Friday, 4 February 2022

The Photography Edition

The Beginning

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INTRO

It is art, it is journalism, and it is accessible to just about anyone these days although it takes more than just having an HD camera on your phone to become a photographer. While tech — especially mobile tech — has lowered the barriers to entry for aspiring photographers, truly moving photography remains the domain of those with an eye for detail and the skill to capture captivating moments. But true artistry is about more than just snapping a pic. It’s about gaining the trust of the subjects that you photograph and finding ways to tell stories visually that might not be as powerful in writing.

Whether an amateur or professional, most will agree Egypt is in a league of its own when it comes to iconic sights just begging to be captured. Whether it’s the majestic sight of the Giza Pyramids, the picturesque view of the Nile juxtaposed with the bustling capital city, the vast sandy dunes, or the cobbled urban streets that hold more stories than the world’s bookshelves, you’re certain to find a scenic shot in every corner. The most powerful photographs create more than pretty aesthetics — they tell deep stories without using a single word.

In this issue, we look at some of these powerful photographs, some of our favorite photographers, and where the newbies among you can learn a thing or two about being behind the camera.

ICONIC IMAGES OF EGYPT

This iconic photo of the legendary Louis Armstrong by the Pyramids has even more depth to it than meets the eye. Much like good photography, good music transcends time, words, and cultures. The US State Department made use of that knowledge during the Cold War, and decided to capitalize on the burgeoning concept of cultural diplomacy by sending its most powerful ambassadors abroad: Jazz musicians.

In 1961, Egypt got a visit from the one and only Louis Armstrong. His brief time in Cairo was immortalized through this heartwarming shot, in which he plays the trumpet for his wife, Lucille Wilson, by the pyramids and the Great Sphinx. Look closely, and you can almost hear the timeless tune of “What A Wonderful World.

Note: The photographer of this image remains unknown.

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“Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” These words by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 4th century, are artfully written on the walls of the infamous Garbage City in Manshiyat Nasser — the fascinating community of garbage collectors that is virtually guaranteed a visit from every foreign journalist in town. French-Tunisian artist El Seed went a little deeper in 2016 and took on a 50-building wide initiative, Perception.

This image, taken by El Seed himself, was shot from the nearby Mokattam Hills after he completed the project. The aim of his “caligraffiti” was not just to add visual appeal to the disenfranchised area, but to shed light on its misunderstood residents, who have been Cairo’s informal rubbish collectors and recyclers since the 1940s, El-Seed told TRT World.

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The Ballerinas of Cairo series took our social media grids by storm in 2016. Photographer Mahmoud Taher portrayed the multiple facets of Cairo through the magnificence of its ballet dancers, who were initially hesitant to accept his request. Upon seeing the breathtaking outcome, more dancers started volunteering to take part in the captivating series of photos.

Inspired by New York’s Ballerina Project, Taher’s Egyptian version quickly took on a liberating mission of its own: Helping women stand up to harassment and reclaim their streets. Armed with ballet shoes and skirts, the ballerinas elegantly danced through iconic spots like ElMoez Street, El Hussein, downtown Cairo, and even the southern beauty of Aswan.

The January 25 uprising gave us an endless stream of memorable images: M60 tanks pushing through the city, artists performing alongside soldiers, burning buildings and ransacked shops, and thousands chanting in unison for a cause other than their football club. Amid the turbulence, striking photos of unity took center stage in local and international media.

Muslim-Christian solidarity was a dominant theme in the very early days of protests. So this image of a Muslim holding the Quran and a Coptic Christian holding a cross, gripping on to each other and carried on shoulders in Tahrir Square, was front-page material. Captured by Reuters’ Dylan Martinez on 6 February, 2011, this moment was placed alongside cell phone photos of Christians joining hands in a circle to protect Muslim protesters as they prayed in Tahrir square, dispeling sectarian tension.

EGYPT-FOCUSED CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHERS

Giving meaning to the ordinary: Photojournalist, Associated Press contributor and head of Everyday Egypt, Roger Anis is an internationally-renowned photojournalist who began his career documenting the 25 January revolution. He has also served as a collaborator with UNICEF Egypt on a book and exhibition project about street children and children at risk. His affinity for women, animals and working class families as subjects of his snapshots have given his exhibitions a unique perspective on everything from Shaabi beaches and animals in captivity to Upper Egypt (here and here) and reflections on women’s freedoms. Anis, a graduate of the faculty of arts, has also worked on more introspective collections, including reflections on marriage in Egypt.

