Gallery FCB is pleased to present Can’t Take It With You, a selection of photographs from seven years documenting American Muslims by New York based photographer Omar Mullick.
Pulled from the photographer’s numerous road trips through Muslim communities, the exhibit shows unparalleled access to halfway houses, artists, Balkan immigrants, veiled music producers, a Chicago funeral in the African American Muslim community, Muslim school children at play, Sufi gatherings to American madrasahs — all places and events to which Mullick was often the only person allowed to take photographs. Anchored in the photographic traditions of Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Gordon Parks, Mullick’s work stitches together an intimate, visual tapestry of the American Muslim experience from within and, in the process, expands on the visual record of who we understand to be Americans.
Repeatedly the photographs present an aesthetic vision strikingly different from the visual associations of Islam with war and extremism that occupy the mainstream. Avoiding hysteria, the photographs lean in to a stillness and intimacy with the subjects that suggest an insider’s stance at every turn. More than that, they admittedly attempt to address a religious community on its own terms, sidestepping the usual political or socio- economic filters through which religion is typically viewed. Mullick has said in an interview, “I understood the virtue of just documenting this community, their very existence in a visual document was worthwhile and even overdue, but I also wanted the religion to be about itself, in an absence of the usual academic reductions with which it is often treated. I could allow every thing from the banal to the transcendent so long as it was personal – any thing less would have felt like a betrayal of those being photographed.”
At a time when President Obama used the example of American Muslims in his Cairo address to indicate that Islam had “always been a part of America’s story…” the exhibit presents a culmination of one photographers deliberate effort to take the visual language of black and white 35mm photography, through which 20th Century America has often looked at itself, and open up that narrative to include the latest birth pang in American cultural life. To that end, Can’t Take It With You, which was pursued with singular purpose by a photographer deeply engaged with the idea of what it means to be American, promises to be one of the more important visual documents of the young 21st Century.
Omar Mullick was born and raised in London, after which he attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He spent six years in fashion photography and the film industry, shooting music videos and commercials before turning to documentary photography. Since then his work on Muslim Americans has appeared in the New York Times and National Geographic, receiving fellowships and awards from the M100 Foundation, the Western Knight Center for Journalism and Annenberg, along with sponsorship from Kodak and recognition from the American Academy of Religion. Selected works have shown at the Safe-T gallery in Dumbo, along with recent publication in National Geographic’s book ‘One World, One Day.’ This is his first solo show.
The irony is not lost on me that I am driven to photograph people’s relationships with the unseen, and I’ve gone around the country and this particular community in that effort. Photographers have pointed a camera at every thing — I am acutely aware of that. I suppose then I am interested in nudging a photograph to breaking point in its capacity to address a person’s relationship with something intangible, some thing that cannot be held. I joked with a subject once when I gave them a print and said ‘here you go – here’s the proof.’ And we did not articulate it beyond that. It got a small laugh, and I liked that. But seriously, it must fail, the effort to articulate something of this breadth. That does not mean it’s not worth it. I think of a Beckett quote I love: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ I don’t know what it is that moves me about photography and this violence of light on a piece of film. I know it is something to do with when the results intimate something beyond the frame, something that provokes awe. And when that happens there is little else that seems more worthwhile than that.