Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A beautiful country

A photography exhibition on Egypt organised by the State Information Service is currently on display in China during President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit,‪ writes‬ Reham El-Adawi

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The “Egypt is Beautiful” photography competition was the brilliant idea of the chairman of the State Information Service (SIS) Salah Abdel-Sadek, who has passion for photography, to encourage young amateur as well as professional photographers to capture the beauty of landmarks and landscapes all across Egypt.

He was behind the choice of the name of the competition, held from 15 March to 30 April 2015 and promoted by the SIS under the supervision of a general curator, photographer Galal El-Missary. The SIS commissioned a jury composed of El-Missary, Al-Ahram senior photographer Sherif Sonbol, photojournalist Hossam Diab, head of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper photography department Mohamed Ismail and former ambassador Abdel-Fattah Ezzeddin. Over 4,000 photos were submitted, out of which the jury selected 180.

Of these, 24 were chosen as winners and showcased in a week-long group exhibition at the Hanager Arts Centre, Opera House grounds, opening on 30 July. According to the head of the Foreign Media Sector at the SIS Abdel-Moaati Abu-Zeid, “It was a great success with many visitors from all generations. It was also covered by satellite channels. The exhibition was later held at the Masr Al-Gedida Library, where it was open to the public – not only the library goers.”

The larger selection of all 180 photos then left for Beijing on 31 August, to be exhibited with Chinese and English captions at the same time as President Al-Sisi’s visit on 2 September – itself coinciding with the Chinese celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The goal of the exhibition is twofold, Abu-Zeid said: to promote Egypt to Chinese tourists, and to show Egypt’s beauty through the eyes of Egyptians.

The exhibition is to tour Chinese cities and universities before travelling to Muscat, Oman, on the request of Oman’s Minister of Information Abdel-Moneim Bin Mansour, himself a photographer and professor of photography at Oman’s Faculty of Information. Abu-Zeid also confirmed that the SIS is considering organising another, similar exhibition restricted to seasoned and deceased Egyptian photographers.

“The SIS is currently preparing the Egypt is Beautiful encyclopaedia,” Abu-Zeid announced, “to be issued in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese featuring the most significant and evocative photos by Egypt’s most senior photographers.”

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According to Sonbol, the jury members each had their own perspective: “Some of them didn’t prefer the Photoshop because in many cases photographers overdo it, others believe it is the latest trend in photography. But they all agree that the professional and talented photographer takes the shot from the first time and captures the moment.” Sonbol explains that, while no photos were excluded simply because they had been through the programme, the jury discarded photos with too much Photoshop as well as photos where the horizon was not level.

Sonbol noticed that shooting the stars is becoming a new fashion in photography. He also learned that using a digital camera to do it might ruin the censor, since it has to capture light for over half an hour at a time. Visually speaking, he concluded, the presence of people improves a photo considerably. That is why the first prize went to a photo with a male figure, by Mohamed Abdel-Ghani Sherif from Cairo, who received LE5,000 and a memorial medal. The second winner was Nader Mohamed Saadallah from Alexandria, and the third was Gasser Issa also from Cairo.

The jury had difficulty deciding on which of three first winners came first, though there was consensus about the first two, which were attractive and expressive with all the rules of photography obtaining. “There were many beautiful photos but not all of them were very expressive of Egypt. Some could have been taken anywhere else in the world,” he explained.

Another difficulty was that, with the subject of the competition being landmarks and landscapes, many of the themes were repetitive and it was hard to find photos that depicted a given theme from a new creative angle, such as Ahmed Farag Hussein’s picture of the Giza Pyramids, in which the angle is original, the light perfect and the mark of the photographer evident.

The problem of recurrent themes was especially evident among nonprofessional photographers who took part in the competition. “We were obliged to select one evocative photo of Stanley Bridge in Alexandria from among many photos, as we noticed it was a recurrent theme in a large number of the candidate photos but we finally chose one photo of the bridge. The same happened on trying to pick a unique photo of the Pyramids which we finally managed to do.”

Among the interesting factors that influenced the judgment process was effective cropping. “Unfortunately,” Sonbol said, “many very good photos didn’t reach the finals because the contestants made fatal mistakes in cropping, deforming the photo.”

Sonbol went on to say that this crucial step by the SIS should have been taken by the Ministry of Culture because Egyptian photographers, whether professionals or amateurs, still don’t have any competitions to take part in and show their creations. “I tried to convince the former minister of culture Emad Abu-Ghazi to include a photography award in the State Awards of Appreciation but nothing came of it.”

Sonbol asserted that the last photography competition organised by the Ministry of Culture was 20 years ago under the auspices of artist Ahmed Nawwar. Since then there has been nothing, while in places like Qatar and Dubai there is evident interest in photography. “Egyptian photographers lack regular exposure to the photography competitions so they are unable to acquire the skills of how to join and win a photo contest,” he said.

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