Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Soul freedom

 Rania Khallaf rediscovers photography

Soul freedom
Soul freedom
Al-Ahram Weekly

 In a small exhibition hall attached to Al-Gezira Arts Centre, a different spirit soars, and confusion creeps to one’s mind as the technique of printing and the hot bright colours of the pictures on show bewilder the viewer and the question echoes in the small room, “How could he make it so artistic?”
Freedom is the title of the second solo exhibition by photographer Bassam Al-Zoghby, and includes around 16 pieces. The small hall coupled with the in-door scenes intentionally picked by Al-Zoghby would conflict with the exhibition’s main theme.  
“The idea behind the exhibition started with a picture I took in one of the dance shows at the Opera House last March. It was like a group of dancers chasing something; it was as if they were following their own dream, and trying to capture it. And I started working on the theme ever since,” Al-Zoghby says.
Some of the semi-abstract pictures feature faces that suffer from injustice, others express ways of following the road to freedom. One fantastic picture shows a young woman wrapped in chains, while another depicts the shadow of a woman running away from an authoritative man. Circles or more specifically vortices are a common feature in many images, showing that the road to freedom is not an easy journey.
Here is another way of dealing with freedom of expression: one picture shows a man with his shadow, which seems to be an authoritarian man, the shadow preventing him from expressing his free thoughts. Woman is the heroine of most of his pictures, however: “Of course, she is the source of joy, the muse of most of my works; women are beauty, just like flowers and bare nature...”
Al-Zoghby’s photographic style is distinguished by two main features: movement and warm colours. “The movement of the dancer itself is like a brush drawing a whole painting, therefore, the colours should be clear, unique and hot.” Using a low shutter speed technique, this palette can be detected in pictures with violent or emotional concepts, while cold colours such as dark blue, green, or black are present in paintings that show a mood melancholy and injustice.
All pictures are printed on canvas, which gives the impression that you are viewing a painting, not a photograph: a printing technique rarely used by mainstream photographers. “I am glad my pictures were well-received by the audience, however, time was a little bit limited; I wanted to work on more ideas,” Al-Zoghby says. “The 25 January Revolution was definitely one of the main influences. However, the idea of freedom has resonated in my mind for a long time,” he underlined. “In general, the pictures reveal a state of explosion of feelings; a kind of transformation of the soul into energy; and the bodies into ghosts.”
The photographer’s first exhibition, which took place at the Saad Zaghloul Museum in 2010, featured experiments of “circular formations”, which is a main feature of Al-Zoghby’s photography. But why does he prefer to capture in-door movements, while life in the open is full of dynamic and dramatic events?
For Al-Zoghby, theatre is “the main field of creativity: I find colours, movement, and drama on stage, and this is all that I aspire to at the moment,” he added in a moving tone. “I have grown tired taking pictures in outdoor settings: the pictures seem grayish, and they don’t reflect my view.”
Born in 1970, Al-Zoghby is a graduate of the Faculty of Law, Ain Shams University, where he first started photographing as a hobby. He started working as a professional photographer right after he graduated, producing pictures for Al-Haya, Al-Gomhuriya, and Akhbar Al-Youm before he finally settled in Al-Ahram in 2004. He started participating in group exhibitions in 2004 in and outside Egypt, and has won a number of prizes, including the Egyptian Press Syndicate prize in 2006, 2008, 2009, and the honorary prize of Japan’s Photography Salon in 2012.
“There has been an upsurge both in the number of photographers and photography exhibitions in the past few years, but I don’t consider this a positive development,” Al-Zoghby noted. “It doesn’t reflect quality; digital cameras have made it easy for anyone to be a photographer, and hasten to hold an exhibition. It took me around 10 years to develop my own style, and only then was I confident enough to hold my solo exhibitions. Photographers nowadays live in self-established prisons, for they take photography for granted. Photography is definitely an art, not just a profession, therefore, every photographer should develop his own style,” he underlined.
He pointed out the lack of an academic institute to teach photography as an art, as there is no academic sections affiliated to any school of art all over Egypt, except at a few private universities. As a photography reporter and artist, Al-Zoghby, a self-educated photographer, succeeded in striking this balance between both fields.   
He mentioned Mahmoud Aref, a leading photographer who worked for Dar Al-Hilal, as one of his mentors. “He was an example of this artist-photographer blend. And how we became friends was just a unique story,” he said in an excited tone. “It was in 1993, when I was still a beginner, working for Al-Haya, located in Downtown Cairo, and I used to walk all the way to its headquarters, when I noticed a beautiful small house on Champollion Street. I fell in love with its unique architecture and for a long time had this desire to climb the stairs and knock on the door to discover what is inside,” he told me in a dreamy tone. “When I was later introduced to Aref through a common friend, in the mid-1990s, I found out that he lived in that same old house with its fantastic mashrabiyas. It was like a dream come true. I benefited a lot from his outstanding technique and knowledge. He was a true artist, and a colleague of Farouk Ibrahim’s, another pioneer of photography in Egypt. His home was like a small museum full of paintings and a hub for foreign artists visiting Cairo,” Al-Zoghby recalled.
This, he concluded, is the kind of aesthetic that should be acquired by photographers; for photography is an accessible popular art, and one of the mechanisms that helped the revolution to survive.

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