Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

House of Light

British photographer Karina Al Piaro, as Reham El-Adawi found out, believes in the fullest, most balanced picture of Egypt

House of Light
House of Light
Al-Ahram Weekly

Karina  Al Piaros is a British born visual artist and photographer based predominantly in Upper Egypt. She initially dreamt of being a painter, and to this day her work reflects that aspiration. Al Piaro found herself in Egypt in the Nile Valley, and was drawn there for many years.

“Returning to my roots creatively on the Nile Basin in Egypt where I originally first picked up a camera and continue to do so since over 25 years; I consider Egypt and the Nile in this territory to be a fundamental source and part of my personal visual heritage,” she comments. 

Taking a look at her work, the audience will immediately feel that it evokes the spirituality of the region. Al Piaro’s discovery of the camera at a young age led her to her journey of recording the world as she sees it. As she puts it, “I will always mentally paint when I look at the world.” Nevertheless, the camera has eclipsed her dreams of working with paintbrush and canvas.

Al Piaro’s influences are not only visual. “I am influenced by the worlds and words of the writer, the scientist or the philosopher as much as that of the visual artist whose narratives both personally and professionally have lit up the present creatively.”

She has always been interested in the concept of immersion: losing herself in a place and its people as a visual artist; normally an activity reserved for the anthropologist. Her main interest is rivers, sacred waters and sources of life that may cease to exist in the future.

I met with with the photographer in November 2015, when I attended her debut exhibition “Al Arwah” (The Spirits) at the then newly opened space on the island of Zamalek in Cairo, The Shelter, specifically designed to support and house photographic art and to encourage the creative process of a new generation of photographers emerging in this territory.

Al Piaro had previously worked professionally, mainly in Europe, as a fashion and advertising photographer, learning her craft as she shot analogue (negative film). A stepping stone in her career was assisting the National Geographic in Cairo in the years leading up to the Arab Spring. That changed her direction fundamentally, towards narratives with a cause that could span both historical and modern technologies.

The narrative presented in November entitled “Al Arwah” was a trilogy printed in silver gelatine bromide and was presented in collaboration and in conversation with Edouard Lambelet, the highly respected custodian of Lehnert & Landrock, the iconic historical photographic archive dating back a century and emanating from both Egypt and the Mahgreb .

“The significance of utilising the silver gelatine bromide process through the pioneering work of the laboratory Metro Imaging in London, which is one of only three laboratories left in the world able to undertake this type of process in the contemporary era, pays direct homage to historically documented processes taking place in this region by the pioneers of photography, dating back as far as the 1850s on the river. ‘Al Arwah’ was created as the connective bridge in creative process technologies merging digital with old processes,” Al Piaro explained. 

Evolving directly from key historic events witnessed by the artist, “Al Arwah” exists visually and symbolically as large scale works of eulogy, prayer and as a mark of transcendence. It is part of a larger body of work continuously in progress being developed as part of a World Heritage Project for Photography in Egypt, which Al Piaro names affectionately “House of Light”.

“It was the iconic images of the archives of Lehnert & Landrock that take one on a visual narrative across the North African Maghreb to the Nile itself that triggered my desire collaboratively with the archive to honour Egypt in a contemporary context; heritage spanning a century that had almost been forgotten,” she clarified. 

Al Piaro goes on to state that since the beginnings of photography itself, photographers such as Lehnert as well as visual artists, poets, writers and scientists have traversed the mighty Nile. They were invariably impressed by the quality of the light on the river. She also pointed out that she thinks of Egypt or, more specifically, the Nile as her own House of Light is. This symbolic statement has become central to her desire to express these visual narratives here with the camera. The Nile is a territory of light that bonds photographers from all heritages and bloodlines in a borderless, timeless unity.

It is this desire to express the positive that flies in the face of what Al Pairo feels is the present-day’s dominant negativity, with the international press now shedding light on the rich visual heritage of a region that has been through an extremely traumatic chapter. 

“It is my goal to remain present in the territory and in doing so bridge this past and present visual heritage with the camera by continuing to develop the talk format, the artist talk presentations which gamers support internationally for the revival of photography as a genre of art in this most historical and beloved birthplaces of the medium itself.” 

Bringing the narrative up-to-date and continuing in the spirit of honouring the best of Egypt’s visual heritage bridging past and present, Al Piaro will also be collaborating this month with the celebrated emerging contemporary Egyptian luxury jewellery brand Sabry Marouf, made up of highly respected partner designers Ahmed Sabry and Daki Marouf . 

Embodying an experimental, progressive and distinctly heritage-orientated approach, Sabry Marouf was chosen as one of five emerging fashion brands to represent Egypt for the first time at London Fashion Week (19-23 February), in an event entitled, “Fashion Utopias Contemporary Rebirth.” 

Curated by the editor of Pashion Magazine Susan Sabet and published in the Middle East, it is a platform to define the new, post-revolution Egyptian identity through collaborative creative energies. Al Piaro says the experience of shooting with the Egyptian-Italian actress and model Elisa Sednaoui for the brand was a great honour and she hopes that the beauty, elegance and strength of the images will assist in bringing Egypt back into the spotlight and onto the world stage for the right reasons, where it deserves to be.

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