Photographer and editor-in-chief Jameela Elfaki on celebrating womxn
Running an independent magazine alongside other freelance endeavours is no easy feat. Jameela Elfaki, the founder and editor-in-chief of AZEEMA mag has many plates spinning, and one in particular is growing her platform that seeks to empower and uplift womxn within the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia diaspora. AZEEMA grew from what began as Jameela’s final project at Central Saint Martins. Having graduated from the fashion communication and promotion course back in 2017, Jameela and AZEEMA have grown together in perfect harmony. Here, we talk to Jameela about the “gambles” you take as a freelancer, her life-changing project and how she’s adapting to shooting from home during lockdown.
Freelance Photographer and Creative Director (2019–present)
Editor-in-Chief, Azeema Magazine (2017–present)
Deputy Picture Editor, ELLE (2017–2019)
Nike, V&A, Notion, ELLE
BA Fashion Communication and Promotion, Central Saint Martins (2013–2017)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance photographer and creative, and I work with various titles, people and artists on a multitude of projects. I’ve worked with ELLE, Notion, Dazed and ASOS. My personal and visual work explores the celebration of diversity, beauty and femininity – subjects that are especially important to me as a woman of colour.
Alongside this, I am the editor-in-chief of AZEEMA, an annual print magazine and platform exploring womxn within the context of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and beyond. Through AZEEMA I have worked with Nike, the V&A, Glossier, Polaroid and more! This year I extended our offering by turning AZEEMA into an agency. This has given our commercial projects a physical space to live in.
How are you right now and how has this period changed the way you work?
I’m coping as best as I can but it’s definitely no easy situation for anyone right now. I’ve had to adapt a lot of the things I do. As a photographer, nearly all of my shoots have been postponed, which is frustrating. However, I have managed to complete some shoots at home which is definitely helping. I’ve had to focus a lot more on digital; social media and thinking more virtually for the magazine, too. It’s definitely a challenging period for creatives and collaboration.
Is there is anything that is particularly inspiring you (or helping you) at this time?
I would say being able to speak to my friends about my ideas is keeping me sane. I go for daily runs which is great for clearing my head, getting some exercise, a change of environment and necessary vitamin D.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
AZEEMA’s recent Nike project! We collaborated with Nike as content partners for the new Victory Swim campaign, the brand’s first foray into modest swimwear. We were in charge of commissioning and casting for the film, as well as the photo series which documented six muslim women from London. I had the wonderful opportunity to shoot the stills for this. We also hosted the launch event at NikeTown for our community. It was a joy! Also, last year we hosted the AZEEMA ANTI - ART SCHOOL in the infamous Raphael room at the V&A, where we reinvented the life drawing experience through various workshops. It was a beautiful experience to see all ages and races appreciating the concept.
“My heritage and being a woman of colour [is] rooted in everything I do.”
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
I would say having a creative eye and a wild imagination. Strong organisation is handy, because there is a lot to juggle. Always be personable and warm – no one wants to work with someone who is unkind!
What inspires your work?
At the moment, mostly my heritage and being a woman of colour. I think that is rooted in everything I do. It’s part of my identity as an artist. I also love sub-cultures, music, fashion and film. Inspiration is everywhere. I think style is something that comes with time and exploration. Style does evolve and change, though, and that’s okay too. I think it’s important to figure out what really inspires you, style will come later.
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
I found MIA’s documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A really insightful. I’ve always loved her work.
How I Got Here
Do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I studied at Central Saint Martins (CSM) doing the esteemed fashion communication and promotion course.I wouldn’t say that you necessarily need a degree to do what I do, but it helped me massively. I became way more focused, hardworking and I learnt a lot about myself and my work. CSM is very competitive, but I’ve never felt more creative than whilst I was there. It taught me the importance of fashion history, how to present and back your work 100%, and how to collaborate properly with different people. CSM teaches you to never back down and to believe in yourself and your own work.
“CSM teaches you to never back down and to believe in yourself and your own work.”
After graduating, what were your initial jobs?
I interned at ASOS, Dazed & Confused and various other creative institutions. I worked part-time for a couple of months, then worked at ELLE full-time for two years. However, I would say I’m still finding my feet; it’s important to remember that it isn’t a race.
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
I think AZEEMA is that project for me. It began as my final major project and has definitely helped my development over the years.
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
The biggest challenge for me was taking the leap into freelance life. It’s a gamble, but I also know that If I had continued working full-time, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain working what was essentially three jobs. There have been many mistakes made along the way, with my photography and with AZEEMA, but you just have to embrace them, learn from them, move on and do better.
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
Freelance life is definitely not a walk in the park. You are ultimately responsible for making sure you have work coming in – which is a whole different kind of responsibility! I’m learning more and more that I really have to push to be paid for things and to stick to my guns about fees. Half the time when I’m approached to speak at events, they consider this to be unpaid work. It baffles me! I don’t think it’s ethical at all and I will not speak or share my expertise for free or for ‘exposure.’ We have to make a living and pay our rent, just like everyone else.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
It’s unavoidably a part of my freelance journey for sure. It’s a useful tool to promote and celebrate work. It’s essential for clients to find you and learn about you. I believe it’s about finding a comfortable balance, I’m still finding what works for me in terms of what I share publicly and what I keep private. But it can be really fun too.
Could you do this job forever?
I’d love to do it for as long as possible! Though, I think with every journey, there’s naturally endings and new beginnings.
Words of Wisdom
In light of what’s happening at the moment, do you have any thoughts on how artists can work together or use their skills to create change or impact?
I think sharing knowledge, lifting each other up and working together to support each other is one way. It’s definitely a time of sharing and coming together. I think this time is more about survival than making an impact, but if we can change the way things are operated for the future, that would be amazing too. Transparency and protective measures for freelancers is really important, as well as changing the way the fashion industry operates.
For emerging creatives, be prepared to work hard and be 100% committed to what you are making. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice, you can’t be expected to know how to do everything. Believe in yourself.
Interview by Siham Ali
Mention Jameela Elfaki
Mention Azeema Mag