Coming from a Muslim background in a country that has a significant Muslim community, I just wanted to try to offer a different perspective. Photography for me was a hobby. I have no academic background in photography whatsoever. I was studying comparative literature. That’s my formal education. I want to tell stories:
Here, you’re using words, in the other place you’re using pictures, but it’s the same thing During the war years in Bosnia I was a teenager. I was 15 And I wasn’t able to take part in what was happening there in the events that were unfolding around me, Because I was too young to fight, and I too young to be a photographer. Except for being the subject of those events, which means A target like every other citizen,
That was kind of frustrating When I started working seriously. I was focused on what was the aftermath of the war in Bosnia. A huge part of it is compensation, maybe even re-creation of the excitement and adrenalin rushes that I was experiencing as a kid as I was completing that body of work, I realized that several places around the world had been following a similar pattern of ethnic violence, fraternal wars. A lot of these places share one more thing in common, which is significant: the Muslim population.
So I got interested in that because I think photography — for me. It’s all about empathy. My previous experience allows me to do that And that’s how the project Troubled Islam developed from working in Bosnia to all the countries. To Pakistan. This is from Pakistan The family with the things that they saved when they were fleeing the Western Province.
That is one of my favourites. It’s Kabul, Cemetery, It’s an oxymoron in itself. I just wanted to make a comparison between these countries, And one of the comparisons was just to see how people cope.
And how they manage to preserve the traces of normality, despite all the odds that are against them Comparative method is not necessarily a very fruitful method to make conclusions. I think, with images, it’s very fruitful, I mean, if you put things together, the reader can kind of make a decision and make conclusions on their own, And this is the brand new book that hasn’t been distributed yet and it’s a very special project.
So I wanted to make something where my interference as a photographer as a human being will be minimized. And. I also wanted to make a project that my subjects might benefit from And the project culminated in a publication called Quest for Identity. About eight years ago I was working on a group project as part of that story, I went to this facility in central Bosnia, which handles the whole identification process of missing people in Bosnia, where roughly 40,000 people have been missing or killed.
They have a database of DNA and so on, But among other things, they also have storage of archived catalogued items, Personal belongings that had been recovered along with the human remains. What happens? They invite families and they browse through these items. This is a horrible process.
And I said: wait a minute: wouldn’t it be better if these people recognized these items on the paper instead of physically having to go to these facilities and browse? So that’s the project, So I just had to photograph these items in the same way. On a forensics table on which the bodies are assembled and photographic in a very clinical, very detached way, And to create this book and iPad app and online catalogue of these items, which will correspond with the physical archive
It’s amazing how absolute detachment in form can create an extremely emotional body of work. Everyone has a wristwatch. Everyone has family pictures in their wallet. It allows you, as a reader, to create a story around Twenty magazines published across the globe, from Spain to Holland. In the States And the project was supported by so many people and so many organizations
So I think, that’s probably the best thing — well not the best, but the most important thing I’ve ever done. I have an assignment from the Sunday Times Magazine which regularly hires me or runs my work, And so they gave me a commission for this particular story. We’re flying to Riyadh in a few hours where we’ll spend 10 days shooting a story on Saudi Arabian women. So, I’m going to do photos and I’m going to shoot video interviews.
I travelled on several occasions to Saudi Arabia to do different stories. It’s a place that it’s rarely reported from, considering that it’s not easy to get access to the country itself every time someone speaks about Saudi Arabia. That’s what they speak about. — women’s rights to drive to work, So it’s a good place to challenge the stereotype. So we came to Saudi Arabia Riyadh, the capital
Riyadh is a weird city, I would say It’s kind of a heartland of the royal family, which is kind of plateau in the middle of the country. I wouldn’t call it a beautiful city because there’s nothing actually to resemble the fact that this is one of the oldest inhabited places on Earth. All the traces of old cultures and civilizations are kind of wiped out, And instead of that, you just have this eclectic architecture which combines super modern American architecture with some Bedouin kind of tent-style, roofs and so on.
So a lot of glass, a lot of metal Yeah. It is a kind of a place where everything takes place in private places, Either behind the walls of the houses or in the shopping malls, — close quarters, so to speak, It’s because of the heat and because of this obsessive need for privacy. So nothing happens in the streets.
