In Photos: Other Hijab and Women’s Blurred Identity in the Arab World
Behind the most famous male photographers in the Middle East was usually a female assistant. Women have played many but undocumented roles since their emergence as assistants or photographers in photography studios in the region in the mid-19th century, but historians are now discovering evidence of female photographers working in the studios after years of being ignored.
Historian Stephen Sheehi notes that the reason why it’s so difficult to know the exact history of the role women played in early Middle Eastern photography is because most women work in separate rooms in studios and backstage. For example, early Ottoman photography studios had special rooms for female photographers. The reason for this was that female models were more comfortable working with a female photographer instead of a male photographer at that time, and therefore women’s photographs were taken in ‘secret rooms’.
“Although the origins of photographs of Middle Eastern women continue to be explored more extensively, it is clear that Arab, Armenian and expatriate women have been at the center of indigenous photography in the Middle East from its earliest days,” she says.
Today, a new generation of Arab women photographers draw attention, such as Lebanese photographer Myriam Boulos, whose images have been published in Vogue, Time and Vanity Fair, as well as Bahraini photographer Mashael Al Saie, who focuses on her photography. on redesigning local Bahrain archives.
Hajar Almutairi is a Kuwaiti photographer whose photography combines collage and photographic imagination, delving into various cultural and societal issues, particularly women.
His photography was initially a random experiment. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had been following various social media accounts featuring collage photographers and painters who inspired him, which prompted him to experiment with collages and create his own versions by adding text or combining different photos.
“I started writing texts and designing images to try to imitate my own photographs and artworks, but later I realized that my work did not convey my own vision or touch, so I decided to create my own photographer instead of imitating the artist’s work. others,” says Streets of Egypt.
Hajar’s photographs reflect his own worldview. Through her lens, we see not only the images of women in the region, but also her own perspective and how she was able to share this perspective through collage and photographic imagination.
“For me, trying to interpret a photo is like trying to explain a joke. If the photos are indistinguishable or incomprehensible, it means I am unable to convey my point of view or opinion. I aim to capture the image of the woman in the region, not from my own eyes. This image is incomprehensible unless the person shares their view of this world with me,” he adds.
According to Hajar, his worldview revolves around the problem of society trying to blur the identity of women who wear clothes. For example, in her photographic series ‘The Other Hijab’, Hajar explores how clothing and overconsumption distort the identities of women in the region through veils or luxury consumption.
“As a society, we have a problem of denying our reality rather than treating it. We shouldn’t normalize anything that tries to cloud or control women’s identity, as this prevents us from truly experiencing the other authentic side of women,” she adds.
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