Yousef Khanfar grew up in Kuwait, raised by Palestinian refugees and mute at the age of 6. Concerned, his father took him into the sand dunes with a camera, hoping that if the boy was not willing to communicate with his mouth, perhaps he would with a camera. A lifelong obsession was born.
Moving to America to pursue his passion, Khanfar has become best known for his landscapes, stemming from his surprise learning that the entire world was not a desert.
His impressive résumé and stunning imagery led organizers of the 2011 YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City to ask Khanfar, who lives in Edmond, to communicate to possible donors the life-changing potential of its charitable programs.
A call was put out to local Y branches for members’ stories to feature in a fundraising campaign. Ultimately, three were chosen: a family struggling with the stress of having a parent deployed overseas, a troubled foster child finally finding a home, and a woman temporarily declared dead after a car crash who surprised doctors with her perseverance.
Khanfar created images of all three to hang in every branch through March 11, serving as the faces of the fundraising drive. As with every photograph he takes, he said the key is capturing the moment, finding a way to inject emotional depth.
If you can use art to help humanity, why not?
“It is like a glacier in the sea: You only see one-third, but you don’t see the other two-thirds — the suffering, the drama in their life, the sadness of lost relationships. When you photograph, you try to bring all that up through their eyes in a simple way people can relate to and will have an impact,” he said. “At the end of the day, art needs a voice and if you can use that voice to help humanity and bring people together, then why not?” Damon King, director of financial development for the YMCA, said giving a face to the charitable arm of the organization was critical, since many people don’t realize its scope.
“These are stories most people don’t even think about when they think about the Y. They think about basketball, treadmills, working out on an elliptical machine and aerobics,” King said. “There are people who have dealt with life-and-death situations, and the Y has helped bring them back from them. Images will tell those stories better than words.”