ZIYAH GAFIC I don’t think photography’s a INAUDIBLE medium. I see it more as a series of impressions or constructs about my personal projects. I want to see them as open structure and to allow some liberty to readers to draw their own conclusions about it. I think that Islamic countries or Muslim world. There’s a huge number of stories that are either untold, or told in a superficial way. Coming from a Muslim background in a country that has a significant Muslim community, I just wanted to try to offer a different perspective.
Photography for me was a hobby. I have no academic background in photography whatsoever. I was studying comparative literature, that’s my formal education. I want to tell stories. Here you’re using words, the other place you’re using pictures, but it’s basically the same thing. During the war years in Bosnia, I was a teenager, I was 15. And I wasn’t really able to take part in what was happening there, in the events that were unfolding around me. Because I was too young to fight, and I was too young to.
Be a photographer. Except of being subject of those events, which means basically a target, like every other citizen. That was kind of a frustration. When I started working seriously, I was focused on what was an aftermath of the war in Bosnia. Huge part of it is compensation, maybe even recreation of the excitement and adrenalin rushes that I was experiencing as a kid. And as I was completing that body of work, I realized that there was a number of places around the world that had been following a similar pattern of ethnic.
Saudi Arabian Women Unveiled
Violence, fraternal wars. A lot of these places share one more thing in common, which is significant Muslim population. So I got interested in that, because I think photography for me, it’s all about empathy. My previous experience actually allows me to do that. And that’s how the project, Troubled Islam, developed from working in Bosnia to all the countries all the way to Pakistan. This is from Pakistan. The family with the things that they saved when they were fleeing the Western Province. That is one of my favorites. It’s Kabul Cemetery.
It’s oxymoron in itself. I just wanted to make a comparison between these countries. And one of the comparisons was, obviously, just to see how people cope. And how they manage to preserve the traces of normality despite all the odds that are against them. Comparative method is not necessarily a very fruitful method to make conclusions. I think with images it’s very fruitful. I mean, if you put things together, the reader can kind of make a decision and make conclusions on their own. And this is the brand new book that hasn’t been distributed.
Yet and it’s a very special project. So I wanted to make something where my interference as a photographer, as a human being, will be minimized. And I also wanted to make a project that my subjects might benefit from. And the project culminated in a publication called Quest for Identity. About eight years ago, I was working on a group project. And as part of that story, I went to this facility in central Bosnia which handles the whole identification process of missing people in Bosnia, which is roughly 40,000 people have been missing or killed.
They have database of DNA and so on and so forth. But among other things they also have storage of archived, cataloged items. Personal belongings that had been recovered along with the human remains. What happens, they invite families and they browse through these items. This is a horrible process. And I said, wait a minute, wouldn’t it be better if these people actually recognized these items on the paper instead of actually physically having to go to these facilities and browse So that’s the project. So I just had to photograph these items in.
Exactly the same way. On a forensics table on which the bodies are assembled, and photographic them in a very clinical, very detached way. And to create this book and iPad app and online catalog of these items which will correspond with the physical archive. It’s amazing how absolute detachment in form can actually create an extremely emotional body of work. Everyone has a wristwatch, everyone has family pictures in their wallet. It allows you as a reader to create a story around. Twenty magazines published that across the globe, from.
Spain, to Holland, to the States. And the project was supported by so many people and so many organizations. So I think that’s probably the best thing well, not best, but the most important thing I’ve ever done. I have an assignment from the Sunday Times Magazine, which regularly hires me or runs my work. And so they gave me a commission for this particular story. We’re flying to Riyadh in a few hours where we’ll spend 10 days to shoot a story on Saudi Arabian women. So I’m going to do photos, and I’m going to shoot tutorial.
Interviews. I traveled on several occasions to Saudi Arabia to do different stories. It’s a place that it’s actually rarely reported from, considering that it’s pretty difficult to get access to the country itself. And every time someone speaks about Saudi Arabia, that’s what they speak about women’s rights to drive, to work. So it’s a good place to challenge the stereotype. So we came to Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, the capital. Riyadh is a weird city, I would say. It’s kind of heartland of the royal family, which is kind of.
Plateau in the middle of the country. I wouldn’t call it a beautiful city, because there’s nothing actually to resemble the fact that this is one of the oldest inhabited places on Earth. Basically all the traces of old cultures and civilizations are kind of wiped out. And instead of that you just have this eclectic architecture which combines super modern American architecture with some Bedouin kind of tentstyle roofs and so on and so forth. So a lot of glass, a lot of metal. Yeah, it is a kind of a place where everything takes place.
