Living in Canada means something different to everyone and most have a different journey on how they’ve come to call Canada home. That’s what makes Canada special; its diversity, inclusivity, and providing space for its citizens to grow and prosper. Alen is the epitome of the Canadian citizen; immigrating at the age of 6 after fleeing Iraq he has created a life he loves. With a passion for photography he curated his craft through years of practice that now allows him to travel the world. We were lucky enough to catch him in between flights and talk about immigrating to Canada and how he found his passion along the way.
How did fleeing Iraq shape your perception of the world?
We tried to flee twice, once when I was 2 years old before finally making it to Turkey on the second try when I was 6. It made me appreciate the stability that comes in certain places around the world. It also gave me an appreciation for meeting new people and seeing as much of the world as I can. I value culture a lot so I’m always trying to find culturally rich and diverse places to visit. The more people I meet the more people I get to share my experiences with, my story. But also receive their story and get to know who they are and travelling has really allowed me to do that. Otherwise I would have been a very introverted individual but being able to get out of my comfort zone and pushed into environments where I wasn’t familiar really allowed me the freedom and opportunity to really see what’s out there.
Why did your family decide to move to Canada, why not the US?
We were talking to the consulate there and he was asking us where we wanted to go and we chose Canada because it just made sense. It wasn’t a country that was causing any issues in the East and there wasn’t much negativity towards it at that time either, it is a very neutral country and so it was a very easy decision to make.
Did immigrating and moving veer you towards a more travel-focused career?
I think it definitely had a part in it, but also I think deep down to my core I believe that I don’t belong in one place. I feel like the world is meant for everyone to see and experience and some people have the luck and opportunity to see it and others don’t.
How did you get introduced to photography?
I began experimenting with photography while I was travelling; my dad bought me my first camera. I began to truly appreciate the art, I wasn’t just taking photos I was creating images that compelled people to travel and inspired them to want to see the world in a different light or even just to try something new and not be so discouraged. I was always hesitant on so many things growing up, ‘oh I can’t do that because it might not be safe’ and I was always thinking about that safety net. Photography really allowed me to experiment and break a lot of boundaries for myself.
What’s the most important aspect in each photo you take?
I think it’s a combination of things, I want to document my experience and that is one of the most important things. I’m not just there looking for things to photograph, to me that doesn’t make me who I am. I want each photo to somewhat tell a story but more express a feeling I had. Hence why my photos are very moody, I try to capture the feeling that I have everywhere I go. I like to create things not just capture them.
How has being a Canadian citizen shaped your identity?
I never ever tell people I’m just Canadian actually its one of the things I’m very proud of is to say I’m Iraqi-Canadian. I was born and raised in Iraq, I moved to Canada and now it is my home but I don’t separate the two. I think that in order to tell someone who I am it’s lying if I say I’m just Canadian. I also like to show people around the world that diversity is a part of who I am.
Absolutely, what truly sets Canada apart is its diversity, there are more people with a sense of duality with their nationality.
Canada has brought together so many people from all walks of life and they’re accepted because of their differences and everyone gets to share their story and build Canada to what it is today. That’s very unique, most countries you go to have been around for a long time. Everyday there’s a new thing happening and I like that we’re still inviting immigrants, we’re still supporting people and also just making Canada a better home for its citizens. Its not just about bringing people and giving them the opportunity it also benefits us. Bringing people in is having friendship.
Your life is enviable from a social media standpoint, what would you say to somebody that wants to chase his or her passion?
It’s always finding what you’re passionate about and then discovering your passion in the world. I didn’t become a photographer so I could travel the world; I wanted to travel the world and became a photographer who shares the world. Most influencers started out truly loving what they were doing as a hobby or passion and from that the opportunities came.
Do you think Canada provides more opportunities to chase their passion than others?
Absolutely, I think there is tremendous room for creative people and people who are chasing their passion. We are so diverse across the entire nation. You go to Vancouver and there is a different vibe and feel and art scene and that’s amazing. Going to school is a huge component too; a lot of people think that education is just for someone that wants to go to school, find a job and work in a specific career. No. Education is about enlightening yourself it’s about learning as much as you can about the world. Fundamentally I want to do something in the art and design world but I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gone to University.
Where do you see yourself moving forward?
In the next ten years I really hope to have a design studio of some sort for creatives and allow them to work on projects that come through the door. I like working with interdisciplinary people and who are as diverse as I am so that I’m able to learn from them and create something new that is touched by many people not just one. It’s all about unity and I think that’s the core of what Canada is and I look at that when it comes to my art.
A modern day nomad Alen exemplifies what it means to be a citizen of the world, creating an international community through his photography. He inspires others with the notion that achieving your dreams is possible with the right amount of passion. Showing the world that home doesn’t necessarily need to restricted to one defined location and that unity can be found in diversity. Immigrating to a country that encouraged his dreams has allowed him to thrive by pushing creative boundaries and country borders. People used to have the American Dream but the land of opportunity may be moving north.