When you visit Hadeel Saab’s (C ‘20) Facebook profile, her featured photos aren’t of that one night out with a group of friends or that really good solo shot. No, it’s a close–up of a bouquet of roses. It’s an aerial view of the skyline, the blue sky pinched by a fluttering rainbow parachute. It’s a canal by a street spotted by buildings that clearly have a story behind them. The choice of these photos is telling of the kind of artist Hadeel is, a kind of artist who finds the beauty in the everyday through multiple lenses, even if that means the most banal of things.
Art, for Hadeel, first took shape in the form of broadcast journalism in high school with videography. “I just picked up a video camera with the journalistic approach,” she says. As a journalist, the goal was to capture stories and share them. The primary objective was never to create a specific aesthetic, only to impart news; if anything, the aesthetic value came as a byproduct of her natural eye for good taste. This was the eye that allowed her to pick up Photoshop and Creative Suite within a week at design camp, the eye that won her runner–up for Student of the Year at Student Television Network, a national convention of broadcast, film, and media programs, and the eye that is the focal point responsible for her personal passion project, .
The website of the project itself was published just last July, but the contents of it have been a work in progress since her freshman year of high school. It started when she travelled to France. Using her iPhone 4, she took photos of it to memorialize her experiences abroad. The next year, she got a camera, which she brought with her on her next trip to Spain with a group of friends and her personal mentor and family friend, Sandra Holden–White.
Guided by Sandra’s appreciation for and knowledge of the arts and the visits to numerous cultural sites and museums, Hadeel found her own admiration for the arts come into being. It was there at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid where she fell in love with museums, looking at Picasso’s Guernica. She says, “that art piece just made me feel so enraptured by the beauty and emotion of the paintings in museums so that’s just a moment I always think of when I started to love going to museums and appreciating art,” fumbling with her sweater and averting her eyes, almost as if embarrassed to be caught in such a passionate trance.
The more she travelled, the more photos she accumulated. Between Italy, Cuba, and Lebanon, she soon accumulated over 10,000 photos on her hard drive “just waiting to be put somewhere.” This is how Saab Creations came into being.
This entire time, photography remained just a hobby. When she first started the website, she had never even having taken a photography class. She says, “I wasn’t expecting anything from it. It was just for my friends and family to see what I was doing with my camera.” In many ways, the project served a creative outlet. It’s something that she decided to keep to herself in contrast to many other projects at Penn. She says, “I feel like being at Penn, there’s obviously so much pre–professional pressure, I think people are always inclined to do something that benefits themselves in the future. [The project is a] way of focusing on things that I want to do now.” She doesn't care if those things won't help her get an internship or job.
However personal this project is, it’s clear that Hadeel never makes it about herself. Her journalistic beginnings have undoubtedly shaped her art into one that tells stories and learns from different perspectives. Her travels and her identity as a Lebanese–American have influenced the importance of those perspectives. She describes her identity as an “in–between space, where I am American, but there’s also this whole culture that I’m not totally familiar with, but I fully appreciate.” Because of this, she draws inspiration from the little beauties of life, whether that be ice cream or the Colosseum, simply because one can find beauty in the most mundane of objects. “I’m inspired by anything I see. I don’t discount anything that other people wouldn’t regard as art,” she says.
It’s this same approach that Hadeel takes to life. As the creative director of Humans of UPenn, she meets people from across the spectrum to hear their stories and share them. This has since allowed her to “appreciate that people have stories that aren’t focused on the professional aspects and how the human condition is so special and universal.” Though her work does not center around her, she relates it to herself. She says, “It represents me in the fact that I’m always curious to look at the same idea or object through different perspectives and find the hidden beauty in them.”
While she seeks the stories of others, hers is still being written—and at a fast pace. With her artistic talents, she looks to use her skills to "bring light to anything.” Last summer, she interned at Hollywood Branded and contacted influencers, made highlight videos, and lead a social media campaign. As she returns to Lebanon this summer, her goals have veered seemingly more towards social change—maybe a documentary with refugees, maybe a photo series.
On her website, under her logo, are the words, “be,” “live,” “move,” and “create.” They’re words she lives by, drawn from her grandfather’s last written words: “We were born to live this life, for it, alone, deserves to be lived. I want to be. I want to live. I want to move. I want to create.” Because of this, the website is also in part paying homage to her grandfather, his approach to life, and his impact on her to adopt the same passion in life.
So take a page from Hadeel’s (and her grandfather’s) book. Find a bit of beauty in everything you do. Be. Live. Move. Create. It’ll make the world that much better and brighter.