Kafi D’Ambrosi’s portrait of Guy S shows how this celebrated photographer combines art with photography. Image courtesy of the artist
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND — Kafi D’Ambrosi is a vivacious woman with a great sense of humor. A brilliant photographer focused on capturing more than likeness, Kafi, as she is fondly called, has established herself as one of Baltimore’s most respected photographers.
Across Baltimore and beyond, Kafi is well-known for her portrait photography. Her portraits are filled with emotions. They go beyond capturing the likeness of her subjects to revealing the depth of their spirit and passion. An amazing example of her work is the portrait of Cedric Derrel Gum, a young Baltimorean, who discovered on December 17, 2012, that he had contacted HIV.
Cedric’s photograph reveals Kafi’s outstanding ability to penetrate the surface to excavate deeper feelings. With eyes closed, Cedric’s portrait reveals an introspective man contemplating his own being. Like a man in a trance, he savors the goodness of life even as he contemplates the recent diagnosis.
Beyond portrait photography, Kafi has also made incursions into landscape photography, nature photography, and fashion photography. Like her portraits, Kafi’s landscape photographs are focused on capturing emotions, joy, and passion.
The joy Kafi captures in her photographs reveals a bit of her own life. Wherever she goes, she lights up the room with her laughter and cheerful spirit. She is a bundle of happiness. Behind that boisterous spirit, however, are tough experiences that will break even a heart of stone.
Last year was particularly traumatic for Kafi. She lost dear friends, her relationship fell apart, and everything came tumbling down. Just when she thought it could not get any worse, one of her closest friends was almost killed when intruders invaded her home. In early July 2015, Ama Chandra was at home with her daughter when she was viciously attacked by burglars that invaded her home. She was stabbed and left for dead. Quick intervention saved her life.
The attack on Ama and the debilitating experience of losing close friends gave Kafi reasons to pause and think about her own life. There was a sudden realization of the fragility of the human existence. Kafi’s recognition of her own mortality gave credence to why it is important to cherish every moment with loved ones.
Photography is a major source of solace for Kafi. Taking pictures and looking at the photos of friends rekindle cheerful memories. Besides photography, Kafi also has an amazing relationship with her daughter. This is another major source of happiness for her. Together, mother and daughter have been inseparable. From many of their photographs on Facebook and Instagram, it is clear that theirs is an indivisible bond.
Although photography and art have given Kafi reasons to be joyful, the journey towards becoming a celebrated photographer was fraught with pain, fear, and uncertainty.
Fear was at the core of the issues that almost derailed Kafi’s progress towards an outstanding career in photography and art. Many times, she questioned her own viability as a creative person. Deep in her mind, she wondered if she was good enough to compete in an art world filled with brilliant artists. That deep introspection led to one faulty conclusion: “I did not see myself as a true artist,” she said.
Despite the flawed conclusion, Kafi never relented in her desire to become an established artist and photographer. Today, she is the better for it. She is not only well-known for her amazing photographs, her artworks have also been shown in galleries and museum, including the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Her artworks are presently on display at the Women on Wednesday in Baltimore. Some of her artworks will also be on display starting March 19 at the Walters Art Museum, as part of the African American Heritage Festival.
When Kafi, who now runs StudioKafi Photography, looks back in time to when she doubted her own creative prowess, she laughs about it. The passion and dedication have been well-worth it. She has not only established herself as a celebrated photographer, she is also winning accolades from fans for her brilliance. Monica Latrice Warren loves Kafi’s images. “I love the expression and inspiration of each photo,” she said. Vitoria Schmitt echoes the same feeling, noting that Kafi is “one of my favorite people and photography artists.”
A total artist, Kafi can sing and paint. She is also brilliant behind the cameras. Kafi speaks 4 languages: English, French, Spanish, Brazilian and Portuguese. In addition to these outstanding qualities, she is also so much fun to be with. She is colorful and radiates love wherever she goes. Perhaps, that is why someone described her thus: “Kafi, you are like a painting, no a sculpture. Actually, you’re a traveling art exhibit.”
In this revealing interview, Kafi talks about her art, friends and arduous journey towards an artistic career. For those who do not know Kafi D’Ambrosi, this conversation shows the relentless desire and determination of a woman to accomplish her dreams in art and photography.
Kazad: Let us start with your relationship with your daughter. I have seen many photographs of you and your daughter on Facebook and Instagram. I must say that both of you are amazing together. I remember one of the photographs with both of you dressed in a pink bathing suit. One could hear your laughter through the photographs.
Kafi D’Ambrosi: Oh, my daughter. She makes me laugh. I lost a lot last year so, I am trying to live in the moment. I am trying more and more to soak in every moment with her.
KZ: She also loves art like you?
KD: She is very creative. She loves to paint.
KZ: You obviously have a fantastic relationship. It seems absolutely important for you to cherish every moment.
KD: Yes, she loves to make good moments into great memories.
KZ: Looking at your portraits, it is clear that you go beyond capturing likeness to revealing the spirit of the model. Did this come out of practice or a style you deliberately strive for as a portrait photographer?
KD: As a portrait photographer, I feel like every face, every person is a work of art. Rather than stealing a soul when I create an image, I hope to illuminate the spirit or the essence of a person. In my practice, during a session, some are very open and give very easily, some have layers that must be dug through to get to the real person. Some people don’t know that they are handsome or beautiful. Many of my subjects cry when they see themselves in the light I find.
KZ: So, what else do you do besides photography?
KD: I do event planning and weddings. I also sing and write.
KZ: Interesting. You are a total artist.
KD: It took a long time to realize that I am an artist.
KZ: Why was that? Were you fighting it or was this a case of you not seeing art as a viable profession or career?
KD: It was more about not seeing myself as a true artist. For many years I questioned my viability as an artist.
KZ: You did not see yourself as an artist? So, what changed that for you?
KD: It changed a while back. In 2014, it became clear to me that I had done a lot in the area of art to rethink my position on an artistic career. When I was writing my artist CV, I saw everything I had completed and worked on. Even I was surprised by how much work I had done and accomplished. That marked a turning point. It gave me a cogent reason to continue to create. The encouragement I got from other artists also helped.
KZ: Beyond the amount of work you had done, what else affected your progress towards becoming an artist and photographer?
KD: Having others participate in my career. Many people saw more in me than I saw in myself. Many people recognized my creativity and artistic potentials even before I did. My friends were constantly encouraging me to pursue my dreams.
KZ: From that point until now, how far do you think you have gone in actualizing your dreams as an artist?
KD: Further than I thought and not far enough.
KZ: What are some of the challenges you have encountered or surmounted in your quest toward an established artistic career?
KD: Owning my own studio, the harsh transition from film to digital, and showing my art after a long break.
ME: As someone who has gone through challenges and surmounted many obstacles, what advice would you give to young aspiring artists.
KD: Take care of yourself first.
ME: Can you expand on that?
KD: Physically, emotionally and mentally. For me, to succeed as an artist, you have to be healthy. As someone who has gone through several health issues, I know your health is very important.
KZ: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years as an artist?
KD: Showing more of my work; have my own live-work space and placemaking.