Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

I see you

Soha Hesham rediscovers the stories that photography can tell

Al-Ahram Weekly

With the right light and details, combining technical effects with visual spirit, a whole story can be told. All that is needed is a responsive pair of eyes to see into and beyond the image. Photojournalists know how to communicate with those eyes. The recent photography exhibition Shouf (See), held at the Cairo Atelier downtown, by the photojournalism team of Al-Shorouk newspaper — Aly Hazzaa, Heba Khalifa, Randa Shaath, George and Samuel Mohsen, Ziad Hassan and Sabry Khaled — tells fascinating stories of Egypt.

The first story of the exhibition, by George and Samuel Mohsen, is that of Robert, the librarian at the Collège de La Salle in Daher, who was forced to retire after 45 years of service. Photos of Robert are gathered to highlight aspects of the story: where he is sitting in a messy room among his newspapers, books and papers with a relaxed smile, for example. Next to the photo with which the story begins is the information that Robert Solomon was born on 19 October 1942 in Cairo to an Armenian mother and a Chaldean father. Another picture shows the many hours he spends printing exams textbooks. The printing room is an old, inspiring space, holding on its walls photos of the La Sallian Brothers with their friends... Robert is an icon of the school, its irreplaceable symbol.
The photos delve into Robert’s daily routine: breakfast at home with his sister (who can tell his fortune from the remains of the Turkish coffee in his cup), the daily bus journey to school, how he helps the students with their studies before and after the school day... In one brilliant photo, Robert is caught in the dust of some of the 30,000 old books with which he must deal at the school library, which includes rare volumes acquired from various universities and monasteries. There is also a poignant photo of Robert’s last day at work, when he is seen taking down a picture of the La Sallian brothers dating back to 1956.
Randa Shaath tells the story of Her Voice, presenting young female singers. She is interested in music partly because she grew up in a musical family whose members played instruments and sang constantly. But it was the revolution freeing the souls of young musicians to express themselves more effectively that drove her to trail emerging bands and translate their innovations visually. Shaath presents the singers in their simple, casual clothes, often performing under unusual circumstances: in the streets on small temporary stages, as in her photo of Dina El Wadidi performing at Al Fann Midan in Abdin Square, at Zagazig University, the Rawabet Theatre and the Raml Station in Alexandria, where El Baramawy performed for the Mini Mobile Concerts project.
She also captures the rare moments of the singers in rehearsal. Nancy Mounir, Yasmine El Baramawy, Sherene Abdo and the accordion player and singer Yussra El Hawary (famous for a song about peeing on the wall built by the army to prevent demonstrators from approaching the Interior Ministry) all appear.
Aly Hazzaa tells the story of Walls, documenting the walls that were build in the streets around Tahrir Square: on Al-Kasr Al-Aini and Mohamed Mahmoud streets. Through these photos he illustrates how people suffered from these walls, having to manoeuvre their way around them and very quickly developing a typically Egyptian aptitude, boring holes through the walls or setting up pathways over them but also using them as parking lots and football courts.
Heba Khalifa, for her part, writes her autobiography through her camera — showing herself in her house, unable to leave her young daughter and join the protests as she wanted to. She is watching television while military planes fly over her ceiling and tear gas fills her kitchen. She deliberately conveys her feelings, sure they are shared by many other women stuck at home with their small children. In the most explicit photograph, “Holy Matrimony”, she is sitting on a chair with her daughter on her lap, attached to the chair with duct tape.
The Puppet Troupe by Ziad Hassan documents the initiative to demonstrate with oversize puppets — of which the photographer was part — covering the whole process from the making of the puppets to their use. The puppets made their first appearance as double life-size military generals on the first anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. To protest against Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) policies, the group sought the help of the puppet maker Nassef Azmy, whose workshop he lent them. They made double and triple life-size figures which they presented resting on their shoulders on the streets of Cairo, attracting attention with drum beats and whistles.
Sabry Khaled’s story is the most emotional and heartbreaking, titled Absence. Khaled lost one of his close friends, Atef Yehia, during demonstrations — which drove him to seek similarly bereaved people and document their feelings. Khaled’s photography left every visitor that came to watch the exhibition weeping. In one photo, he shows the face of a woman named Amina from Alexandria whose son and husband were sentenced to 30 years in prison at a military court. Amina’s expression in the photo is the perfect expression of the caption, “Trying to see the light”.
Another painful photo in Khaled’s essay shows a pair of slippers next to a door. Not until you read the caption do you realise they belong to one of the casualties of the revolution, whose mother is truly convinced that one day he will come back to put them on. “Take a photo of me with him, please,” says one man holding a photo in his hand of his twin brother Mohamed El Shafei, who disappeared on 30 January 2011, and in spite of their identical looks they seem totally different.
The six stories, though different, overlap in the human aspect in spite of the various stories, communicating emotionally with the viewers presenting the various characters of Egyptians on many occasions and under various circumstances.

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