You can usually hear Fatuma Mohamud before you can see her. Her distinct speaking voice cuts through soundscapes and more often than not, it’s filled with joy and excitement.
It’s just one facet that makes her a presence in any room. Her ultra-thrifted, funky wardrobe also sets her apart. On a recent day, Mohamud wore a faux leather pea green jumpsuit, mismatched gold earrings and a shimmery silver scarf in her hair.
Mohamud sees the world as her playground. She finds beautiful, deeply human moments everywhere and captures them on film.
“Some people say street photography’s dead. I don’t really think so,” she said. “When I have film I just go crazy. I’m a fire sign, so you know, I just go, go, go.”
Mohamud, 23, has lived most of her life in Northeast Minneapolis with her parents and six siblings. She was a shy kid, but constantly observing — in a way, that has never changed.
Her venture into photography started in high school. She had been shooting on her iPhone 4 until her ceramics teacher, Denny Sponsler, hooked her up with a digital camera.
“She had a personality that was just constantly involved in telling the stories around her,” Sponsler said. “I remember her wanting to take better pictures, so that’s why I said, ‘Here, try this camera.’ And she did.”
Since then, Mohamud hasn’t stopped. You can often find her on West Bank, between her art classes at the University of Minnesota, shooting film on the roofs of parking garages.
She uses public transportation regularly, and it’s there where she has found her most memorable subjects.
“I notice people when I’m on public transportation. I just like looking at faces. I don’t always do that. But, there are people that have unique looks and styles,” she said.
A myriad things have caught her eye: a man’s handmade, punk-style leather jacket on a city bus, the specific color of pink on a child’s winter coat, ethereal sisters from her neighborhood, a shirtless, exuberant man waiting by a bus stop, or a mother’s loving gaze at her young child.
“I just like stuff that has emotion … something that makes me stop,” she said.
Part of what makes Mohamud so special is her ability to approach strangers and immediately gain their trust. For a photographer, this skill is priceless.
In typical Mohamud fashion, she introduced herself to Stephanie Glaros on Tumblr. At the time, Mohamud was still a student at MCTC and Glaros, well-known in the Twin Cities for running “Humans of Minneapolis,” was teaching there.
“You don’t have to spend more than a couple minutes with Fatuma to go like, ‘Oh, you’re kind of your own, unique being.’ I’ve never met anyone quite like her,” said Glaros, who has become a mentor to Mohamud.
Mohamud has lived in Minneapolis her whole life and only traveled out of state once. In summer 2019, that changed. She traveled to Kenya, and then Somalia, her “homeland.”
The trip pushed her creativity into overdrive. She made three short films. She was so eager to take pictures in Kenya, that when she made it to Somalia, she just had one roll left. The whole experience was humbling, she said.
“Before I was living in a dreamland. Now I see the world for what it really is.”
Growing up, Mohamud said, she never saw Somali women in magazines. Her desire for representation helps fuel her passion for street photography — in her own neighborhood and beyond.
“Like all artists, it’s her spirit and her personality and her push forward with this work … She’s telling the stories that she really wants to tell,” Sponsler said.
With a University-rented Pentax K1000 around her neck, Mohamud is unstoppable.