This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.
When Farah Al Qasimi began living in New York City, she felt deeply isolated, and she would often search online for places that reminded her of where she grew up in the United Arab Emirates. She was, she says, “seeking a sense of intimacy that didn’t require physical closeness.” Really, she was searching for the familiar—the streets where her native language was spoken, the smell of the foods that had now become a rarity. Eventually, she set out looking for all of these things in the most American way possible: the road trip. She went to cities all across the country—Houston, Las Vegas, Paterson, Los Angeles—with the mission of photographing predominantly Arab neighborhoods.
“I was interested,” she says, “in what parts of culture diasporic communities leave behind, what parts they preserve, and what parts they perform or commodify, like belly dancers, fortune tellers, East Village hookah bars.” She also noticed how gender performance shifts as these communities enter new spaces; many Arabs are being racialized for the first time, and a lot of the men, Al Qasimi believes, see this as an attempted emasculation or stripping of power and autonomy.
She envisioned her series, too, as an ode to Robert Frank’s The Americans, his landmark post-war photo-book that chronicled class, wealth, and race in the US during the 1950s. Frank is, perhaps, a bold person to emulate, yet a logical one for Al Qasimi: She tries to see what others aren’t paying attention to, but what they’ll recognize right away. She’s attempting to define what it means to be “home,” especially as our homes move more and more into the digital realm—onto Instagram, and Facebook, and Twitter.
“Images,” she says, “transcend language as a way of sharing information—and it can be incredibly comforting, or relieving, just to know what somebody’s day looked like.”
In other words: They’re a way to always see home.