Everyone’s a photographer: That is the promise that Karim El Hayawan’s work has given to so many amateur photographers. El Hayawan, whose Instagram profile describes him as “meandering,” is an architect, interior designer and photographer. El Hayawan’s portfolio includes everything from commercial photography to artistic shots to everyday images from Cairo. But it was his Cairo walks, weekly appointments with fellow flâneurs which he began organizing for friends, tourists, amateur photographers, and just about anyone interested in joining in his “meanderings” of the streets of Cairo in 2016, that made him such an iconic figure for local photographers looking for inspiration.

But not everyone has what it takes to be a photojournalist. Which is probably the first thought that comes to mind seeing Asmaa Waguih’s immersive photojournalism (LinkedIn), whose work with the LA Times, Thomson Reuters and Redux has taken her from Baghdad and Basra to Gaza, Lebanon, Pakistan, Kurdistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and of course, across Egypt. From documenting women fighters battling Daesh at the Kurdistan Workers Party military base in Iraq’s Mount Sinjar to capturing the reported healing powers of Siwa’s sand baths to up-close-and-personal photos of populist uprisings during the Arab Spring, Waguih’s work is a reminder of the courage that it takes to venture into the field with a camera in hand.

And sometimes, it’s the ordinary that needs capturing — which is much of what Sima Diab, an editorial and commercial photographer based in Cairo and Beirut does: Give meaning to the ordinary for stories that are featured everywhere from The New York Times to The Washington Post. Her portfolio includes the architectural history of some of Zamalek's oldest buildings through their “glitchy” antique elevators to spotlighting the lives of farmers worried about how the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam might affect their livelihoods to showing the impact of covid on Ramadan festivities. But Diab’s isn’t limited to the ordinary, with a portfolio that includes snaps of the Evergreen lodged in the Suez Canal and the aftermath of the Beirut port blast, as well as work for NGOs and commercial photography.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND EGYPT’S TOURISM INDUSTRY

Photography — one of the reasons Egypt became so interesting to tourists: There is no doubt that photography and tourism go hand in hand, you see a picturesque image of a city while scrolling through social media and just like that your next vacation destination is decided upon. And when you reach that destination, your phone never leaves your hand as you capture shot after shot.

Photography as a driver of the 19th century Egyptomania: Between the 18th and 20th centuries, Europe and the US were crazy for Egypt and anything Egypt-related, which consequently resulted in a boom in tourism. Nineteenth-century tourist photographs of Egypt (pdf) did not only feature the cliche landscapes and historical monuments — they also included images that fit into the western idea of everyday Egyptian life. Musicians, craftsmen, merchants and “local people” were posed and photographed specifically to fit the western ideas of what Egypt is.

Some notable photography collections from the 19th century: Some of the most prominent photographs dating back to the 19th century include the works of the German R.M. Junghaendel, whose heliogravures of Egypt are still being auctioned off to this day. Junghaendel’s work features all the cliches the west loves about Egypt — the pyramids, temples, camels and dancing women. There are also photographs of the Italian-British Antonio Beato, which captures what remains of Ancient Egypt from the Karnak Temple and the Temple of Philae to the typical pyramids and Sphinx shot.

Then there are Maxime Du Camp’s 59 photographs — which arguably birthed travel photography: The French Du Camp traveled Egypt from 1849 to 1950 with novelist Gustave Flaubert, and during his time here, he captured 59 black and white photographs using his wooden Calotype camera and tripod and then using jugs of chemicals to develop the images. The images capture Ancient Egypt and its many monuments including the Mosque of Sultan Hassan and the Temple of Isis. Du Camp’s card prints of the collection were up for bid in 2016.

Photography and tourism are so intertwined, it has prompted regulatory changes: Back in the summer of 2019, the Tourism Ministry decided to cancel the fees for mobile photography inside museums and archeological sites. The decision came as part of the ministry’s efforts to promote Egyptian antiquities and encourage the tourist movement in Egypt. Last year state agencies cooperated with the EU to launch the 13th edition of the EU’s photography competition, titled “A Journey to Egypt’s Past and Future.” The competition aims to encourage Egyptian photography enthusiasts to portray the beauty of Egypt’s historical monuments and last year over 642 photographers applied, submitting more than 1.6k photos.

