by Margaret Carpenter
Safaa Kagan’s work highlights the beauty of cultural differences. Her goal? To send a message to modern “melting pot” cultures that it is essential to embrace the diverse backgrounds from which their citizens originate, in order to move forward, towards a more harmonious global society. She intends to reveal the depth and beauty of human connection by traveling the world and capturing images of people from various cultures; a mother from Ethiopia, a young Tibetan monk getting initiated in Burma, or a Tuareg Blue man chief in charge of a whole village.
Her subjects have vastly different histories, cultural traditions and norms, religious practices, and more. Her message is that those differences, which people tend to fear, are the very things that make them compelling. And at the end of the day, despite our differences, we are grounded by the same humanity: emotional connection.
As an immigrant from Morocco, holding dual citizenship, Kagan has gained a unique perspective on what it means to be an American. In a time when the United States is experiencing radical anti-immigration politics, Kagan’s mission is to dissolve the surface-level barriers presented in society. Through her deep understanding, appreciation, and compassion for all of humanity, she is able to present the raw yet real connection, the essence of diversity, our emotional interconnectedness.
Kagan was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 17, in order to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. Upon moving to the United States, Kagan studied art and earned a degree in Commercial Photography. She then apprenticed under many photographers working in portraiture, stock, and travel photography. Her apprenticeships and training opened her horizons, helped her discover her passion for different cultures. The beauty, complexity, and endurance of cultures around the world triggered her curiosity and inspired her to immerse herself in other cultures and traditions.
After she became a mother, she focused her work on photographing families and newborns so that she could dedicate more time to her family. She found it enjoyable, and it allowed her to support herself while having a decent amount of flexibility. After a few years, she and her partner decided to homeschool their children, which allowed them to have great flexibility to travel as a family. They began “world schooling,” and traveling for educational purposes. That experience broadened her perspective about her work and helped her realized that she could balance her family life with her career, and push herself as a professional photographer.
It was the 2016 American Presidential election that inspired her to return back to a deeper meaning behind her work again, and pursue a more passionate subject within the realm of photography.
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Becoming an American citizen was an important milestone for Kagan. “The day I became an American citizen changed my life… I felt like I finally belonged to this idea of unity. At the time, I felt that even though other nations host immigrants, the United States was the place where you’d always belong no matter what your origins were.” This was an important part of her development as an artist as well. Whether intentionally or not, her current body of work offers a unique perspective on what it means to be an American, through her experience as a first-generation immigrant. And, whether intentionally or not, she successfully challenges what it means to be a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of the world, in an ever-increasing global society.
Her images are exceptionally captivating. From a Burmese fisherman smoking a cigarette, to a Geisha in Kyoto, her fascinating subjects are both regal and human. She manages to capture a vast range of color and tradition, within each culture, through one subject and one shot. She skillfully presents warmth and joy, and a feeling of connection between the viewer and each subject. It is no wonder she has earned her international awards from international foundations and recognition from National Geographic editor-in-chief Karen Gunn. As she moves forward, Kagan wants to explore documentary filmmaking. She identifies her artist journey to those that reflect a greater mission; the movements that try to connect the artist’s philosophy and journey to their work. She especially appreciates those movements that are so successful that the viewers find themselves swept up in the movement and not merely a voyeur of the work. She hopes that her photography, and future aspirations, can find similar success.