Sep 302013


The streets are on fire with humanity, the good of it and the dark side of it.”

S.E. Jihad Levine


This week Featured photographer is our very own (Safiyyah). Safiyyah is a very active member in this website, and if it was upto me, she would have won Member of the Month every month. So thank you Saffiya for your valued contribution. She is also a very good photographer, one of the kind I must say, She is not only a Street Photographer, but with a passion and history, that once you get to know her it reflects from her photos. She is exactly what Pictures says a 1000 words is all about.


Q1 Your Full Name?.

I use S. E. Jihad Levine.  “Levine” is my father’s name, and “Jihad” is my husband’s last name.  When I became a Muslim, I read in the Qur’aan that Allaah t’ala instructs us to keep the names of our fathers.  Therefore, I still use my father’s last name, “Levine,” and have put my husband’s name before it with no dashes to reflect that they are two separate names.  My secular first name is “Sharon,” and my attribute is “Safiyyah,” that’s why I use the initial “S.”  “Safiyyah,” (ra) was one of the Jewish wives of the Prophet Muhammad, saw.  So, when I came to Islaam from Judaism, I chose her name for my attribute.

Q2 What you do for a Living?

I am a retired internationally certified substance abuse counselor and clinical supervisor.  I retired from full-time work at the end of 2007 from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at SCI Muncy, in America, a state correctional facility for women.  After my retirement, I accepted a part-time position at Muncy as their Muslim chaplain.  I have been serving the department ever since as Muslim chaplain.


Q3  Tell us Something about yourself, as a person, your past, your passion etc etc?

I came to Islaam from Judaism in the summer of 1998.  My father was Jewish, and my mother was Catholic.  My brother and I were primarily raised as Jewish.  Occasionally, my mother and maternal grandmother would take us to the Catholic Church for Sunday mass or Catholic high holidays such as Easter, Christmas, etc.  My parents divorced when I was about 11 years old, and my mother put us in full-time Catholic school.  It was there that I learned about Isa (as).  But something in me would not accept that he (as) was God, or the son of God.  When I was old enough to make my own choices, I returned to Judaism.

I was pretty much a practicing Jew, dipping in and out of other religions, searching for the truth.  Because I was introduced to Isa (as), it was difficult for me to fully return to Judaism.  Like I said, I didn’t accept his (as) divinity, but I knew he (as) was “someone” not to be ignored.  In 1997, I met and married my Muslim husband.  After reading his books about Islaam and watching his example, Masha Allaah, I became a Muslim in 1998.

I then found a place for Isa (as) in my life and religion!  Retirement has allowed me to focus on my interests, and by no means am I bored like some retired folks!  I am the principal and beginning Arabic teacher at our mosque’s Sunday school.  I am also an avid gardner, and I grow 99% of the vegetables my family eats.  Lastly, I’m a published writer, make and design jewelry, and of course, I am a photographer.

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Q4. What kind of gear do you use?

Camera body – Canon EOS Digital Rebel, T2i – My next camera, Insha Allaah, a mirrorless, probably one of the Fujis
Lens – Canon, EF 50mm, 1:1.4, occasionally use a Tamaron AF 70-300mm, 1:1.4-5.6 Tele-Macro (1:2)
Filters – Sunpak 58mm ultraviolet

Q5. Which is your favourite lens? Why? 

Definitely, my Canon 50mm 1.4 which is on my camera 99.9% of the time.  I love it because it’s fast for low-light situations.  Also, it has enough tele in it that keeps me from jumping right on top of my subjects like a paparazzi.  I view myself as a bold street photographer, but I still respect the people I’m trying to photograph.  I get close, but think, just for me, that’s it’s disrespectful and invasive of someone’s personal space, to stick my camera right in their face.  Not my style.


Q6. Among the gadgets that you own, is there something that you wish you hadn’t bought? Why? 

Yes, my 70-300mm cause I rarely use it.  It just sits in my camera bag.  It’s my opinion, it’s not a street photographer’s tool.  But, I have it – just in case.

Q7. What kind of tools do you use for post processing? And why you prefer that tool? 

Believe it or not, I use the free version of Picasa.  My PP needs are simple.  I have Adobe PS Elements 7, but rarely use that.  I love PSE’s clone tool, and that’s practically the only time I open PS.  I was taught that images should be good straight out of the camera.  For me, I only use the basic “sliders” of PP, i.e., contrast, color, crop, fill light, etc.

Anything more usually results in an image I don’t like or is not my style.  At the present time, I am trying to learn Lightroom because I’m going to start shooting in RAW.  Believe it or not, I’ve been shooting in jpeg all this time.  Returning to photography after decades at being away from it has been a steep learning curve for me, especially transitioning from darkroom to digital PP

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Q8 When did you first get interested in photography?

Practically since birth!  My father and grandfather always had a camera in their hands.  I am fortunate to have a rich photographic record of my childhood and my family.  By instinct, it seems, I was fascinated with my father and grandfather’s cameras, but they were forbidden to my tiny clumsy hands.  I swore I would take photographs when I was old enough to have my very own camera.  I kind of grew up in the 50s and 60s which was a time of upheaval in America: Civil Rights, Hippies, Rock and Roll, mini skirts, Viet Nam War, Women’s Rights, etc.  Pictures were everywhere then.

I was attracted to the Life and Look magazine photographers.  I was awed by viewing the images of war photographers like the Hungarian war photographer and photo journalist, Robert Capa.  I loved Annie Leibovitz’ work in Rolling Stone magazine.  Of course, we studied Ansel Adams and aspired to be like the Magnum photographers!  In the early 70s, I was accepted to study photography at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  I wanted to be a professional photojournalist, but life took me down a different road.  Today the recently-discovered Vivian Maier is my favorite street photographer.  Her work totally blows me away, and I want to learn to take the kinds of photographs she took.

