Lili Kobielski and Soraya Zaman’s photography books explore mental health, gender identity, and prison living.

By Genevieve Kyle.

A picture can speak a thousand words, even more when it comes to the books created by photographers Lili Kobielski and Soraya Zaman, who use their work to explore different concepts such as the representation of the Transgender community and prison living.

In 2018, Kobielski created I Refuse For The Devil To Take My Soul. Offering a glimpse into the lives of inmates in Chicago’s Cook County Jail, the project began, according to Kobielski, when “the former governor of Illinois cut an enormous amount of funding to mental healthcare programs and shuttered several inpatients and outpatient mental health clinics.” Cook County Jail has a daily population of over 6,100. Despite its lack of resource access and a skyrocket in incarceration rates, there was a lack of media conversation about the facility. As Kobielski states, “mental healthcare and the criminal justice system are two issues that do not receive enough attention among policymakers and the media.” 

Zaman’s work on their book American Boys started in the summer of 2016, when Zaman was exploring transmasculinity and their own journey with gender identity. American Boys allows for the “representation of transmasculine identity in media,” explains Zaman over email to Mission. Stemming from internalized ideas regarding how “American Boyhood” should be, Zaman’s narrative “is meant to challenge how people view and perceive traditional binary gender roles and their cultural interpretations across the country.” 

The narratives produced by Zaman and Kobielski offer a look into diverse topics. According to Zaman, photography books have “the ability to deep dive into the nuances of their subjects and allows an audience to have an emotional response.” These works also encourage social and artistic movements, like the movement currently occurring whereby “the photo world is embracing work done by photographers from within their own communities.” says Kobielski. Through their work, Zaman and Kobielski are creating space for stories often ignored by the mainstream media.  


Image credits: Soraya Zaman and Lili Kobielski