Everyday Middle East: More Than Camels

Two female police officers attempt to control traffic in Cairo’s chaotic streets. Friends covet pairs of shoes displayed in a shop window in Tabriz. Three boys prepare to high dive into a cold swimming pool on a humid afternoon in Baghdad. Images like these documenting everyday life in the region don’t always make news.

At a packed talk last week at Gulf Photo Plus presenting Everyday Middle East, a project and accompanying photography exhibition with the same title, Gulf Photo Plus founder Mohamed Somji said, “This project shows that the Middle East is not just about camels, mosques, and women in hijab. Because if you Google “Middle East” that is just what you’d see.”

The project’s founder Lindsay Mackenzie moved to Tunisia as a freelance photojournalist following the first events of the Arab Spring and began to shoot what she saw on the ground—from Tunis Fashion Week, to art gallery openings, the underground hip hop scene, and regular people shopping or drinking coffee downtown.

Early morning Algiers. Photo by @lindsay_mackenzie, April 2013, Algiers

Early morning Algiers. Photo by @lindsay_mackenzie, April 2013, Algiers

Though she would send pitches to international publications to cover human interest stories, the editors would frequently reject her ideas, countering with a request for Salafis, protestors, fully veiled women and other images that reinforced the mainstream Western media’s stereotypes of what it is like to live in the region. In September, 2012 Newsweek published an issue with the provocative cover story, “Muslim Rage”, prompting Mackenzie to take matters into her own hands and offer an alternative visual narrative to document the realities of the region.

Everyday Middle East was launched on Instagram (@EverydayMiddleEast) in March, 2014 as a collaboration between 25 contributors, all of whom are professional photographers based around the region, committed to using their mobile phones to shoot street shots and portraits for the project’s communal feed which transcend politics, conflict, and clichés. All contributors have access to the social media account and a different image is posted each day, much to the delight of a growing cult following.

West bank spring wedding, Zaffa, street celebration entrance, 2013. Photo by Tanya Habjouqa @habjouqa

West bank spring wedding, Zaffa, street celebration entrance, 2013. Photo by Tanya Habjouqa @habjouqa

Four of the contributors who have been working together virtually for over a year met face to face for the first time at The Gulf Photo Plus talk last week. Baghdad-based photojournalist Ahmad Mousa, who shoots mainly street shots for the project from Iraq, explained, “These images are not shown to most people by the media. It feels important to show the real picture of the region by posting scenes of everyday life both from the city and countryside.”

Photographs from each of the project’s 25 contributors are exhibited at Gulf Photo Plus and can be viewed through 26 February. Here’s a selection:

I told Gaith that I'm jealous. Photo by @lauraboushnak in Tunis, Tunisia. April 2013.

I told Gaith that I’m jealous. Photo by @lauraboushnak in Tunis, Tunisia. April 2013.

Italian-born artist Lidia al-Qattan, wife of late Kuwaiti artist Khalifa al-Qattan, prepares tea in her house of mirrors in #Kuwait, March 2014. Photo by Sarah Dea

Italian-born artist Lidia al-Qattan, wife of late Kuwaiti artist Khalifa al-Qattan, prepares tea in her house of mirrors in #Kuwait, March 2014. Photo by Sarah Dea @_saradea_

Two female police officers control traffic in downtown Cairo. Photo by @samuel_aranda13, June 2014.

Two female police officers control traffic in downtown Cairo. Photo by @samuel_aranda13, June 2014.

Some young people during shop at a mall named Laleh Park in Tabriz, Iran on 30 March 2014. Photo by Hanif Shoaei @HanifShoaei.

Some young people during shop at a mall named Laleh Park in Tabriz, Iran on 30 March 2014. Photo by Hanif Shoaei @HanifShoaei.

Opening night at an art gallery in the burgeoning @Alserkalavenue Art District in #Dubai. Photo by Mohamed Somji @msomji

Opening night at an art gallery in the burgeoning @Alserkalavenue Art District in #Dubai. Photo by Mohamed Somji @msomji

Ahmad Mousa, Iraq

Ahmad Mousa, Iraq

Smoke and light through the windows of a coffee shop on the island of Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Christina Rizk @christinarizk

Smoke and light through the windows of a coffee shop on the island of Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Christina Rizk @christinarizk

Young Palestinian women visit Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. Photo by Tanya Habjouqa @habjouqa

Young Palestinian women visit Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. Photo by Tanya Habjouqa @habjouqa

Emirati men behind a beaded curtain in Abu Dhabi. Photo by Tamara Abdul Hadi @tamarabdul

Emirati men behind a beaded curtain in Abu Dhabi. Photo by Tamara Abdul Hadi @tamarabdul

An Arabic language typewriter, found at the Friday market in Cairo, Egypt. David Degner @degnerd

An Arabic language typewriter, found at the Friday market in Cairo, Egypt. David Degner @degnerd

Good Ideas: Gulf Photo Plus on Alserkal Avenue in Dubai will be exhibiting photography by the Everyday Middle East collective through February 26, 2015. Be sure to follow Everyday Middle East on Instagram @everydaymiddleeast. The collective is in the process of registering as a non for profit organization.

Photo Credits: Each image has been credited to the photographer. All images appear courtesy of Everyday Middle East in collaboration with Gulf Photo Plus

Note: This piece was co-posted on The National’s Art Blog. Special thanks to Anna Seaman for inviting me to guest blog.