Feature

Exposing the Lives of Egyptian Families

Exposing the Lives of Egyptian Families

Cairo, June 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter / Magnum Photos
Cairo, June 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

By Mohamed Khairat, Editor-in-Chief, EgyptianStreets.com

While many have strayed away from Egypt since the 2011 revolution, Bieke Depoorter found herself spending nights at the homes of Egyptians and exploring their lives behind the walls.

Despite knowing no Arabic, Bieke, 27, has successfully managed to spend the night at the homes of multiple families, earning their trust and photographing their lives and intimate moments.

“I work with Ruth Vandewalle. We both travel together to try to find the trust of people and a place for the night,” explains Bieke who is a member of Magnum Photos. “We just ask people meet in the streets. If I am welcomed by the family into their homes, Ruth [who speaks Arabic] leaves and I spend the night by myself [with the family].”

Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter.
Cairo 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

The ambitious project started following another project ‘Caïropolis.’ Bieke and three other Belgian photographers, Harry Gruyaert, Zaza Bertrand and Filip Claus, were asked by Jan Beke to show what Egypt has become in the shadow of the revolution. However, there was a twist: the photographs were not to portray Tahrir Square, violence and protests, but the city of Cairo and its people.

While ‘Caïropolis’ concluded successfully, with multiple exhibitions and a published book, Bieke felt that her journey was not yet over.

“I decided that for me, my project (spending the night with people and exploring the intimacy of the family) was not yet finished,” says Bieke whose work in Egypt is still in progress. “So I continued the project by myself and will continue for some time.”

Qursaya, an island in Cairo, during the curfew. September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Qursaya, an island in Cairo, during the curfew. September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, December 2011. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, December 2011. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

Perhaps the most important reason for continuing the project and exploring life behind the walls was to show a different side of Egypt.

“I find it important to show another side of Egypt, not what we see all the time on television,” says Bieke, pointing out that we often see violence, Tahrir Square and sit-ins, but not enough insight into the lives of Egyptians.

“Trying to gain the trust of people in a period of time with no foundation of trust is very interesting…there still is trust!” adds Bieke, explaining that people are encouraged not to trust any foreigners. “Of course, sometimes it is difficult….you can feel the changes happening and the growing un-trust towards us, but I still found people that gave me a side of their bed.”

Giza, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Giza, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

While some might imagine that people would not allow strangers to enter their homes and spend a night with them, Bieke’s work shows the true hospitable nature of Egyptians.

“People react differently of course…but mainly once people invite me into their homes, they are very open and welcome,” explains Bieke.

“Lots of times I even slept with them in the same bed which is not something everyone would do. I mean, it’s not logical for people to invite you to sleep over and at the same time to share their bed!”

Yet, what is also of great importance and significance to Bieke is how other people interpret the photographs she takes. “I choose not to give captions, because I really like it when people interpret the photographs as they want,” she says, “giving too much information can stop this.”

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Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, June 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, June 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

Bieke hopes to one day publish a book that captures her journey in Egypt. Similar work in in Russia has already been published by Lannoo in a book titled ‘Ou Menya.’ This autumn, Edition Patrick Frey (CH) and Hannibal (BE) will also be publishing her work and experiences from the USA in a book titled ‘I am about to call it a day.’

Despite the differences in culture, Bieke believes there are many similarities that are often overlooked. “Every night I am surprised and amazed by people…people are maybe different in culture, but there are so many similarities among them.”

You can follow Bieke’s work and journey by visiting www.biekedepoorter.be and her section at Magnum Photos.

Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
A Christian family has dinner in Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
A family has dinner in Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Mansoura, October 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Mansoura, October 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, 2011. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, 2011. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, December 2011. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, December 2011. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Minya, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Cairo, March 2012. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter
Fayoum, September 2013. Credit: Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos

Let us and Bieke Depoorter know how you interpret these photographs in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

You can follow Bieke’s work and journey by visiting www.biekedepoorter.be and her section at Magnum Photos.