YOUR TOP 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in January:

  • The Enterprise Reader Survey says: 2021 was a very good year to do business, with optimism remaining the prevailing sentiment as we push ahead with 2022.
  • Egypt rejoined JPMorgan’s emerging-market bond index following a decade of absence in a move that could bring new passive flows into the local debt market.
  • Gov’t to step up privatization efforts in coming months: The Madbouly government is planning to sell stakes in state-owned companies every month or two, said Planning Minister Hala El Said.
  • Fawry eyes the Nasdaq: EGX-listed e-payments giant Fawry received approval from its board of directors to create an American depositary shares program, which would allow the company to list shares in the US, and is exploring an SEC-registered secondary offering to follow
  • Fintech, consider yourself regulated: Legislation to regulate the fintech industry received final approval from the House of Representatives.

WHERE CAN I LEARN PHOTOGRAPHY IN EGYPT?

Fear not newbies, we have many photography courses to go around: For those just starting out and looking to learn the ropes of photography there are a bunch of in person courses happening around the city that can help you hit the ground running. Whether you’re looking to nurture a new hobby or expand your professional horizons, one of these local organizations will have something for you.

Photopia: At the heart of Cairo’s photography education landscape is Photopia. The 2012 founded photography hub offers aspiring photographers of all skill levels a wide range of courses that include things like storytelling, food photography, fashion photography and photography for kids. Photopia is also the host of the increasingly popular annual photography festival Cairo Photo Week and offers studios for rent at their Heliopolis location.

Cairo Photography Club: From the moment you first decide to swap your phone for a DSLR camera the 2011 founded Cairo Photography School (CPC) will likely have all your photography needs covered. Located in Maadi, CPC offers tons of courses for beginners and more specialized professionals alike. You’ll find everything from workshops on portrait photography to editing and lighting. CPC also hosts events, offers equipment rental services, studio time and even sells new gear.

Contemporary Image Collective: Head downtown and you might be able to learn something interesting at the 2004 founded Contemporary Image Collective (CIC). Although the organization primarily offers printing services and a darkroom for processing analog photographs they often host talks, exhibitions and workshops where there is a wealth of information for photographers to absorb.

Dark Room Cairo: Want to ditch your fancy new DSLR camera altogether and go analog? The Dark Room Cairo can help with that. Dark Room Cairo mainly sells, develops and digitizes film (Dark Room East even delivers developed film to Maadi, New Cairo, Nasr City and Heliopolis) but the organization hosts at least one workshop every month. Past workshops have included experimental printing with old negatives, black and white printing and astrophotography on film.

EGYPT’S MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE SPOTS

Photography in the age of Instagram: Whether we like it or not, social media has revolutionized photography and the way it’s consumed, whether through the introduction of color-coordinated feeds, shape-altering filters, or new, “on-the-go'' photography styles. But beyond its ubiquity, the Instagrammable is also powerful. Instagrammable spots will inevitably see more tourists, and even locals, flock there, bringing attention to what could otherwise remain in relative obscurity. It’s no different in Egypt, where Instagrammable spots attract tides of camera-ready tourists and regulars alike in search of the ultimate shot. We’ve gathered a list of the six most Instagrammable spots in Omm el Donia, according to both locals and tourists.

#1- The Great Pyramids of Giza: Historic value aside, the Giza Pyramids — also known as the seventh wonder of the world — attract hordes of tourists for a myriad of shots under their mounting presence. The alignment of the sun with the pyramids at various points throughout the day makes for incredible shots — barring the “I’m holding the sun with the tips of my fingers” photos which, we must say, need to go — and the abundant presence of camels seems to only help the Instagrammable quality of photos at the historic site. Want to kick it up a notch? This world-famous airbnb with an incredible view of the pyramids — especially at sunset — from its hot tub is a made-for-Instagram haven.

#2- Khan El Khalili: One of the oldest markets in Egypt, Khan El Khalili’s alleyways laden with Arabian lanterns and ornaments make for stunning backdrops for photos. Located in the historic center of Cairo, the souq is pretty much always crowded, so those who enter with a camera in hand must do so with patience and an open mind. Tourists warn, though, that vendors won’t be happy with you wandering into their shop and disrupting their workday for a photo without at least buying something, so bring some change and prepare to haggle.

#3- Nubian Village: The colorful Nubian Village located south of Aswan is no doubt a magnet for Instagrammers, with its brightly painted walls, vistas, and colorful nooks and stairways making for beautiful scenery to complement a colorful feed (or bring life to a dull one). Filled with restaurants and cafes perched on its high points against an incredible view of the Nile, and pretty houses and souqs on its alleyways just beneath, the village has plenty of Instagrammable nooks to explore.

