University: Carmarthen School of Art
My aim is to challenge some of the stereotypes and judgments that people make about others.
By taking photographs of people of different ages, gender, race and sexual orientation, I am exploring equality and tolerance by stripping away the subject’s personal appearance so that the impression that the viewer gets is of a human, an individual, not a stereotype.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I went to a small university in West Wales which has its own art school, Carmarthen School of Art - even though, or maybe because its small, you get great tutor support and the opportunity to work creatively with other students across the arts, such as painting, sculpture. graphics and textiles - you feel you are part of the 'Art School' family.
I graduated with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Photography in June 2016 and have just completed a post-graduate Residency year with the art school which allowed me time and space to develop my creative practice further, again sharing ideas and working on joint projects with other post-graduate students.
I am still closely connected with the art school, they have been incredibly supportive and take a keen interest in my professional journey.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? In my first year at university I started to use film and developing my own images. I became a little obsessed with this process and convinced myself at the time I would only ever work in black and white film forever. Working with film makes you slow down the creative process, you spend more time planning and setting up the shot and thinking ahead of what the final images will look like. Of course nowadays I create mostly digital images but the wonder of seeing an image come to life in the darkroom is still a great joy for me.
The final year of my degree was such an exciting year for me, one of my portraits was shortlisted for the Chefchaouen International Photography Competition in Morocco and I was invited to the 3 day festival in May 2016. Following a successful degree show I was selected by the prestigious Mission Gallery in Swansea as part of their emerging talent exhibition at the White Wall Gallery of the National Waterfront Museum of Wales in Swansea.
Soon after my portrait work was also shortlisted by Trajectory which showcases photography graduate talent from the UK and Ireland to exhibit at The Print Space, Shoreditch, London.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? Portraiture, some Landscape and a little Conceptual.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? My work explores the human condition and the environment we live in. I work in both black and white and colour and want to draw you into the image I am making, evoking an emotional response. Whether a portrait or landscape I focus on the mood and light of the scene and want to portray the subtle and subdued characteristics of the image.
My portrait work also explores and aims to challenge some of the stereotypes and judgements that people make about other people. My personal experience as an Egyptian travelling between two cultures for the last 8 years is that I am often judged or stereotyped by my appearance. During the last 3 years, as a result of events in the world, I have personal experience of less tolerance of my background with people sometimes behaving very negatively towards as a fear of Islam and Muslims has grown.
Increasingly in my work I want to explore equality and tolerance in a wider way. I choose to take photographs of people of different ages, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. I try to have a consistent approach to photographing my subjects, I want to find a way to equalize each subject and strip away their personal appearance so that the impression that the viewer gets is of a human, an individual, not a stereotype. On some shoots subjects are not clothed which represents the equality that we all have at birth and death, seeing beyond the subject’s outer appearance and presenting a calm inner presence in the images I produce.. It is my hope that the viewer of my portraits asks: Who is this person? What is their story? Is this person the person I think or believe they are?
Who or what inspires you the most? My father was my first inspiration, he was a professional photographer and as a youngster I accompanied him to his studios in Alexandria, Egypt or to a wedding or party, as I got older I helped him to record these events both on film and video camera, a great foundation and training for the future.
In artistic terms I am influenced by Irving Penn and his fantastic posing of his models; the other great influence on my work is Robert Mapplethorpe who challenges the viewer at every opportunity and fearlessly pushed the boundaries of modern photographer - although my own work is somewhat more subdued it echos his ethos of acceptance and opening ourselves up to new experiences.
What encouraged you to study between Egypt and the UK? Was there a particular reason as to why you chose the University of Wales? I came to the UK in 2007 and was living and working here for a few years before rediscovering my interest and later passion for photography again. When I first came to the UK a new world of shape, texture, tone, shades and colour opened up to me and in 2011 I embarked on an evening course at the local college to rebuild my basic knowledge - at the end of the course we did some studio portrait work with lighting - this was a pivotal moment for me and I knew I wanted to learn more.
The Carmarthen School of Art has a great reputation, I knew it would be hard work for me as my first language is not english. At first the 'system' of learning in the UK was a bit of a shock, having to research, debate and form my own opinions rather than learn by rote which is usual in the school system in Egypt - ultimately I place great value on my university education here as it has helped me to become more inquisitive and to challenge my own perceptions. I have also found that a degree is just the beginning of my learning experience and can often be found absorbed in a good art documentary or book for several hours at a time nowadays! Oh, and thank you to Carmarthen School of Art for supporting, coaxing and, when needed, a good kick up the backside.... I am so honoured to have achieved a 1st class degree with them.
What would you like for your viewer to learn from your work? Ah, this one is easy for me: tolerance, acceptance and understanding.
How did you find these people to photograph? Most of the people I photograph I have found around me, at college, work, sitting in a coffee shop or walking in the street. I spend a lot of my time looking around me to see if there are people who have a 'look' that I want to photograph, not necessarily people who we traditionally consider beautiful or handsome but have a unique feeling I want to try to capture. To help fund myself through my degree I worked part time in a supermarket on the till, as I scanned their shopping items I was also scanning the horizon for new subjects!
Tell us about the significance of props and the poses of your sitters. I don't may props in my work, maybe a chair to sit on or a table, a flower. I want to keep the image simple and focused on the person and the feelings they evoke, I encourage the sitter to portray a calmness and sereneness if possible. A lot of my portraits are head and shoulders shots, this allows me to get close to the subject and concentrate on their face and eyes, wanting this to tell the subject's story. I always appreciate when a sitter trusts me to take close shots - the images are more intimate and truthful, sometimes brutally so!
What camera equipment do you typically use to make your work? Again, I keep it simple. I generally use my Nikon D800E for portrait work, sometimes Pentax 6x7 with a prime or fixed lens. Lighting is so important in studio portrait work but again I don't overcomplicate the process mostly using a single light source - the most important thing or me is engaging with and the comfort of the sitter.
Tell us about your post-graduate Residency year you've just completed. Following on from graduating from my photography degree last June I have continued to photograph the human condition both in a studio environment and from real life scenes.
The images in this exhibition pay tribute to life in my home country, Egypt. I spent March this year in Cairo for a solo show and to deliver a series of workshops.
During this time, my first visit to Egypt since graduating, I began to see my home surroundings through fresh eyes – now recognizing the environment and people as valuable subject matter that could provide a strong and reflective body of work.
My aim in this series of images is to transform humble scenes and the real people of Egypt into captivating photographs.
What are your photographic plans for the future? My photographic plans for the future are to continue working on series of portraits linking to welsh people and the landscape, and apply for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.