And to make things even more complicated, Saudi society’s fairly segregated, I wouldn’t call it extreme, but here it’s more visible Talking to women in general. It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when it comes to talking to the camera or taking pictures that are going to be published abroad. It’s a traditional culture. It’s sensitive
So, as usual, I rely on local knowledge and local connections, Good yeah, FAHMI, FARHAT, Absolutely ready. Rock and roll ZIYAH GAFIC, Because no matter how many times to travel to a certain place, your knowledge of culture and how things work is fairly limited.
We hired a local production company, They have a lot of experience in dealing with people. I made specific demands of what kind of women I would like to meet The local production company, basically sorted it all out. Fahmi FARHAT. Ladies
It’s what I do for a living now fixing ladies ZIYAH GAFIC. I think there’s a general feeling that Muslim women in general and Saudi woman in particular, is somehow put in the backseat of society. That picture is very fragmented and largely inaccurate. So I’d like to get kind of a cross-section of Saudi women and to try to photograph them and interview them in their private spaces or their working space. That way.
Male SPEAKER Yeah, DR. BOTHYNA MURSHID In Saudi Arabia. When we go out, we wear abaya Abaya, it’s different from region to region. Here in Riyadh. We wear mainly black
For every occasion we do have different kinds of abayas Fashion designers would have a business only to sell abayas And women. They, of course, are like oh I’m wearing this designer, I’m wearing that. So yes abaya. It’s part of fashion. Now My name is Bothy. Zakaria Murshid
I had my doctorate from Yale University in management of chronic illness, which is a sub-speciality from a doctorate in clinical research, ZIYAH GAFIC. Whenever we are talking about Muslim women, Saudi Arabia’s always picked up as a bad example, But, statistically, women in Saudi Arabia are more educated than men. There are more women with college degrees or MAs and BAs and PhDs than men. If. The issue that we are dealing with is that Muslim women are underrepresented in the media. Then I want to dedicate my attention to her
Can you move a little bit that way, Yeah perfect! That’s why portraits seemed like an appropriate way to do it. I wanted to give certain formal values to the picture, So I’d like it to be accurately composed.
After all, these years of being a photographer, I don’t get easily surprised. But. What keeps surprising me every time I get out in the field and photograph is how people are willing to allow photographers to enter their private space. I think that’s pretty amazing in any country And also in a country like Saudi Arabia, where everything is so private anyways. Somehow there’s this implied trust between a subject and a photographer
So you have a cupcake store, BASSMA AL HAMMAD, It’s not ours! We’re only opening the franchise, But the original was in Dammam. It was founded by a Saudi female –. It was very successful, It’s all cupcakes and they were covered over with green cream.
About Saudi women in general, a lot of people think they’re pampered, But the truth is no they’re very active, but behind the scenes They’re mothers they’re housewives, they work they study at the same time A full job, and also they’re starting their own business. Recently, I can see they’re achieving a lot
Ziya GAFIC, On the other hand, yeah they’re, beautiful women. That’s also another thing that we are not aware of Because most of the images you see are images from the street where they are obliged to cover either part of their body or most of their body and face. This was a more controlled environment where I would choose which part of the room or house plays the person. The way I would like What I wanted to create is this kind of simple environmental portraits
And the context, in this case, environment and private spaces tell much more than just the figure or the face of the person. The story about Islam is a relevant one globally. I think it’s been widely inaccurately represented in the media That it’s tried to be presented as a conflict between East and West and between Christianity and Islam, which is dangerous. So it’s on us to shift that image.
[ SPEAKING, ARABIC, ], ZIYAH GAFIC, Oh wow, Jesus [ SPEAKING, ARABIC, ], ZIYA, GAFIC, All of the women we met, they all work and they all have college degrees And equally so, I’m sure there’s a bunch of women who are not educated and are out of work. But I’m just talking about what I’ve seen
And obviously, we’ve seen only a small fraction of it, so I’m not claiming that we have the whole picture. But. I think it’s important to do stories that are showing at least slightly a different side of the coin Nice to meet you. How are you Nice to meet you. You
With photographers, somehow, a lot of us try to please the stereotypes. We blamed it on yeah, that’s what the media wants. That’s what the people want to see. How do we know what people want to see? I can only listen to common sense.
If I was the reader what I would like to read So this is what I would like to read. So I do the stories that I would like to see someone else. Do.
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