creatives, there’s this sense of not being good enough. There’s always a comparison and it’s something that you really need to try to avoid. There’s always going to be someone better, there’s going to be someone worse, but that’s not the point. The point is to just follow what’s important to you and be true to yourself as an artist. You can’t search for the value outside of that, because you’re always going to be disappointed. You really just have to be proud of the body of work that you put out. When you do that, you can’t go wrong.
How has the queer community shaped your perspective?
It’s shaped my perspective immensely. Also being non binary has shaped my perspective immensely because those two things combined instantly means that societal norms and expectations no longer apply to me. So it kind of sets me free. There’s a freedom in going, “well, I don’t have to play out this prescribed life.” I feel like a lot of queer people feel that way, that this community has a sense of freedom. It’s made me a master of my own destiny. I’m not a boy and I’m not a girl, all of those expectations are gone. There’s this sense of freedom because I’m not going to fit in anyway, so why bother?
When did you feel like you’d unlocked your calling?
I feel like our calling is ever changing. I felt really called to do the American Boys project. It was a process that was bigger than me as an artist, and I was just the vessel of which it was coming through. It took four years of really hard work. I feel like a lot of creatives who do big projects probably say the same thing with callings, but I’m open to being called to different things. Like now I’m leaning into my connection with nature and how that plays out. I’m at the very beginning of understanding how I want to bring that into my body work.
What does creative fulfillment look like to you?
It’s somewhat fleeting. There’s a feeling of completion, and that feels amazing, and then you’re kind of like “what’s next?” At least that’s how I am. For me, it’s not an immediate feeling, but something you look back on.
Looking back on my book, it’s something I’m super proud of, and the creative fulfillment is less about the imagery and more about random emails I get from people who say how connected they are with my work, or how it’s changed their lives, or how they showed the book to their parents and it helped them understand.
What would you tell someone who is afraid to make or share their creative work?
Don’t be afraid to show people and ask people their opinions. It’s never going to be perfect off the bat. Just starting something is the most important thing. Take that first picture, meet with that first person. Don’t think about what you’re trying to achieve on a big scale, just take the first step.
When do you feel most connected to yourself?
When I’m creating, when I’m really in a zone and shooting what I love and I’m really connecting with my subject.
And the other place is probably the ocean. I don’t live anywhere near the ocean anymore, but as an Australian, just being in water.
What edges are you currently pressing into creatively through which domains do you feel nervous and excited to explore your creative limits?
For me, I moved Upstate to be closer to nature. I’m really interested in pushing into this creative edge of finding the intersection between nature and queerness. I’m really interested in the food justice movement, racial justice, environmental justice, and just the intersection there. I’m in the beginning stage of all of this, but those are the things I’m interested in right now, and how it all works with nature in a harmonious way.
Follow along with Soraya in their brand new Skillshare Staff Pick class, “Concept Portrait Photography: Create A Captivating Photo Series.”
Justin Michael Williams, 33, is an author, transformational speaker, and top-20 recording artist who has become a pioneering voice for diversity and inclusion in wellness. From growing up with gunshot holes outside of his bedroom window, to sharing the stage with Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra, Justin knows well the pain of adversity and the power of healing to overcome. He has since been featured by The Wall Street Journal, Grammy.com, Billboard.com, The Root, The Advocate, Yoga Journal, and SXSW®. With his groundbreaking book Stay Woke, and over a decade of teaching experience, Justin’s message of hope and empowerment has spread to more than 40 countries around the globe, particularly through his national “Stay Woke, Give Back” tour bringing mindfulness to youth in underserved communities. Justin is dedicated to using his voice to serve; to being a beacon of hope for those who are lost, and to making sure all people, of all backgrounds, have access to the information they need to change their lives. Learn more at www.justinmichaelwilliams.com
For more from our Pride Series with Justin Michael Williams, head here.