Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A tale of two countries

Reham El-Adawi met the Jordanian-Lebanese photographer Tawfik Nabeel Al-Dajani about his first solo exhibition – on Egypt and Armenia 

A tale of two countries
A tale of two countries
Al-Ahram Weekly

“It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that eyes are windows into the soul. My camera is my trusted pair of eyes that help me bring into focus a myriad triumphs, complications, simplicities and the beauty of everyday life without judgment or preconceived notions. If I feel it and it moves me, I point and click. A majestic cascade of expression and detail materialises, some of which my very own eyes may have missed while trying to capture that one perfect moment...” 

In these words Tawfik Nabeel Al-Dajani expressed how he regards his work and how his love for photography has developed through the years. As a self-taught artist, he has never been to workshops or classes and has always followed his intuition and natural gifts. Al-Dajani’s stunning photography was on display for all to enjoy at the opening of his first solo exhibition, “Armenia and Egypt: Colourful Parallels” on 26 September, which took place under the auspices of Armen Melkonian, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia, and Ayman Abdel-Hadi, First Under-Secretary for Foreign Cultural Relations at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. The exhibition went on till 2 October at the Egyptian Centre for International Cultural Cooperation in Zamalek. 

Al-Dajani was justifiably proud to share his vision, creativity and technical mastery with the public. The skill behind the lens is evident in eminently ethereal images that capture the vibrancy and soul of the two countries he has studied for this collection; and the photographs are juxtaposed to reveal the connections between the two countries. “I have come to the realisation that a man belongs where his heart leads him. My heart has led me on a journey of love through the streets of Cairo to the beauty of Armenia. Belonging is not an official document, it is in the smile of the children, and the stones of the monuments and the nature of the land that captures your soul.” 

The exhibition was timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the independence of Armenia, a country with which Al-Dajani has developed a heartfelt affinity over recent years.  “I was introduced to the people, the food and the country by my dear friends the Mikeaelian family. The haven of culture that they have created, maintained and renewed, with vigour and vision, in the heart of Cairo, in the form of the Reader’s Corner, is a true inspiration,” he explained. During his numerous visits to the country itself, the photographer has come to regard Armenia as a second spiritual home; the same kind of love that his pictures show for Cairo is evident in his images of Armenia. 

Born to a Jordanian father and a Lebanese mother in Kuwait, the photographer has spent much of his life there, graduating from the American School of Kuwait where he first caught the photography bug. He is grateful for his father who bought him his first SLR, a Canon AE-1, for his 11th birthday, which 20 years later he is still using. “I have my late father to thank. Nabeel Al-Dajani. His faith in me is why I took those pictures and why I have the opportunity to share them.” 

Throughout secondary school Al-Dajani was seldom seen without a camera around his neck; many of his pictures appear in the yearbooks and school magazines. Only later did he develop an interest in hotel and restaurant management, the subject of his university degree and subsequent profession – at several major chain hotels. Following the Gulf War, Al-Dajani and his family moved to Cairo where they eventually established the Modern English School. Tawfik’s work as a public relations manager has not dampened his passion, however. Talking to him for some four hours, I could feel that Al-Dajani is a service-oriented, as he loves to deal with people from all social levels and with different cultural backgrounds, but even this merit he can use to serve photography.

“In Egypt, my interest is centred on shooting everything my eyes fall upon. The camera is my faithful friend that accompanies me all day until I sleep.” His skills have thrived on the streets of Cairo and in the Egyptian desert. Although he likes to create photographic portraits and to shoot the streets, food, art and folklore, his repertoire also includes nature and travel photography. Through his affiliation with the Cairo Camera Club, he has increased his exposure to the sights and sounds of Egypt and beyond. “I used to tour Al-Muaaz Street holding my camera from 10.30 am until 4.30 pm. There I would meet the street vendors in the early morning, people who sell bread and fruit. I shot a fruit seller and gave him his photo so that he would remember me. Now  every time he sees me he offers me fruits and invites me to drink tea with him to express his gratitude.” 

For which, he says, there really is no need. “I photograph out of love.” For months he chased the Tanoura whirling dervishes to photograph them, specifically their lead dancer Hassan Bolbol until he found out that they perform regularly at Al-Ghouri Caravansary on Al-Azhar Street. “So I started to go to Al-Ghouri Caravansary every Saturday and Wednesday for eight years to shoot them from different positions, trying different lenses and using novel techniques and focusing on original aspects.” The photos he has captured of the Mazaher band performing Zar music every week at Makan featuring the lead singer and founder of the band Umm Sameh too are evocative. He has been shooting the moments of ecstasy of Umm Sameh while singing for three years now using a unique style that reflects her very spontaneous spirit and benign nature (see Listings Page). 

After viewing Al-Dajani’s photographs of Armenia, which he captured last year on his “Journey to Armenia”, his Armenian friends in Kuwait told him they had wanted to go back to their birthplace out of duty but now he has made the trip an exciting prospect. Al-Dajani fell in love with the country to the extent that he is learning Armenian with the help of a private tutor, planning to move and settle there. “Armenians are very kind and modest, and God gave the country a mesmerising natural beauty,” he says. Right now Al-Dajani is on his second trip to Armenia (30 September-17 October), collecting material for an upcoming exhibition to be named “Armenia with love”.

Al-Dajani’s work is exclusively represented by The Reader’s Corner.     

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