In the private places. Either behind the walls of the houses, or in the shopping malls close quarters, so to speak. It’s because of the heat, and because of this obsessive need for privacy. So nothing really happens in the streets. And to make things even more complicated, Saudi society’s fairly segregated. I wouldn’t call it extreme, but here it’s more visible. Talking to women in general, it’s not the easiest thing to do. And especially when it comes to talking to camera or taking pictures that are going to be published abroad.
It’s a traditional culture, it’s sensitive. So as usual, I rely on local knowledge and local connections. Good, yeah FAHMI FARAHAT Absolutely, ready. Rock and roll. ZIYAH GAFIC Because no matter how many times to travel to a certain place, your knowledge of culture and how things work is fairly limited. We hired a local production company. They have a lot of experience in dealing with people. I made specific demands of what kind of women I would like to meet. The local production company basically sorted it all out. FAHMI FARAHAT Ladies.
It’s what I do for a living now, fixing ladies. ZIYAH GAFIC I think there’s a general feeling that Muslim women in general, and Saudi woman in particular, is somehow put in the backseat of the society. That picture is very fragmented and largely inaccurate. So I’d like to get kind of a cross section of Saudi women and to try to photograph them and interview them in their private spaces or their working space. That way MALE SPEAKER Yeah. DR. BOTHYNA MURSHID In Saudi Arabia when we go out, we wear abaya.
Abaya, it’s different from region to region. Here in Riyadh, we wear mainly black. For every occasion, we do have different kind of abaya. Fashion designer, they would have a business only to sell abaya. And women they, of course, are like oh, I’m wearing this designer, I’m wearing that. So yes, abaya, it’s part of the fashion now. My name is Bothyna Zakarea Murshid. I had my doctorate from Yale University in management of chronic illness, which is subspeciality from doctorate in clinical research. ZIYAH GAFIC Whenever we are talking about Muslim woman,.
Saudi Arabia’s always picked up as a bad example. But actually, statistically, women in Saudi Arabia are more educated than men. There are more women with college degrees, or MAs and BAs and PhDs, than men. If the issue that we are dealing with is that Muslim woman are underrepresented in the media, then I want to dedicate my attention to her. Can you move a little bit that way Yeah, perfect. That’s why portraits seemed like an appropriate way to do it. I wanted to give certain formal values to the picture.
So I’d like to be accurately composed. After all these years of being a photographer, I don’t get easily surprised. But what keeps surprising me every single time I get out in the field and photograph is how people are willing to allow photographers to enter their private space. I think that’s pretty amazing in any country. And also in a country like Saudi Arabia where everything is so private anyways. Somehow there’s this implied trust between a subject and a photographer. So you have a cupcake store BASSMA ALHAMMAD It’s not ours, we’re.
Only opening the franchise. But the original was in Dammam. It was founded by a Saudi female it was very successful. It’s all cupcakes, and they covered over with the green cream. About the Saudi women in general, a lot of people think they’re pampered. But the truth is no, they’re very active but behind the scenes. They’re mothers, they’re housewives, they work, they study at the same time. A full job, also they’re starting their own business. Recently I can see they’re achieving a lot. ZIYAH GAFIC On the other hand, yeah,.
They’re beautiful women. That’s also another thing that we are not aware of. Because most of the images you see are the images from the street where they are obliged to cover either part of their body or most of their body and face. This was a more controlled environment where I would choose which part of the room or house plays the person the way I would like. What I wanted to create is this kind of simple environmental portraits. And the context, in this case environment and private spaces, actually tell much more than just the figure or.
The face of the person. The story about Islam is a relevant one, globally. I think it’s been widely inaccurately represented in the media. That it’s tried to be presented as a conflict between East and West and between Christianity and Islam, and I think that’s really dangerous. So it’s on us to shift that image. SPEAKING ARABIC ZIYAH GAFIC Oh, wow. Jesus. SPEAKING ARABIC ZIYAH GAFIC All of the women we met, they all work and they all have college degrees. And equally so, I’m sure there’s a bunch of women who.
Are not educated and are out of work. But I’m just talking about what I’ve seen. And obviously, we’ve seen only a small fraction of it, so I’m not claiming that we have the whole picture. But I think it’s important to do stories that are showing at least slightly a different side of the coin. Nice to meet you. How are you Nice to meet you. With photographers somehow, a lot of us try to please the stereotypes. We put the blame on yeah, that’s what the media wants. That’s what the people want to see.