#4- Abu Simbel: A quick google search of “Abu Simbel” will show you just how Instagrammable this place is. The two massive rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel are among the most famous and “impressive” temples in Egypt, according to tourists. Although it’s a three-hour ride from Aswan, most tourists who visit Aswan make it a point to schedule a day-trip to visit the towering temples of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari. The temple has even earned a spot on Emirates Woman’s list of most Instagrammable spots in the Middle East.

#5- Karnak Temple: Another must-see, especially for the more adventurous among you who want to explore the nooks and crannies of a historic temple before settling on the perfect place for your Instagrammable shot, is Luxor’s Karnak Temple. Travel influencers point to the sky-high intricately carved columns and picturesque passageways — again, the sun plays a big role here in framing stunning photos with a play of light and shadows — when describing the allure of the temple.

#6- White Desert: Egypt is widely known for its deserts, and the White Desert happens to stand out as a strikingly unique one, with its chalk-white rock formations and white limestone described by National Geographic as an “alien landscape” that feels as though you’ve “landed on another planet.” Located around five hours away from Cairo, the White Desert is widely recommended during sunrise and sunset, or in an overnight stay so you can get a unique camping experience out of it too.

CAPTURING EGYPT’S HISTORY THROUGH LESSER-KNOWN PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography was a way to move away from Orientalism to show “facts” about Egyptian history and daily life, writes Malcolm Daniel in an essay for The Met. For centuries, painters and writers belonged to the so-called Orientalist School, feeding The West’s desire for exoticism. However, when photography came into play in the 19th century, it was used to show the remains of the Ancient Egyptian civilization, as we note above, but it soon also offered a different way to depict Egypt and the East that focused more on day-to-day aspects and common people.

But it took time to move away from the allure of Orientalism: Foreign photographers residing in Egypt soon found that the Western clientele was interested in these everyday photos of the Egyptian person. However, to really make sure the photos were enticing, they played up the exoticism by often staging photos that mimic real life, but have unrealistic details. Art historian Felix Thürlemann focuses on these photos in his book Das Haremsfenster (The Harem Window), pointing out the falsities in photos riddled with covered women, barefoot men, and Islamic architecture. This latticed window, also known as the mashrabiyah, was his main focus as it often acted as the backdrop to many popular Orientalist photographs from the region, he explained in an interview with Getty.

While these were the dominant photos attributed to Egypt, there are efforts now being made to show a different side to Egypt-focused photography. Around five years back, the Dubai Photo Exhibition was one of these initiatives, showing off photography that dates to the 1920s, writes The Guardian. A lot of these photographs were created by local artists and veered away from the mainstream images of the Pyramids and other Ancient Egyptian artifacts, instead focusing on depictions you’d see walking through a street in Cairo or in a traditional Egyptian home.

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Farouk Ibrahim was an icon in this respect. One of the featured artists in the exhibit, Ibrahim’s access to the rich and famous didn’t deter him from choosing to portray them in the ordinary and intimate moments of their lives. He was the only photographer to work with all three Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar El Sadat, and Hosny Mubarak. Ibrahim created a stir in Egypt when he created a photo series that showed President Sadat going about his day, with photos in his underwear and shaving. However, his talents weren’t limited to the political elite, also photographing everyone from Abdel Halim Hafez and Umm Kalthoum to belly dancer Nagwa Fouad.

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Known for his cinematography more than his photography, Ramses Marzouk also captured the struggles of daily life. Not satisfied with his storied film career that saw him work on over 100 feature films and 20 documentaries, Marzouk was also a photographer who liked to capture daily scenes from the locations he visited nationwide. Marzouk studied at the Cairo High Film Institute and received his doctorate from the prestigious Sorbonne University. His photography was described by The Guardian as “coolly observational, sometimes erotic” and his work was exhibited at the French Cinématheque on two separate occasions, first in 1968 and then again in 1970. In 1979 his combined works of photography and films were shown in a special tribute at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, according to Washington’s Syra Arts. He has also participated in exhibitions in the US, France, South Korea, Slovakia, Italy and Egypt.

There are several projects in the modern day that aim to show the daily essence of Egypt. Everyday Egypt (from Roger Anis, who we profile above) and Everyday Cairo for example, are Instagram pages with over 200k combined followers. They feature eye-catching photos taken by people in the country on their cell phones or cameras, democratizing the art being shown and making it accessible to a larger audience. The scenes they capture tell stories about news stories, streets, habits, traditions, and rituals of Egyptian society.

Modern-day local artists are going above and beyond to show the intricacies of Egypt and we often cover their exhibitions in our Out and About section in EnterprisePM. Make sure to check out the daily afternoon issue to get a feel for the art and music scene in Egypt.

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