Saddi Khali is one of the most cutting edge photographers in the black community right now. His talents mean that he travels all over the USA and has recently returned from a trip to South Africa. His art breaks boundaries while at the same time redefining what we see as self love. His photography makes looking in the mirror a far more pleasurable experience, forcing many of us to love the skin we’re in. Soultrain.com interviewed Saddi Khali for a deeper insight into the man behind the lens.
Soultrain.com: Tell us about the young Saddi. How did your childhood impact your love for art?
Saddi Khali: Well, I’m the oldest of six and it was a single parent household. Although my mother worked I was the one who stayed home and helped raise the kids. My mother exposed us to all of what she thought the best art was–in particular, art that came from the Black Power movement. So, the Black Art movement. Things that celebrated black culture that she thought was black genius so anytime I did anything artistic I already had an intention that this art was supposed to speak to black people and uplift us. So getting into photography… some of my path was already chosen for me. I wasn’t gonna be the Playboy Magazine photographer. I wasn’t gonna be the Vogue photographer; not that anybody would have been angry if I had, but because my work is about uplifting people it definitely fits the traditions I was raised in.
Soultrain.com: You are about uplifting. There must be people out there that may interpret your art as an excuse to get women naked. Do you ever get that kind of response?
Saddi Khali: I don’t get a lot of that. I do get a little of that. People, black people in particular, have been so beat down that we only consider the worst first about each other. We’ve bought into the whole stereotypes in racism and all this kind of stuff. We’ve bought into this more than anybody else has. So, we kinda oppress ourselves and my work speaks for itself enough to not need to spend a lot of energy on that. If they say it in a public forum, then the fans that I have usually handle it for me. People have been raised with certain fundamental Christian values. When they were little their Mama told them that men only want one thing from girls and they have to then live an adulthood tryna navigate through all of the foolishness they were taught as children. So I understand. So many people are uncomfortable in their own skin that the only way nudity is involved is if there are some chains connected to it or something negative. I don’t adhere to that perspective.
Soultrain.com: Where is your favourite location to shoot?
Saddi Khali: I don’t really have a favourite. There are so many beautiful things about most of the places that I’ve been to. Even places that I would never expect that I would enjoy. It’s very difficult to have a favourite. They have their own special and/or unique things. I kinda enjoy visiting all of these places because I get to experience what’s indigenous to those places. So, I would say the place I had maybe the most fun thus far would be South Africa. And that’s probably because I was shown throughout life such awful things about it and then to be there and see how beautiful and how well the people are doing… I’m looking forward to buying a house in South Africa.
Soultrain.com: South Africa must have really made an impression on you…
Saddi Khali: Yeah. But I don’t think of it like that’s going to be my home. I think of it like, ‘I’m gonna have houses in a couple of places and I can go where I want.’ I want to have houses where I can have a Saddi Khali Bed and Breakfast gallery type of place where when I’m gone, people can come and stay in and experience all of my work and be my inner sanctum and pay my mortgage.
Soultrain.com: Is there a country you are really looking forward to shooting in?
Saddi Khali: The rest of the African continent. I can’t wait to explore all of that. Because my work is client-driven and I’m not like ‘I really wanna go here. I really wanna go there.’ I kinda really wanna go anyplace I haven’t been. I really wanna go to the place people can get together and afford me so that I can give them the experience and have the images that follow the experience. Usually places where I am, after I shoot they become friends. I look forward to making new friends and family around the world.
Soultrain.com: Where are some of your favourite places to eat and hang out in your downtime?
Saddi Khali: There’s a café in New Orleans called Neyow’s Creole Café. Every time I get back to New Orleans I usually stop through and get some red beans and rice or some other New Orleans fare or a daiquiri or stuff like that. That’s a great place. In New York, one of the places I enjoy is Peaches Hothouse. That’s some New York folk’s tryna do some southern food and it’s not quite that but it’s good nonetheless.
Soultrain.com: Are there any photographers out there that you would feel comfortable taking your picture?
Saddi Khali: Oh yeah. Plenty, actually. There’s a brilliant guy out of New Orleans who is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a photographic mentor. His name is Gus Bennett and he does this great thing with layers. First he takes your picture and then he takes pictures of found objects and different textures and words and all kinds of stuff like that. Then he goes through this interesting layer process where he places all of these layers on top of each other in a way that makes it look really old yet futuristic all at the same time. Pretty fascinating. It’s almost all black people. He was one of the people who explained to me about being intentional about what your photograph is saying, and how different things say things to people whether they’re realizing that that’s the impression they’re getting. He helped me become more aware of how my work speaks to people.
Soultrain.com: How important is the equipment? Is it the camera or is it the person behind the camera?
Saddi Khali: I definitely think it’s the person behind the camera more than the equipment. I was taught that your equipment was the least essential aspect of photography. Your camera is the least integral aspect. However, the better your equipment, the better your photography. So there are so many people now who can get some good equipment and the camera will do everything for you. It will do everything but speak your voice. It will do everything but give it your flavour. It will do everything but put your perspective in it. So I’m of the mind that you should find your voice first, that you should develop your intentions first and then as you get good equipment, you build your technique on that equipment, you know… You’re killin’ the game. Without the intention, without your own perspective and your own voice it’s just another picture.
Soultrain.com: What’s the feeling you want people to have when looking at a Saddi Khali photograph?
Saddi Khali: I really want them to feel love. I want them to see the people in the images and feel them loving themselves. I want them to see these people and see love in them. I think it’s all about love and I think we let so much of the things we’ve been through dominate our spirit that we forget to love ourselves the way we are supposed to. When we don’t love ourselves, it’s harder to love other people as well and we just don’t operate at our optimum. So I definitely want to be somebody who encourages and celebrates love or self and others.
Ayara Pommells started off writing for a small D.C.-based hip-hop website in 2010. She co-owns UK website Rawroots.com and is also a music writer for @Soultrain and @stupidDOPE, @Earmilk and @soulculture. Ayara is the publicist for Detroit musicians John “Illa J” Yancey, Moonchild and Dungeon Family/ Street Executive emcee Adrift Da Belle. Follow her on Twitter @iAmaButtafly.