Karim Saafir: Man Behind The Lens

Karim Saafir: Man Behind The Lens

About a year before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to produce a gallery event for Los Angeles based and southern California native photographer, Karim Saafir.  Called "Shelter: Faceless Names of Homelessness", the exhibit featured beautiful yet intense black and white photography of persons in Los Angeles that were currently unhoused or had previously been homeless. The exhibit invited you to take the opportunity to place yourself squarely into each photograph and share in their experience or consider that some of those photographed have been treated as faceless.

In addition to helping to produce the event, I was also able to take part in assisting Karim on location with photography shoots, specific to this project. By stepping back and watching him interact with not only his subjects but with their community, you could see that Karim is not just comfortable with the camera but he has a unique ability to connect with his subjects through just simply, listening.  By communicating, listening and quite often joking around, he made his subjects feel at ease just as he would any other person living outside of those circumstances. When discussing this project, Karim has said, 

"What if we lose our identity? What happens when we experience circumstance that completely changes the trajectory of our intended path?" The Shelter: Faceless Names of Homelessness aimed to show the human side of homeless no matter how dire the situation was. SHELTER: Faceless Names of Homelessness: was a photographic exhibit featuring people— "human beings, just like us who were or are currently without a place they call home."

The reason why I bring this event into the forefront is to describe not just the work ethic and passion that Karim Saafir has and maintains as an artist but also to show his ability to connect with people.  His passion for capturing individuals in their most vulnerable state and creating it into something powerful that an audience can relate to, is quite remarkable. 

It is with this skill, accompanied by his technical abilities that keeps him constantly booked and busy throughout the year. Photographing everyone from A-list celebrities on the red carpet, Grammy award nominated and winning musicians on the road or in concert, to high-end fashion shows or nuptial events as well as political activists and politicians, Karim is consistently working. 

With his heavily booked schedule, one would think that Karim has been in the photography field a long time. However, that is not the case. Before landing and spreading his wings inside photography and even before in the computer tech world, Karim's passion was always visual arts. 

In college at Fresno State University, his life was steeped in design and drawing became his medium of choice.  Soon he would find himself in front of a canvas but not with the same conviction as drawing. It was during this time that he discovered the essence of photography (partly due to his then young wife whom was also a photography major) and he began to experiment.  

“I just felt more freedom with my pencils than with brushes and paint which is why I gravitated towards photography. I found that I could use my camera to “paint” by using light"

After the tragic passing of his young wife, Karim’s life changed forever. Using her camera, he began to search for solace and inner peace using one frame at a time in her memory. During that time Karim immersed himself fully into graphic arts and web development, which ultimately led to a career in IT.  Never putting the camera down, Karim turned his 'hobby' into working part-time as a photographer in 2013.  He honed and mastered his craft for ten years before launching his business full time in 2021. 

"A photographer is as much an artist as he is a scientist, and that requires both creative vision and technical skill." 

Karim Saafir has as his central “focus” a single objective with each and every client and/or subject - and that is to leave them with images that are larger than life. This is why entities such as Los Angeles #1 Black Radio Station KJLH, the Black Design Collective, The WACO Theater and celebrities such as Janet Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae, Shaun Robinson and Vanessa Bell Calloway and countless others have and continue to be subjects for Karim. 

Although Karim is in high demand for major events, I believe his endeavors such as his Shelter Exhibit (which coincidentally is now published into his first coffee book) is where his true artistic work lies. When viewing the photos, you can see the compassion behind the lens while at the same time see his effort to show hard-hitting truths to the lives of these particular individuals. He shoots to create a story behind the relatedness of the photos and how as human beings we can connect even if in some way it is through a kindred backstory. Throughout the process he produces photography that relays remarkable stories of resilience, pride, dignity, beauty and love.

Working briefly as a police officer, Karim witnessed first hand the gritty, inequities of life and used his experience with people on the street, many of them homeless and with mental illness to shape his use of the lens. Karim also dedicated his first published photographic essay entitled “Shelter” to the disenfranchised men and women living in the streets of Los Angeles. 

 “As I listened to their stories, sat and communed with them, and sought their permission to document and highlight their individual circumstances, my heart captured what my lens couldn’t. Between the tragic loss of loved ones, joblessness, drugs and mental health, homelessness sorely impacts lives of the homeless but everyone around them.”

“I see beauty every day. Shooting models and celebrities is a joy for me, but I believe I also have a social responsibility to use my gift to effect change wherever I can. And I believe that my purpose in life, whether it’s beautiful or what some people might consider ugly, is to “capture life beyond the moment.“

Karim Saafir currently resides in Los Angeles, California with his wife and son. 

For more information on Shelter: Faceless Names of Homelessness please click here. To book Karim please visit his website: karimsaafirphotography.com


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