Muslims have earned a bad rap through no fault of their own. Yes, there are extremists among them, as there are extremists among people of all cultures and religions; people who’ve done terrible things.
Our prejudices and media portrayal are very much to blame for this sorry state of affairs, and it doesn’t help that politicians like US president-elect Donald Trump feed these prejudices and seem to benefit from the chaos that follows.
Photographer Mark Bennington decided to do something about people’s perceptions and prejudices by doing what he does best: Shoot portraits.
“My newest body of work is in direct response to the politicized images of American Muslims depicted as a plagued foreign diaspora,” said Bennington. Bennington believes that these people are a vibrant and integral part of the American community. His latest project, titled “America 2.0”, aims to capture this aspect of them.
“Against a neutral grey background, the vibrancy of each subject stands out in sharp relief, symbolising clarity in the midst of political noise,” he mentioned.
Bennington has picked his subjects well. The portraits capture that vibrancy that Bennington sees in the American Muslim community, but even more than the portraits, it’s their stories that catch the eye.
The very first portrait in the series is of NYU Dental Student, Hanan. Dubbed ‘Happy Panda’ by her friends, Hanan’s views on American politics are and life are more rational than that of many an average citizen. “They are both horrible people — one is fake and the other one is pretty ‘out there’ and blunt and his mind set is pretty bad…and hers is conniving,” said Hanan while referring to Trump and Hillary Clinton. “Sometimes I’m surprised at people, at who they’re voting for but I don’t push my views on anyone else,” she added. Mosammet, a high school student, grins happily at the camera while holding up two V for victory signs. She is, however, a little disappointed in America. “I will not stand my father and brother being called 'terrorists'. I LOVE LIFE, but as an American citizen, I have never been so disappointed in America,” she said.
Others like Syeda and Jiniya talk about their hopes and dreams. Some of the people portrayed want to be pilots, musicians and doctors. They talk about their fears, the changing atmosphere in a country that’s coming to grips with Islamophobia and racism. They talk about the fear of losing friends and the desire to be treated as normal people.
“Why must we be portrayed as either good or bad, the moderate or the extremists? Why is my headscarf the first thing that you recognise about me?” said one.
The one thing that stands out in this entire series is that these are just people. Normal human beings.
Bennington is a photographer and based in New York. He is considered by many to be among the best in his country and is best known for his portrait photography. Bennington has also spent a great many years in India, particularly Mumbai, which he considers to be his second home.