Moments are captured, framed, and forever remembered with every snap of a camera. It is not just an enjoyable pastime but a full-fledged art that continues to grow in Egypt. Events abound to celebrate and propagate the special craft known as photography with the latest being Women Who Create, an all-female workshop led by Egypt’s top female photographers, held at Egypt’s Bab El Louq, a neighborhood within Cairo’s bustling Downtown district known to house artistic events and exhibitions.
In attendance was a special panel of five female photographers including Aisha Al Shabrawy, Batool Al Dawaa, Coucla Refaat, Youssra Fawzy as well as Salma El Kashef. All five women have actually met up before during another photography event and from there a special spark and connection formed between them. That is why the special panel was set up to bring these women together in one room so each can share their experience as a passionate photographer. Knowing the story behind this event, we wanted to attend it firsthand and bear witness to each woman’s journey and success.
The Eclectic Panel
The special event was housed in a white paneled room which upon entering gave the feel of an art gallery as paintings were strewn all over its walls but then taking a proper look around and seeing rows of chairs filled with young guests indicated we were in the right place.
Taking our seats in the front row, we were faced with five empty chairs, two large screens, and a projector screen. From there, the five guest speakers began walking along the narrow aisle and took their seats at the front of the room. At that point in time, their journey, unique personalities, and stories were yet to be explored.
This was a very unique panel as even though El Kashef was one of the guest speakers, she instead took on the role of the interviewer. The cinematographer is one who is known to blend cinema with still photography creating powerful thought provoking art in the process. During the event, she did her homework and prepared a full presentation alongside her questions for each photographer. As someone who went through the experience of becoming a professional photographer, her questions were rooted and based on that journey which allowed the other photographers to open up and tap into a rich and deep conversation of the in and outs of this fluctuant and unpredictable career.
The Struggles & Joy Of Photography
During the event, the series of questions asked by El Kashef were curated for each photographer and by using that technique, each woman had a chance to talk about specific projects, and learning curves as well as share advice with the audience.
To start off the panel discussion, El Kashef began a conversation with Al Shabrawy whose been making a name for herself as a celebrity and fashion photographer for big names like Asser Yassin and Huda El Mufti. Her biggest talking point was the importance of lowering the role of social media when it came to seeking recognition for one’s art. She said to seek recognition and appreciation from the right people, from people who actually understand the craft of photography. She even gave an example to further explain her point.
When it comes to commercial photography, the artist has to constantly abide by their client’s requirements and criteria leaving less room for creativity. Yet, there was one time when Al Shabrawy took matters into her own hands. It was during a shoot where the actress Jamila Adel Awad was her subject. She photographed the actress based on her client’s needs, it looked very polished and put together but then the artist was hit was a pang of creative inspiration. That drove her to also photograph the model using her own creative direction and talent. When she shared that picture, it grabbed the attention of a prominent cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki who worked on films like “Gravity” and “Birdman”. He appreciated her work and that is what she meant when she said that true appreciation of one’s work comes from seeking it from the right people.
When it came to Al Daawi who is known as an edgy out-the-box photographer, El Kashef wanted to explore her identity and style when it comes to the visual craft. Al Daawi is probably the most eclectic artist on the panel, one who cannot be boxed into one type of photography as she does everything from jewelry to fine art to commercial photography. That is why El Kashef wanted to know whether someone should be specialized in one type of photography or be a mix of many things and immediately, Al Daawi knew her reply, “There is no must in art. I break rules all the time.” The artist constantly experiments with new forms of photography even if it is scary and completely outside of her comfort zone. From that experience, she reaches a heightened form of self-discovery that allows her to grow and transform as an artist.
Following in the same vein was Refaat, a woman with a contagious smile and free spirit who traveled to places like Bali and Peru, documenting her adventures using her handy camera and constantly taking risks like Al Daawi. Even though during her travels she would be surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, to her, it was the people that would always grab her attention and turn any picture she would take into a story. That is why when asked what advice she would give aspiring photographers, she said to be patient and wait for the right moment to tell your story.
El Fadl then shifted her focus to Fawzy, a seasoned fashion photographer who exuded a delicate, gentle and calm demeanor throughout the event. Despite her quiet nature, Fawzy’s photographs speak an entirely different language as she always relies on bold colors and movement in her photographs as her main form of expression. As El Kashef is a big fan of Fawzy’s work it gave rise to a sentimental moment wherein using her handy presenter remote, El Kashef jumped to a slide showing a few paintings created by Fawzy’s dad, the talented Hany Fawzy. Merely seeing his work made Fawzy tear up but then the moment was made more emotional when El Kashef jumped to another slide showing Fawzy’s work and pointed out that there is a huge resemblance between Fawzy and her dad’s work. That moment showcased how art travels and transpires between people sort of like an invisible umbilical cord especially when it comes to people who share a love and connection that is beyond words.
One would not think that such an event can reach newer heights especially as it was already full of inspirational stories and moments stemming from each photographer but it did grow beyond that. The event was not merely a discussion of the journey and stories of seasoned photographers as when it came to the Q&A segment where the lens shifted from the seasoned photographers and directed towards the audience and that was when things took a special climatic shift.
The Aspiring Young Audience
Looking around, it was obvious that this kind of event was a magnet for young photographers who want to reach the same success as the five women. Their artistic passion and inclinations were not just clear from their bold fashion and uniquely styled hair but from the excitement and active participation they showcased during the panel’s Q&A session.
The mic literally moved all over the room as each audience member asked the photographers a series of questions. One of those audience members really stood out and generated a newfound spark and energy among the five photographers. Holding the mic, Mohammed, a young man in his 30s spoke to the entire room about his current 9 to 5 job and his aspiration as well as his struggle to become a full-time photographer.
Immediately from there, all five photographers and even some audience members leaped in to help him and give him advice whether it was Refaat saying to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities or Al Daawi stressing the importance of having a plan and making a career shift that is calculated. The bouncing back and forth between the audience and the photographers at that moment made the event feel like it was a hub of support and growth for the photography community.
Even beyond the event, while speaking with a few of the young members of the audience, the positive impact of the panel really shone through. Hania Fansa, a 25-year-old photographer currently working for a marketing agency mentioned how she currently felt stuck in her career and needed a certain type of motivation to get out of her current box and that is why she came to this event. She resonated with each of these women and mentioned how their stories, advice and struggles helped her tackle many questions she struggled to get answers to.
With such a successful event, all five women aspire and hope for more future discussions and gatherings of this nature and for the community to continue to flourish and find success in the realm of art and creation.