Photographs by German University in Cairo 2013 Photography Students, text by Yasser Alwan.
After a semester-long introduction to photography, first-year Applied Arts students at the German University in Cairo had three weeks to formulate, carry out, and edit a photography project of their choice. Some of the successful projects explored personal and social issues, the local environment, and the role photography plays in how we perceive the people and the world around us. Students experimented with photography in many of its genres and styles – documentary, portraiture, fashion, landscape, and conceptual – and in doing so stepped out of the bubble of their daily lives for a moment or two.
Omnia Magdy began her portrait project out of disappointment with the decline of Egyptian cinema from its once celebrated golden era. She created a series of what has come to be called “sleeveface” portraits – mixing images of musicians from old LP (long playing) record covers with pictures of ordinary people. She chose to use images of stars from the history of Egyptian cinema, combining their well-known faces with the body of a model. The vintage photos she used are well-known and she chose to arrange each portrait to “match” the original in location, clothing, and props in order to create a provocative illusion of the past in the present and vice versa.
Abdulrahman Mostafa took his camera to that part of his neighborhood where he has walked every day since his childhood to take the bus, but where he never bothered to stop before. His love of food drew him to eat, chat, and photograph in those restaurants that attracted his eye and his appetite. Initially, he imagined photographing establishments that serve “traditional food” but discovered how much local cuisine has been influenced by an international, fast food culture.
Farah Hassanein worked to visualize how Cairo overwhelms us with vast quantities of everything – from manufactured goods that become refuse on the streets, to congested traffic, and piles of produce. The sheer density of people (at bus stops, in bread lines, waiting to enter the metro), of crumbling tower blocks and run-down shopping areas and the never-ending ordeal of movement between different parts of town eventually compels anyone living here to seek some sort of personal refuge from the cacophony. Farah stepped out of her Zamalek neighborhood and focused on this intensity, a density of sight, sound, and smell that she tried to convey by photographing in various local markets, from rooftops, bridges and overpasses, and in areas of dense agriculture.
On a somewhat similar theme, Habiba El Sayed looked at how our personal belongings – even cherished items – eventually become part of the local waste and help to create a general atmosphere of a city that appears to be in a state of perpetual disintegration. In carrying out her project, she found that discarded or abandoned objects often merge into the natural or man-made environments, and in the process both are transformed. In this transformation, she found a sense of beauty and the physical presence of time.
Greater Cairo’s new desert cities offer an entirely different view of the city, far from the clutter and commotion of the central parts of town. Zeinab Mohamed explored some of the more unusual architecture being built in these new upscale neighborhoods in images that reflect on how people imagine beauty and style (and perhaps even status) in contemporary architecture. She wanted to photograph the “raw” architecture, sometimes incomplete and always standing apart from its immediate surroundings, which still persist as part of the desert on which these areas have been recently reclaimed.
The photographs by Habiba, Farah, and Zeinab touch on the ways we imagine and represent the urban landscape and on our attempts at renewal. They deal with issues of decay and redevelopment and how this is affecting the social and spatial restructuring of the city. For me, they bring to mind questions about how representations of the city reflect a politics of inclusion or exclusion in urban neighborhoods.
As enacting a particular look has been one of photography’s long-cherished themes, Lubna Omar and Nourhanne Soliman appropriately explored the world of fashion, albeit in entirely different ways. Lubna approached people she did not know on the streets because she has been overwhelmed by images of highly edited fashion shoots. She took her cue from well-known blogs like Carolines Mode and Tehran Times that have widened the sensibility of fashion imagery by personalizing it – in terms of both the clothing and the photography – and by incorporating the local environment and local culture in its repertoire. She made portraits of people whose apparel and appearance attracted her aesthetic sensibilities, as she hopes to become a fashion designer in the future.
Nourhanne chose to work with models instead of going down to the street. She dressed them in costumes and adorned them with makeup in order to create a fantasy of “an ideal couple” and its evolution over time, from 1830 until today. The series not only works with clothing and location, but also with styles of photography prevalent during the “imagined eras” in her photos. She used black & white, sepia, and a “faded color” cast in her portraits to impress upon the viewer an added sense of the past.
We received many more successful projects than can be presented here, and hopefully will present more interesting student photography in the near future.