Q9 From your Flickr Account, most of your photos are STREET Photography?.why this type of photography?

Simply, the answer is because I love people!  And I love the streets!  The streets are on fire with humanity, the good of it and the dark side of it.  I have spent the majority of my life in the northern urban areas of America: Harlem, Bronx, Chicago, Pittsburgh … There is a saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Street photography enables me to tell the story, to give viewers a chance to see things they wouldn’t normally see in their everyday lives.

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Q10 When it comes to photographing portraits of people—what do you want your viewers to feel from your photos?

Well, I kind of suck at portraiture (from my definition of it) although my portfolio includes some of it.  The majority of my images of children appear to be portraits, but they were taken when the child was unaware of my camera, doing something that kids like to do.  Because most of the kids I know are comfortable with my camera, they often walk right up to me when I’m shooting, wanting me to include them.  I want my viewers to look into the eyes I people I shoot and obtain a small glimpse of that person’s soul and life.  Some people have haunting facial expressions.  I want my viewer to see this and feel something, anything, and then decide for themselves what I want them to learn from sharing my photos with them.


Q11. How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?

I’m a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  I’ve taken non-credit courses at my local university when I returned to photography after being away from it for so many years.  I also read a lot.  A real lot.  The website Digital Photography School is one of my favorites, as are sites like yours, Br. Salim.

I also learn a lot about street photography from Br. Mustafa Davis.  I ask a lot of questions.  I’m also active in a few Facebook groups for photographers, particularly “Muslim Female Photographers.”  It’s wonderful to share and learn with other sister photographers.  Sisters out there! Join us:


Q12. Among your works, what are your top three photos? Why?


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I live in an area where there are a lot of Amish people.  They are very elusive and don’t like to be photographed.  There’s a local farmer’s market near me where the Amish come to sell their produce and baked goods each week.  I walked around the market for quite some time before I came upon this scene: two small Amish boys taking a rest.  I love this image because of what it took to accomplish it, i.e., the right opportunity, and the decisive moment.  I lined up the shot and got it off before the little boy who was awake could see me and turn his head.  That’s what the Amish people usually do when they see cameras: turn their heads.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 8.24.24 PMThis image was taken in Harlem, New York City.  I love it because it shows the gentrification of Harlem contrasted with the everyday folks who still live there.  Ever since President Bill Clinton made his office in Harlem, the area has gone extreme gentrification.  I am one of the few street photographers I know of who primarily shoots street photography in color.


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This one also taken in Harlem, New York City.  This scene is a common one, White people riding through ghetto, inner-city areas, looking at the action on the streets, many of them afraid to get out of their cars, but fascinated nonetheless.  This scene captures that sentiment.


Q13. Whose work has influenced you most?

All street photographers have an influence on me, but lately, it’s the work of Vivian Maier.  I aspire to do the kind of work she did.
Q14. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

I can’t say that there was one particular thing that I wish I knew.  I was hungry to know everything!


Q15 Please add anything more you can think off to inspire upcoming new photographers?

To new photographers, I say “hang in there.”  Don’t run out and spend a bunch of money on this gadget and that.  You are blessed to be starting out in the digital age, where practically everything and anything you want to know is available to you online.  Join some forums, and ask a lot of questions.  Don’t be shy of comments and critique.  Folks “should” be critiquing your work, not you.  It the folks there are crappy and egotistical, quit that group and find folks who are supportive and encouraging, folks who are patient to help you learn and be better.  Above all, believe in yourself and believe in your work.  And get out and take pictures!


Q16 Tell me about your Awards, Recognitions and any published photos?

No awards yet, but I have had photos published in Mail Online in the UK.  They asked permission to use three of my images from the Target Nurse In demonstrations held around America to protest a breastfeeding incident that occurred in one of Target’s department stores:  


Q17 Your Website/FaceBook/Instagram/Flickr etc..

  12 Responses to “From Judasim to Islam A Street Photographer Story (Safiyyah, Featured Photographer)”

  1. Wow, amazing and touchy story. Really enjoyed reading the interview. It shows that photography is a passion. I love the photos, very real life story telling.

  2. Very nice interview saffiya. Do you crop your images?

    • JAK Faisal! Yes, I crop images. BUT, lately, I’ve been trying to get in tighter to avoid cropping. As you know, cropping increases noise in an image. And I don’t own LR yet or have any other de-noise program. The ideal is to get a sharp image without or with a minimum of noise. In the image of the Occupy Wall Street protestor (the kid in the blue sweater), I noticed that I didn’t focus on his eyes, so his face is soft, but parts of his sweater are sharp! The kid threw me off my game because when I lifted the camera to take his photograph, he started to admonish me for photographing him without permission. I rarely ask permission. So to
      humor him, and respect him (cause he looks kind of cool), I asked and he said okay. So when I lifted the camera again, I was throwed off from my moment. The image of the ethnic Arab (purple head wear) from Sanliurfa, Turkey was not cropped very much. Nor were the others. But, yes, I’m working on toning down noise and avoiding cropping much 🙂

  3. Interesting, its not every day you see a senior citizen with such background and Gender to hold camera and be passion about it. Well done, very role model of you

  4. And JAK Br. Salim! I am so honored to be featured here on your site!

  5. Awesome interview! Happy to know a bit more about you and your passions. I love your photos from Turkey! What other countries/cities would you would like to photograph?

  6. Masha’Allah! You have a very inspiring life story,I enjoyed reading this.

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