“If I have been able to make even one person feel comfortable after their twenty years of doubt and anxiety, that means a lot to me. I think that makes me feel better about myself that I am doing something that’s making some kind of change.” ~ Raqeeb Raza
While trying to contest the ideas of his teacher Plato, Aristotle explains how even though art is one step away from reality, it is also much more than that. The universal truths captured through art are larger than life. Some of these art pieces that Aristotle mentioned could be found on @daintystrangerphotos in the form of awe-inspiring and subversive photographs.
Raqeeb Raza, the person behind this page and the photographer of these pieces is a research scholar in English Literature and an extremely wholesome person. He completed his undergraduation from Kolkata, masters from Jamia Millia Islamia. If you open his page, you will see his presence there through his absence in the photographs that he so beautifully captures. Raqeeb’s work has been featured in a lot of places like The Quint, Homegrown, Vice India and many more. He was also nominated in the LGBTQIA+ Voice of the Year category for Cosmo India Bloggers Award 2020.
Raqeeb started his page in April 2018 as a personal diary and inspired many people to become a part of his journey! His childhood wasn’t a cakewalk for him. He says, “I never really related to that kind of mainstream representation and it led to a lot of problems in my life. It made me anxious because I felt like I am not good enough. I started this page to give way to my interpretation of what masculinity is.” There is not an ounce of doubt that he works remarkably, while also making this world a better place for himself and everyone who happens to stumble upon his page!
He does not work with professional models, but works with people like you and I—people who have been/were struggling to accept themselves and have beautiful stories to tell. He rarely directs his models and rather lets them breathe freely and be their own self in that moment. I was very curious about how he makes people comfortable to bring out that intimacy and to this, I was told by Raqeeb,
“For the first two hours, I just talk to them, just get to know them, their personal life, the issues that affect them the most, their vulnerabilities. I always try to be personal with them. I offer them a chai (tea) or coffee and I talk. I also tell them about my life and prevent it from becoming a one-way process. From the beginning to the end, my only focus is on making them feel comfortable, even if the shots don’t come well.”
Raqeeb’s work intends to deconstruct mainstream and predominant perception of masculinity and propagates acceptance of one’s body amidst all vulnerabilities. Whenever we hear the word masculine, it reminds us of “washboard abs, beards and mustaches”, of someone who does not cry and has no emotions whatsoever. Raqeeb’s first-hand experiences have lent him an eye to see the problems attached with what we see as masculine, and his page leaves no stone upturned to present an opposite side to the long known term. He nowhere attempts to present a definition of masculinity, but tries to make it more inclusive for everyone. He believes that masculinity is “interdisciplinary and inter-discursive” and sees his work as an endeavour to attack patriarchy.
Raqeeb Raza’s work is not erotic or sexualised in any sense. It is rather intimate in a warm sense, just like he wants it to be. This is how he started and wants to continue with it because there is still a long way to go insofar as the fancy idea of masculinity is concerned. Raqeeb’s only aim is to change the perception of masculinity, the way intimacy is looked at, especially regarding queer relationships and challenging the norms. He agrees that his work is quite aligned with the Body Image Representation or Body Positivity movement, but he would rather like it to be called as a personal expression of many beautiful people.
However, behind the scenes of this beautiful page haven’t been so beautiful with regard to posting it for an audience on Instagram. Raqeeb says, “Strangers are not so kind, of course. If it’s a constructive criticism, I would always take it with my heart all out. I love criticism, it only makes me better. But that’s not what many people do. They abuse you in different senses. Many people have commented on my identity and Muslim religion. My work has been called pornographic, and I think it’s in their eyes.” Despite all this, he is open to different responses and is mindful of how art can be perceived in a lot of ways.
For Raqeeb Raza, the bigger and more impactful challenge is dealing with censorship. Even after following all the rules and regulations, there was a time when fifteen of his pictures were deleted and he wasn’t able to post for a long time. It affects him more because of how it lessens his speed of work.
Despite all these hardships, Raqeeb Raza keeps going each day!! To him, it’s a journey and all the people who support him and validate his work provide that encouragement for him. All the features have worked as a catalyst for him to persist in this direction and do wholesome things for everyone!
Raqeeb Raza is currently working on a short educational film which fulfills his dream of becoming a filmmaker and to tell stories that have not been highlighted for the longest time. Besides this, he has a lot of photographic projects and a lot of short narrative videos that are coming up for all his admirers!!!
Through his camera, Raqeeb captures truth, acceptance and courage. He uses transgression, subversion and hope to produce that one mesmerising photograph. To everyone who is reading this, Raqeeb has something to say to you,
“Be considerate and be kind. It does not take much to be kind. You can be very mean and that energy would affect you as a person. Do not be that person. Do not traumatise a person just because you want to feel good about yourself. Bullies see what they are missing, in that other person and want to bring them down. Be inclusive.“