Saudi Arabia through the lens of western photographers

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Updated 04 December 2014

Saudi Arabia through the lens of western photographers

So the saying goes: "A picture speaks a thousand words". Yet, it is also true that a picture may even have a message that goes well beyond words alone. Capturing the mesmerizing, colorful and picturesque landscape of Saudi Arabia, Italian and American photojournalists, Roberta Fedele and Miki Turner have held a four-day photo exhibition at the Kondakji Atelier art gallery in Jeddah to demonstrate these characteristics powerfully.
Roberta Fedele, who spent almost eight years in Saudi Arabia, and Miki Turner, who recently visited the country for the first time, combined their spontaneous impressions of this colorful land to create the incredible exhibition, entitled “4 Eyes, 2 Lenses: Visual Narratives of Saudi Arabia".
Demonstrating art in action, the photographers come from two different cultural backgrounds, yet share the same passion for celebrating spur-of-the-moment images, with a strong sense of narrative. The pictures have indeed, grabbed the attention of hundreds of visitors, giving them an impulse to further browse these amazing Saudi attractions in real life.
Roberta Fedele, founder of AMUSE - a cultural association promoting arts and intercultural dialogue - organized this photographic exhibition as a tribute to Saudi Arabia, a country that she perceives today as her second home. She showcased a selection of 25 photographs taken for Saudi dailies between Najran, Madain Saleh and Jeddah; areas that abound in historical and archeological sites, desert oasis, volcanic areas, traditional souks and Bedouin settlements, while preserving the flavors of the past on the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s fantastic modernization.
“As I am about to leave soon, I wanted to bid a good farewell to the country, and to leave behind a lasting impression of my memories in Saudi Arabia using a visual means. I believe that images are often more eloquent than words in narrating the societies we live in,” said Fedele.
“Each picture on display represents a real-life painting of my journey, capturing the ordinary and extraordinary moments that crossed my path as well as the complexity and charming contrast of a different culture oscillating between tradition and modernity,” she added.
Describing her journey to Saudi Arabia, she said “I was 27 years old when I first came to Saudi Arabia. I had a monolithic perception of the country, but these visions and views gradually disappeared and my journey of discovery ultimately evolved into a journey of belonging.”
“Working for English dailies gave me the opportunity to cover several events and to travel and photograph remote places in the Kingdom,” said Fedele who unconventionally described her photographic activity as a ‘way of meditation’, a ‘way of Zen’: “To take good photographs you have to strengthen your capacity to observe the world around you. You have to be open to the present moment, develop awareness of your surroundings and be able to capture the right scene in the least expected moment”.
Fedele launched AMUSE with the help of Yasmin Gahtani, a Saudi Graphic Designer. This organization was inspired by “The Art of Re-Invention” (TAOR), an event co-founded by Mike Turner that encourages audiences to pursue their passions by reinventing themselves in their personal and professional life.
The idea to collaboratively organize an exhibition flourished when Fedele invited Turner last May to share stories of re-invention with Saudi women.
Visiting the Kingdom for the second time, Mike Turner, an award-winning photojournalist and the author of two photography books, “Journey to the woman I've come to love” and “Tomorrow”, exhibited 20 photographs, including the stunning 'Abaya Road', a shot taken in Al-Balad.
“The idea to hold an exhibition was from Roberta, as a way to share our views, experiences and perceptions of Saudi. Being an outsider, it was a great opportunity for me to demystify the image of Saudi Arabia, and show artistic and personal touches in every photo, where one can see how each photo has stories behind it,” Turner said. He added that, “moreover, I hope that this work resonates with the people here, and that the perception of Saudi Arabia is changed through my work - especially in western countries.”
Turner mentioned that although she only spent about 14 days in Saudi, the people here left a huge impact on her. “I loved photographing the people here, and respected those who objected to it. I found most of them very friendly and it was wonderful to capture the spirit of these people through my lenses, particularly the ones I encountered in Al-Balad, the old city,” she said.
“I met wonderful people while I was here and many of them have become close friends. Nonetheless, it's good to see how many people here in the Kingdom are now open minded and are discovering the joy of good photography. I'd encourage people from western countries to visit this amazing country and explore the rich culture,” Turner added.
Sponsored by Tamer Group, A.K. Saeed Group and Lallo Restaurant, the exhibition allowed art enthusiasts to exchange ideas with the photographers and gain insight into the region’s burgeoning art scene.

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A narrow, airbrushed take on the Syrian war

“Between Two Brothers” screened at the recent Cairo International Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 20 January 2020

A narrow, airbrushed take on the Syrian war

  • Syrian auteur Joud Said’s latest feature is based on the Syrian war and its impact on two siblings.

CHENNAI: Syrian auteur Joud Said’s latest feature, “Between Two Brothers” — which screened at the recent Cairo International Film Festival — is based on the Syrian war and its impact on two siblings.

Khaldoun (Mohammad al-Ahmad) and A’rif (Lujain Ismaeel) see their relationship torn apart by the strife in Syria, leading to agonizing days for their childhood sweethearts, twins Nesmeh and Najmeh.

A’rif goes to war, aligning himself with anti-government forces, while Khaldoun, who had been spending time outside his country, returns to mayhem.

The characters see their world turn upside down when A’rif kidnaps several men and women from the village. Nesmeh and Najmeh are part of the hostages and what ensues is a dilemma that sees A’rif turn  violent and vindictive.

Each brother has his own opinion on what is right and what is wrong about the war and this leads to a chasm opening up between them.

The director, who has come under heavy fire in the past for his supposedly pro-government views, is controversial to say the least.

In 2017, Syrian director Samer Ajouri withdrew his entry “The Boy and the Sea”  from the Carthage Film Festival in protest at the selection of Said’s feature, “Rain Of Homs.” Later, in 2018, Egyptian director Kamla Abu-Zikry accused Said of helming films which represented the Assad government’s viewpoint.

Despite the director defending his films in a clutch of newspaper interviews, it should be noted that “Between Two Brothers” was produced by Syria’s National Film Organization.

Said makes a pitiful attempt to teach the audience that each side has its reasons. But it is not hard to see where the tilt lies — we do not see any state security forces and violence erupts solely from the rebels’ ranks. In a way, “Between Two Brothers” airbrushes the destructiveness of war, with blatant symbolism and a couple of comedy scenes further eroding a subject as grim as this.

Yes, there are some visually arresting shots of the countryside captured with articulation and imagination by cinematographer Oukba Ezzeddine and the actors who played both brothers did a fair turn in their roles, but all in all it was far too narrow a representation of war to be effective.