From refugee to freelance photographer - Younes Mohammad's inspirational story

Image credit: Younes Mohammad

We hope you are enjoying our interviews with this year's amazing Head On Photo Award judges. You are now about to meet Younes Mohammad, a Kurdish photographer with an incredible story to tell.

Please tell us a bit about yourself - what is your background and how did you come to photography/art?   

I was very young when I discovered the beauty and power of photos. I was a refugee in a very bad situation, living a hard life. I discovered that looking at photography calmed me down. Sadly, I had no chance of taking up photography due to the high cost of equipment. 

Towards the end of 2011, when I was around forty, I was feeling tired of life, finding no joy at all, always working - I wasn’t happy. Even though I was a well paid General Manager of a construction company, I decided one day to leave my job and start following my dream. I handed in my resignation, bought a camera, and started to live in a new way.  I am still on this highway today, trying to make up for the lost time.  

Image credit: Younes Mohammad

Tell us about your work - what does it aim to say or how does it address contemporary social or political issues?   

I call my works, Sense-Graphy. I try to capture a strong sense of my subject's feelings because I think if I can’t capture this, I won’t be able to talk deeply about the subject nor tell their story. 

I think anything that limits our world or puts our world in danger is worth focussing on. I am interested in working on issues that directly affect people and their normal life. This is why most of my attention is on a contemporary issue like war, which puts people in danger and badly affects and restricts the lives that they wish they could have. 

Who or what influences your work?   

I believe my past personal life is my only guide for what I am doing now. I spent my life as a refugee kid in Iran for 24 years and I grew up in very difficult conditions. These have made me who I am today.   

For sure I am following others and seeing their thoughts but I am not allowing anyone else’s path to dictate my own path – I am doing it myself and this is why it takes time to improve my career.  

When I take pictures, I always feel and imagine that life has given me another opportunity to capture what I used to be. I can picture my life in another person, as displaced, as a refugee, and as someone in the middle of a crisis. This is what I am good at because I know how sweet yet unreachable peace was in that situation.  

Image credit: Younes Mohammad

How do you know when a body of work is finished?   

I don't believe in the ending of a body of work because there is always room for improvement. As you spend time on the work, it becomes clearer and more visual, but unfortunately, we do have to stop somewhere - maybe when you feel it`s good enough, maybe when you are tired of it, or maybe just when its time has come.  When I find some part of myself through the work, I feel satisfied, and start to see the end in sight. 

How do you seek out opportunities?   

I lost a lot of years and started photography too late (but this is still ok). For this reason, I spend as much time as I can to better understand and to improve my knowledge and skills, to follow others, agencies, and all photography-related events and foundations. Sometimes I see some opportunity and try my best to fit with it and take it.  Sometimes I cannot seem to reach it and, in the end, I tell myself - don't worry if you are not able to catch all the magical moments and opportunities as you wish, there will be another time - just be ready and try harder.  

Image credit: Younes Mohammad

How have you developed your career?    

Honestly, I am not trying to do anything to develop my career. I just try to do what I love and to know who I am - that's all. Sometimes I discover some new layer of myself that surprises me and then I have more motivation to go deeper, to see yet another layer of myself - maybe this kind of development unknowingly helps to develop my career.  Of course, I’m not really sure about that.    

A big thank you to Younes for sharing his story with us. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Instagram or Facebook.

 

And don't forget  - entries to this year's Head On Photo Awards close on Monday, May 31 so be sure to get your photos in now.

 

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Category
Festival Year
2021