Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Exporting love

Nesmahar Sayed talks to photographer Lamiaa Khalil

Exporting love
Exporting love
Al-Ahram Weekly

Lamiaa Khalil likes to introduce herself by reference to her father,  General Mahmoud Khalil, a veteran of the October 1973 War who lost his sight on the battlefield but went on to obtain a PhD. “For me,” she says, “he is Taha Hussein,” the famed Dean of Arabic Literature, “and I learned from him how to love my country and sacrifice everything for it.”

Lamiaa graduated from the Faculty of Tourism in 1987, but she has had a passion for photography all her life. “When I was a little girl,” she recalls, “I used to save money and buy cameras to take photos. But not until 2010 did I buy a professional camera and attend photography classes with a professional photographer.”

She had photographed friends and family, but also landscapes and still lifes. “My eyes were always drawn to beautiful things, a flower or a cloud or a wave. My mother used to say to me, ‘Your eyes always catch beauty.’” Khalil thinks of herself as a “street photographer” because she rarely photographs indoors. “I love to take photos of people and the places that are connected to them.”

This, she says, was the reason the well-known Kassel-based journalist Hans R. Portner sent her a message on Facebook seven months ago, saying that her photos were different from what was normally published on the internet – and offering her the chance to show her work in Kassel.

The city is located on the Fulda River in northern Hesse, Germany. It is the former capital of the state of Hesse, which boasts many palaces and parks.  Kassel is also celebrated for the contemporary art event Documenta, held there every four years.  

Khalil’s other passion is travel, an activity she has had plenty of since joining Lufthansa in 1993. She had taken pictures of the many countries she visited, but only last year started a Facebook Page, “Lamia Khalil-Photography” to showcase her work. This was how found her work.

When she accepted the offer, Khalil realised that Portner was interested in Egypt. Thinking about what to exhibit, it occurred to her that the last four years of political turmoil had negatively impacted tourism. “In addition to the negative image of Egypt broadcast by western media, there was actual unrest, terrorist attacks. That is why I decided to do my small part and show the bright side of Egypt, which no one is showing these days.”

Khalil said that the offer only covered her accomodation expenses so she had to pay for printing the photos. “I searched for the best photo printers,” she recounts, “because I was concerned about the quality of the photos. Then came the stage of delivering the photos to Germany in a cargo with the best packing procedures possible...”

Preparation for the exhibition took around six months. She arrived in Kassel three days before the opening. She chose 58 out of 2,000 photos of Egypt – not only the historical sites but the ordinary dwelling places of Egyptians. “I was not only representing myself but also my whole country: Fayoum, the Oases, Aswan, various villages...”

It took her two days to put up the photos at the exhibition space, where she arranged them in geographic order from north to south, adding a map with the sites marked. The gallery managers, Rainer Henze and Michael Gibb, brought in a German oriental band featuring a oud for the opening, and titled the exhibition “Faces and places from Egypt”. They sent out some 350 online invitations, and arranged for interviews with Khalil before and after the opening.

The interviews focused on Egypt and Egyptian women. “I felt I was my country’s ambassador,” she explains. “They were very concerned about the political and social situation in Egypt and to what extent it affects women’s daily life.”

Khalil’s message was that the war on terrorism is restricted North Sinai, with the rest of Egypt getting on with its daily life. “This appears in many photos, for example the photo of a small boy carrying bread to his family.  Another one is of three ladies, the oldest of whom is instructing the younger two. There is also a lady sitting outside a mosque with colourful necklaces. 

Signs of happiness and satisfaction are obvious on the faces in almost all the photos.”

Khalil also gave each of some 100 visitors who arrived for the opening a gift of papyrus and a good luck amulet, together with a verbal invitation to visit Egypt. “For the opening I wore a Bedouin wedding dress, which both men and women asked me about, expressing their admiration. It matched the exhibition so well. These dresses are laced over years to be worn on the wedding day. It was a way into talking about Siwa and Egypt’s oases in general...”

The exhibition started on 3 October, it is to go on till 15 November. This week Khalil received a phone call from the Egyptian ambassador in Berlin telling her that as a result of its success, the Egyptian diplomatic delegation is considering holding the exhibition at the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin.

Khalil concluded one interview saying, “Reality is more beautiful than the photos. Egypt is not just about 7,000 years of civilisation but we also have different types of tourism that vary from the cultural to the medical as well as wonderful shores. Do come and visit Egypt.”

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