A picture is worth a thousand words. Every wrinkle on a face, groove in a tree, twinkle in an eye, or ripple in a pond tells its own story. It is up to the viewer of a photograph to decide a photo’s meaning, but each one tells us something new. Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, a photographer from Brooklyn, knows this better than most and has spent most of her life telling stories through her photography.
In an interview with Spirit Pursuit in which Barrayn was asked to introduce herself she responded, “My name is Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, I am a portrait and documentary photographer; I’ve been dedicated to this work for about 18 years, creating my first series at age 17. What I love the most about travel is how intensely present I feel when I’m away from home. Being in the ‘now’ is such an incredibly peaceful feeling. Much of my recent travels have been around photo projects; I really love learning on-the-ground, through the process of engaging and experience.”
Barrayn was inspired by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe’s book and biannual journal, “Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers,” to create and publish her own series of biannual journals. Her book, “Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora,” features pictures of different women from around the world.
According to the website, “the book is committed to establishing and representing a collective voice of women photographers of African descent. It includes conversations and essays written by women scholars, journalists and artists. Subsequent issues of “Mfon” will feature photographic essays of four or five photographers with in depth interviews and essays that will contextualize the works.”
The book is named in memory of Mmekutmfon Essien, who, according to the website, was a “sharp-witted, visionary photographer who exhibited at the Senegalese Biennale in Dakar, Senegal and received an honorable mention in the American Photo magazine annual survey of the nation’s best photographers. She passed away from breast cancer the day before her series ‘The Amazon’s New Clothes’ was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art as part of the critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers.’”
In her interview with Spirited Pursuit, Barrayn was asked about her own experiences traveling the world. She said, “As a student and lover of continental African history and diasporan history, I felt I had a grasp of what I was about to experience. I’m also Muslim and I believed that since I was traveling to a country where the majority of the population is Muslim, I might have some familiar experiences, which I did. But, there were some cultural aspects to Senegalese society that were new: how valuable your word is, how the definition of ‘time’ was fleeting and fluid; how generous and communally people related to each other. I also really enjoyed experiencing a completely different set of beauty standards independent of Western influence. I loved to see what ‘dressed up’ looked like and it was fabulous and fun.”
Barrayn’s book certainly broadens the worldview of those who peruse its pages. Moreover, the photographer herself hopes that by adding her own voice, “no one [will be able to] say, ‘I don’t know any black women photographers.’”
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