Yousef Sindi is one of the four featured photographers in our October exhibition Old is New: Photos of Knoxville’s Historic Old City. In an exhibit that showcases the Old City's charming architecture, Sindi's work incorporates a uniquely personal and cultural perspective. The portraits of his partner donning traditional Kurdish attire offer a glimpse into the neighborhood's rich cultural diversity. Her pride and confidence radiate a sense of belonging in the space — in Knoxville as a whole.
“It showcases what we call home now.”
Yousef is a Kurdish American photographer born and raised in Nashville. He is a recent graduate from the University of Tennessee and has lived in Knoxville since 2017. Yousef’s passion for photography stems from a high school photography class and years of photographing his family and friends for fun. During his freshman and sophomore years at UT, photoshoots were a way to hang out with his friends. After posting his photos on his Instagram, other people started approaching him about his craft. While graduation shoots became a good side business and gave him more project opportunities, his goal is to keep photography as a hobby he can enjoy himself.
Yousef works primarily in portrait photography. His process is about meeting the individual, understanding their story, and bringing out their natural confidence. Over the course of the shoot, Yousef develops a relationship and trust with the subject. He watches his client go from nervous and stiff to comfortable and responsive. Their confidence means they’re having a great time. He does minimal editing because he wants to leave space for his client’s natural beauty to shine through.
We have to learn about other cultures to celebrate people instead of bringing them down.
His interest in showcasing the individual, their story, and their culture has also led him to work on several diversity initiatives at the University of Tennessee. For Black History Month, the Office of Multicultural Student Life reached out to Yousef to create a photo series for the Frieson Black Cultural Center. Hair & Hierarchy became his first true gallery experience. The goal was to showcase diversity on campus through students’ hair and hair products. Over the course of one week, Yousef listened to and photographed 80 students.
During the opening week of Hair & Hierarchy, students reacted strongly to seeing themselves and their peers reflected in the photographs. The exhibition was significant after so many incidents of racism at the university caused students to keep their heads down and hide their cultures. “We have to celebrate and embrace cultures. We have to show it. We have to educate others about where we come from and what our culture is. And we have to learn about other cultures to celebrate people instead of bringing them down,” Yousef stated at the exhibition opening.
I hope [my work] inspires others to share and celebrate their culture no matter where in the world they are.
When Yousef was invited to participate in the October exhibition, he could not turn down the opportunity to showcase work at another gallery. Yousef often conducts photoshoots in the Old City because the variety of locations, the diversity of architecture, and great natural lighting bring out the best in his clients. He quickly recognized that his exhibition could be an opportunity to share his Kurdish culture with a new audience. “Nobody has done this before — I haven’t run into any Kurdish people in the 5 years I’ve lived here.” During the First Friday opening, Kurdish music played softly next to Yousef’s pieces. “I hope [the exhibition] sparks questions about Kurdish culture so that we can share our culture and hopefully inspires others to share and celebrate their culture no matter where in the world they are.”
Yousef hopes that this opportunity to showcase his work will be the first of many explorations into culture and diversity in Knoxville. Yousef continues working with the Office of Multicultural Student Life to photograph and showcase how students celebrate their cultural events.
For more of Yousef’s work, check out his Instagram @youeyeimages.
Purchase prints from the Old is New exhibition.