Aabidah went from photographing her participants in the studio to photographing them via video call due to the worldwide pandemic. She carried out shoots with people all over the world, from places such as Australia, Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
The new development in Aabidah’s project has shown the influence that social media has, especially in these unsettling times, carrying out over 80 video calls. The participants were unaware of what was going to happen during the call; they were just willing to help out an artist. Aabidah would have a casual conversation about the project and how she wants to keep it all-inclusive, with many cultures, religions, sexualities, genders and so on. Aabidah would then throw into the conversation that she thinks they are beautiful and would capture their candid reactions.
In the uncertainty of the pandemic, Aabidah found kindness in friends, family and complete strangers. The project has allowed Aabidah to highlight the importance of celebrating diversity and self-love.
When the world went into lockdown, creatives had to find a way to continue making their artwork and adapt to a new normal. One of those creatives is Aabidah Shah. Shah’s practice is one that is very much influenced by by the people around her. It is one that promotes inclusivity and active relationships between photographer and sitter, allowing her to capture people’s true emotions and reactions. When access to her usual studio environment was restricted due to COVID-19, Shah turned to the internet to continue shooting her work, highlighting the importance of social media and how it has been able to bring people together in such hard times.
Shah uses both mediums of photography and also video to capture the reactions of over 80 subjects, all over the world. Her usual use of a medium format film camera has been replaced by an iPhone, but the message of spreading love and the diversity in beauty is still as strong, in fact, stronger. The subjects being photographed in their own homes rather than a studio environment also opens up the audience to the lives of her sitters, with further emphasis on the promotion of diversity in her work. The use of social media has provided Shah with a platform of opening her work up to the wider world, with participants coming from countries such as the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Pakistan, Belgium, Latvia and many more. This again, allows the message of inclusivity to open up within her work and how our world is smaller than we realise.
This project is one that holds a lot of power and scope to advance further as we move towards a changing world. Shah is a proud voice for the Black Lives Matter movement and many other movements that promote social change. She uses her platform for positive advancements and is a great example of how contemporary artists have adapted to the transitions of the world.
By Annie Benton
Aabidah Shah’s body of work entitled Digital Distancing is a selection of digital portrait photographs captured remotely via video call. Originally intended to be carried out in person, her choice to go online was not her own, but due to the current pandemic she had no choice. The sitters are varied and inclusive, something that is key to Shah’s work. Rather than simply taking photos mid conversation or having them posed, she adopted the classic photographer’s trope of complementing the sitter and candidly capturing their reaction. The final photographs are a mixture of high to low res and depict the participants in varying states of flattery and surprise. It is an interesting to see how comfortable people are while talking over Facetime. While Shah has attempted to show the importance of celebrating diversity and self-love, what comes more apparent is how much people enjoy being told they are beautiful and the widespread connectivity that social media allows.
Shah has accomplished a series of photographs that are imbued with happiness and smiles that are infectious, showing that joy is something best shared. She completed a huge number of calls and made sure to include an entirely comprehensive variety of sitters, with participants ranging from all over the world and of every background. While Shah has not completed anything novel, she has created a nice, happy snapshot of the current social situation, with people turning to a digital means of communication to stay in touch with loved ones now more than ever. It is an example of the joy that can be easily achieved in a world that seems to be ever filled with horrors and discrimination.
The videos she shares on Instagram of herself creating the collection are equally as uplifting, if not more so as you are able to see people before and after they are flattered. Working towards a world that is more body positive and full of self-love clearly motivates Shah and she makes a start here; I look forward to seeing how she develops and progresses with this concept.
By Leo Sartain