“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs,” the acclaimed American photographer Ansel Adams once said. Raw Shooters, a photography group based in Jeddah, seems to follow this principle to the letter.
Raw Shooters was initiated by Amr Talat. One day, he casually posted on Instagram, saying he would be taking a photo walk in Jeddah’s historical Al-Balad district, adding that if anyone was interested in joining him, they were welcome to do so.
That simple snowball turned into an avalanche. Each photo walk since has attracted more and more people, and the group now boasts over 30 members.
We joined Raw Shooters last Saturday, on their latest walk around Al-Balad, an area known for its rich history. We did not intend to stay for long, but the beautiful weather and the great company made it hard to keep track of time, and we ended up staying for the duration.
The Raw Shooters usually give a theme to each walk. For example, on a recent outing they opted for “Ant Eye,” resulting in extreme close-ups of various objects, creating pictures that might represent the world as seen by an ant.
On our walk, the concept was to take three pictures that tell a story. Talat’s passion for photography — and for the group he started — was clear from the beginning, as he talked with each new arrival. Raw Shooters is all about creativity, he explained.
No fancy gear or formal training is required. Participants can simply use their phone cameras, if they want to.
Talat told the gathered group to go and explore the town without fear.
“You cannot get lost here,” he added reassuringly. And with that we ventured deep into the heart of Al-Balad, exploring demolished buildings, rusted signs, closed-down shops, tiny stores, and so much more.
Of course, almost all Jeddah residents will have visited Al-Balad, but this experience — not rushing around, nor bothered by traffic — really allowed us to see the beauty of the area — the historic architecture, the colors of the windows, the painted walls. And we were able to freeze those memories in time with the help of our cameras.
We all headed off for coffee, and we took the chance to talk to some of the group members.
“I started photography when I was 14 years old,” Talat told us.
“But the first picture I took was with my eyes — and I still have it clearly in my memory. It was a blind man who was selling silly stuff on the streets and for some reason I got really attached to him. From that moment, I started nagging my parents for a camera. And I still carry my first camera with me.”
He knows the streets of Al-Balad like the back of his hand, having spent so much time here since he was a child.
“In Balad, you find the street life that you don’t usually find on the other side of Jeddah,” he said. “My childhood memories just add to the area’s value, for me.”
It’s been almost a year since Raw Shooters took their first walk, and Talat is happy that he’s helping people become better photographers.
“The best experiences are when the first timers or beginners are doubting their photography skills and after the walk and during the discussions we find out their true talent,” he said. “The fact that this space and opportunity helps them believe in themselves is what keeps me coming every week.
“Our reasons for doing this are simple,” he continued. “First of all, we just want to spend our Saturday morning doing something we love and connecting to people, and secondly it’s about telling stories of people and things. And walking through Al-Balad is like walking through history itself.”
Ghassan Daghestani has not missed a single Raw Shooters walk since they started. He had seen Talat around (“Whenever I saw him he was with his camera and I was with mine,” he said), and jumped at the chance to spend some time on the streets with like-minded people.
“I started exploring photography when I bought my first camera. I carried it everywhere with me and that made me fall in love with street photography, and then I further developed my skills,” he explained. “But when I was working professionally, just for clients, it made me hate photography. I was not doing anything for myself. Joining this group reminded me how much I enjoy photography.”
The group has helped Daghestani break out of his comfort zone, he said, and do something he loves with people who share the same interests. He continued: “I like the surprises the streets carry, I like to go down the unpredictable streets and wait for stories to happen, then deliver those stories to the people.
“We were lucky to experience the soul of Al-Balad before they started ‘renewing’ it, and since we are documenting the changes happening here, people can experience it too.”
The next day, the Raw Shooters gathered to share their images from the previous day. Each set of three photos was shown to the group, who tried to guess the story behind them.
It was a gathering of passionate people doing something they love and appreciating the work of others. As they transitioned from photographers to storytellers, their faces lit up.
To experience the whole thing first hand was something our team will always remember.