Though a less fashionable holiday destination than it once was, Alexandria's Miami Beach still attracts its fair share of holidaymakers and holiday photographers, says Nesmahar Sayed
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The beach photographer: an old profession, concurrent -- on the beaches of Alexandria -- with the histoty of photography itself.
One can hardly miss an oft-repeated scene on Miami Beach in Alexandria. Men, women and children pause in front of the camera to have their photographs taken and then take the photos home as souvenirs of the wonderful days spent together at the seaside.
Miami Beach, one of the best-known beaches in Alexandria, is packed with holidaymakers in summer, though those who know the place well say that it is not what it once was. In the past, stars and VIPs used to spend their summers here, but today most of Egypt's beau monde has left the Alexandria beaches for the more fashionable North Coast resorts, making way for more middle-class visitors.
The latter still often have their photographs taken on the beach as a way of reliving the lifestyles they may have seen in newspapers and magazines, says Fathi Allam, head of the Alexandria Professional Photographers Association (APPA), who remembers the old days in the 1960s when he started his career as a beach photographer.
Allam was 20 years old at the time, and things have changed a lot since he first started out nearly 50 years ago. Whereas the price of a photograph from a beach photographer was four piastres in the early 1960s, today a photograph can cost anywhere between LE3 and LE6, depending on the technical quality of the image.
In the early 1960s most visitors to Miami Beach were members of the Egyptian upper classes, many of whom used to spend the whole summer in Alexandria. "Families that knew each other, and the owners of grand houses and estates, were keen to go back home with photographs of their holidays at the seaside to show friends and relatives," Allam says.
Although many things may have changed today, there are still some visitors who have their photographs taken on the Alexandria beaches. Umm Amira, a summer visitor who has known Allam for some 10 years, says that she and her family come to Miami Beach each summer from their home in Al-Warraq, Giza, and they always have their photographs taken.
"We put them in frames or albums," she says, and show them off should friends or neighbours call. "A beach photo can still be a very important souvenir," adds Allam.
Yet, these days many visitors have lost interest in photographs, and the atmosphere on the beach itself has also changed. Allam admits that he often looks back on the old days with nostalgia, adding that the spread of digital cameras has sometimes caused the older technology of the beach photograph to be overlooked or ignored.
In addition to such problems, Alexandria's beach photographers also face another challenge. For the past few years they have been trying to put their syndicate on a formal legal footing. Currently, it brings together the estimated 163 photographers who work on Alexandria's 26 beaches, from Abu Qir in the east to Abu Talat in the west.
"The application has been lodged with the relevant committee of the People's Assembly for the past three years now, and we are still waiting," Allam says. For the moment, annual subscription rates to the APPA are LE25 for basic membership, and this constitutes the syndicate's main source of funds. There is also a social fund made up of donations that helps the widows and orphans of former members.
The current secretary of the APPA, Ahmed Zozo, agrees about the syndicate's importance, adding that for him the golden age of beach photography was during the period of black-and-white photography.
"The price of a photograph was anything between 15 and 25 piastres back then, with colour photographs costing up to 75 piastres," he says. "The quality of the black- and-white photographs was the best, even though this was the period before modern technology, when we used to work manually."
No one could miss the figure of the photographer wearing his white shorts, white shirt and hat in those days, especially as most photographers worked daily from sunrise to sunset. Summer was still the high season in the old days, though the LE1,000 a good beach photographer could earn then are equal to some LE10,000 today. A photographer working on Miami Beach today can expect to earn between LE2,000 and LE4,000 during the summer, Allam says.
Farouk Ibrahim, a veteran photographer at the newspaper Akhbar Al-Yom, also says that few visitors to Alexandria or Ras Al-Barr in times gone by would have ignored the beach photographer. Having yourself photographed on a trip to the beach was a tradition, he says. Ibrahim adds that the profession of beach photographer was, and to a certain extent still is, one that was handed down from generation to generation in some families. "There was a kind of contract between the photographer and the beach," Ibrahim says.
He remembers that Mustafa Amin, the former editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al-Yom, used to send photographers to Alexandria in the summer when King Farouk and the members of the Egyptian cabinet were there.
"The 15 days a photographer could spend in Alexandria were like a dream for us, because they were a form of bonus given to photographers who had worked well all winter," Ibrahim remembers. His colleague Ahmed Salem, an Akhbar Al-Yom photographer in Alexandria, took a photograph of him with the waves in the background that he still has in his album.
For Ibrahim, the most important photographs he took on the beaches of Alexandria in those days were the ones of his family and the ones he managed to snatch of the famous people and celebrities of the time, including singers Abdel-Halim Hafez and Sabah.