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  • Abdessalam

    Despite the fact that over 30% of Egyptians are living under poverty line and the other fact that there is more than 40 million US citizen suffering from poverty. the question is : What is the target of exposing these pictures which I am sure were not approved to be exposed this way.This is a crime which any Egyptian lawyer can report to the general prosecutor where evidence of those families written approval and whether they were aware of the reason and the target of taking these photos which I suspect after reading the photographer’s comment.Those families who gave a free shelter to that photographer were deceived. The photographer apparently depended on the generosity of Egyptians even those who live in poverty. If they knew for a single second that their pictures would be exposed they would have delivered her to the nearest police station.The following comment is ” copy and past from the down mentioned website ”
    ” Andy Gray
    July 15, 2012 at 10:01 am
    BTW, remember the guy traveling across America to write a book about kindness, but then he shot himself and said a passing motorist had done it? He wasn’t trying to find truth; he was trying to make a story that would sell, a story that would confirm our suspicions of the problems and our hope in the end.I guess a test of this photographer is whether she is discovering or shaping.”

    http://www.burnmagaziness.org/eays/2012/07/bieke-depoorter-i-am-about-to-call-it-a-day/

    • Mohamed Khairat

      Nice job only copying a part of the comment. He also praised Bieke and stated:

      “Fantastic, I love this. Great photography does all kinds of things, including the powerful act of revealing the human condition in ways that we hadn’t quite see it before. These photographs owe a lot to the back story, which is why they don’t need captions. I don’t think the photographs would stand on their own without that story…but I don’t see why that has to be a problem. Altogether it works and works well.

      We can see the problems in the world from so many angles, but we won’t do anything until we see ourselves. That’s why I think attempts to help us see ourselves can be important (and that’s why I think some photographs that don’t challenge our delusions–that confirm the stories we want to tell–can do harm).”

  • Diana

    I keep coming back to the photographs noticing different things each time, thank you they are thought provoking and informative. I felt compelled to review after reading some of the other comments, definitely an insight into another world.

  • Aya A.R

    I’m sorry but what is the point of this project anyways? What did we learn or gain from it?

  • Dear all,

    I am Bieke Depoorter, the photographer of this project.
    Thank you for all your replies, I can see that the photographs are causing a lot of discussion.
    I would like to answer some raised questions.

    These photographs are taken with a lot of respect for the families I stayed with. I am very amazed by the fact that many people open their doors for me, give me their trust and give me an insight into their lives and into the intimacy of their interesting families.

    When asking for people to spend a single night and to photograph in their homes, I was always very honest and open about the project: I would love to make a book and exhibition with this work. This made it a bigger challenge to find people willing to let me stay.

    I want to show an insight into a world that is not often seen, especially not in these tense times, where a lot of media are focusing on the political and social unrest Egypt is experiencing.
    By accidental encounters, these families invited me into their homes. I am not especially looking for people living in poverty, but the people photographed were the once that were very welcoming to sometimes even share a side of their bed with me.

    I have done the same project in Russia and America and a lot of similarities instead of differences become visible, which is very interesting to me. With this project I intend to show a reality as I experienced it, in moments of trust and beauty I lived with these people – who often became friends.

    Salamat!
    Bieke

  • Reblogged this on middle east revised.

  • the true moral poverty can be found more often in western societies where families can not even effort to start families

  • Kari

    The photos touched me, because they show that we are all the same. Our surroundings might be different, our culture might be different and our religion might be different, but a girls thrill of shouting into a fan, loved ones spending time together, relaxing infront of the tv in the evening, sharing a meal that is the same whoever you are. It seems like a obvoius thing, but unfortunatly it is easily forgotten, and we as human beings tend to categorise each other as us versus them. Just read the comments here… several times is it referd to east vs west and to one religion vs the rest.

    That being said I got a bit dissapointed over the bathing picture, because it made me wonder about consent…. Did he know? and does he aprove of the use of this photo? (and I know it said the photos where taken with consent, but did he really know what he consented to?)

  • soliman .M . soliman

    as a matter of fact it seems there has been a damn deliberate purpose beyond that,, the Photographer just liked to focus on the dark side of Egypt ,and I think those people whom were shown on those photo were paid for ,especially you can find poverty every where around all over the Globe not just in Egypt !! and this is dues to my actual experience as I traveled to so many Countries around the globe before. and I have noticed ,poverty every where, in this regard some suspicious people aiming to live undercover among those poor people whatever they are in fact very reach such like the drug dealers so those photos are n,t reflecting the truth , beside the photographer was n,t polite enough by exposing such of the nude photo.it,s away the ethics

  • That pictures explain everything

  • anna louise

    having lived in Cairo doe 20 yrs I feel generally only one class was depicted here – where are the pictures representing the growing middle class and the even poorer classes than these here? While the pictures may have been taken with consent (not sure about the boy bathing tho!) i dont feel the people knew the true nature of what they would be used for!

