Poignant picture of Lebanese tailor wins prestigious photography award

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Zeinab Khalifeh’s award-winning ‘Am Hasan’ photograph. (Supplied)
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Zeinab Khalifeh, a nurse by profession, was declared winner of ‘Moments’ with her Am Hasan photo, above. (Supplied)
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Wafa Abdulmajeed, a student from Oman, won in the children’s category of the competition. (Supplied)
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Wafa Abdulmajeed from Oman poses with her winning photo of a shopkeeper in Muscat’s Mutrah Souq. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

Poignant picture of Lebanese tailor wins prestigious photography award

  • Zeinab Khalifeh, a nurse by profession, declared winner of ‘Moments’ at a ceremony in Dubai
  • Organized by National Geographic Abu Dhabi, the competition attracted over 50,000 entries

DUBAI: People often say a picture is worth a thousand words. For Zeinab Khalifeh, a 26-year-old nurse in Lebanon, a photo she took of a tailor and his sewing machine in an old souq in Sidon has proved to be worth a lot more than a thousand words.
At a ceremony on Tuesday at the Youth Hub in Emirates Towers in Dubai, Khalifeh was named one of the two winners of the ninth edition of “Moments,” the Arab world’s prestigious annual photography competition.
Organized by National Geographic Abu Dhabi (NGAD) and Almarai, the competition, which seeks to nurture the talents of aspiring regional photographers, received over 50,000 entries. The winning ones were selected from a shortlist of 90 photos.
Khalifeh, who won in the adult category of the competition, said she saw photography as a way to put the many “forgotten people and places” in her community in focus.
She described the elderly man in the photo as “Am Hasan,” or “Uncle Hasan,” a tailor who plied his trade in the Sidon souq for over 40 years before passing away a few months ago.
Am Hassan, whose age could not be confirmed, was unable to recognize his family members in his final months, but would repeatedly talk about his sewing machine, according to Khalifeh.
“My picture portrays one moment in his 40 years in the souq. Forty years of hope and sadness that he shared with his sewing machine,” Khalifeh told Arab News.
Khalifeh, a self-taught photographer, shot the tailor’s portrait during one of her many trips to the souq, where she often went to practice photography and mingle with the local people.
Recalling how photography became a hobby, Khalifeh said she bought her first camera using her first paycheck. She began to dabble in photography at the age of 21, snapping away on the streets she grew up in.
She read books, watched videos and attended workshops on photography to improve her technical skills and to better understand the art.
“To me, photography is about building a pure connection with people and trying to portray it in one moment,” Khalifeh said.
“I feel like my nursing skills have helped me build this connection with people. Even though I am talking about two different fields, medicine and art, somehow they are connected.”
Also at Tuesday’s ceremony in Dubai, Wafa Abdulmajeed, a 17-year-old-high-school student in Oman, was declared the winner in the children’s category of the “Moments” competition.
Her winning photograph showed a shopkeeper in Muscat’s Mutrah Souq, surrounded by precious stones, rosary beads and traditional daggers.
While visiting the souq with her mother earlier this year, Abdulmajeed snapped the photo of the shopkeeper in a moment of quiet reflection.
Speaking to Arab News, Abdulmajeed said her passion for photography began at a young age and developed after meeting her role model, photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his portrait of the “Afghan Girl.”
“I had only dreamt of meeting him. And when I did, his advice was ‘Go for it’,” she said.
“After that day, I have been taking photos not only during family gatherings but of streets and different aspects of society.”
Abdulmajeed said she hoped to study medicine in university, but intended to keep improving her photography skills.
While the winning entries will be printed in the National Geographic magazine’s Arabic edition, the winners will receive $5,000 worth of photography equipment. They will also be invited to join a 10-day expedition trip worth $10,000, where they will be mentored by National Geographic’s expert photographers.


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.