  • yousra

    love it! thank you:)

  • كم احب مصر والمصريين … ان قلبي في مصر وروحي في العراق وجسدي في البرازيل…

  • PKapp

    The point of these photos is to show what living conditions are beyond the concrete we see everyday. Forget the nude photo. Concentrate on ways we can individually help to make SOMEONE’S life a bit easier. Thank you for the photos.

  • Their stark conditions make me feel so ungrateful and pessimistic about my life- the picture with the boy bathing especially

  • You know this is the same with everything in life.
    You’d think experience showes us at least anything, but no.
    Feel free to disagree but the world is changing, and none of us have no control over it.
    For instance, imagine Obama had any balls to put Putin to his place, but it seems like it’s never happening, welcome third world war.
    A profound post, thanks!
    Sarah http://phyto-renew350i.com/

  • Sylvia Brock

    I love it, thank you! I’m going to use the pic of the room full of pigeons as the “group photo” on our Expat Women In Egypt FB page. :]

  • Believe it or not
    strong Beautiful post
    make a revolution of a thousand question…

  • it’s already been said, this is the insides of the houses of the many Egyptian impoverished,
    not the lives of All Egyptians,
    one look at any realestate advertisement would dispel that notion, and show anyone just how varied the incomes are.

    • The incomes are not varied. 60% live in poverty, 25% below the poverty line.

      The photos are to show you the people you do not see and not what you already live in or experience.

      • fine

        You live in Austrialia yourself while fooling everyone with the name “Egyptian Streets’ so what do you know yourself?

  • i just can’t believe that these photos were taken with consent of the owners,it’s just no way in hell these people would approve such poses. you seriously took advantage of their good nature and took them , especially the nude one.

  • Till when this situation will change and till when egypt will stop moving in the closed circle and till when people will feel a life and till when I get my hobbies and life too
    Till when 🙁

  • I loved the work put into this and the pictures. Inspiring to see how strong their faith is. Beautiful post

  • Mel Dani

    Labelling these photos as “Egypt after the revolution” is certainly a false and misleading statement, only you and God know the reason behind it!! You could have taken those same pictures long before the revolution as the lives of this social bracket of society has not changed much pre or post revolution. The revolution simply has nothing to do with it.

    • Malika

      I completely agree, I actually became very upset that the only families depicted here are 90% below the poverty line and only a couple pictures of low income families. I agree nothing has changed in the quality of homes and status post revolution and to claim these pictures reflect that is false reporting and feeding into the stereotypical mindset that the revolution has thrown egypt into a tailspin. I am american living in egypt since 2008 although there were some tough moments during the revolution things in my opinion have changed with pros and cons but cannot be reflected by showing very poor families and claiming this is the status of egypt after the revolution.

      • Malika

        Not to mention that clearly these families were not shown the photos as to what would be published, set aside religion the cultural fact is that no man would allow a photo of his wife sleeping or nude child bathing to be published unless these families were paid to have their intimate lives photographed and published with no say in the matter signing an agreement or something.

        • fine

          Forget the nude child, I don’t think they would mind a nude baby. But the naked grown man in the shower. One word: ‘aib!

  • Shelbaya

    Not just beautiful meaningful work but it is that type of work that steers thoughts and feelings ….. It traveled with us to a different World that we shun ourselves from and choose to live in a closed protected cocoon blinding ourselves from reality …… Thank you

  • Ahmed

    “Despite knowing no Arabic, Bieke, 27, has successfully managed to spend the night at the homes of multiple families, earning their trust and photographing their lives and intimate moments.”…..
    i don’t know what kind of trust we are talking about here?… did she pay them?!> did they know they will be exposed to the world like that?>>> i dont think so…

    i find a lot of non-ethical points in this article.. i don’t see real ethical or humanistic motivation to do this kind work other than her own ego.

    • As stated in the article, there was someone with her who did speak Arabic and who explained to the families what they were doing.

      Believe it or not, some people want their stories heard and seen.

  • Abdelalim

    Tv , Mobile … ??????

  • Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  • IF THE PHOTOGRAPHER WANTED TO SHOW THE POVERTY IN THESE PICTURES FOR THE MOST PART HE DID.BUT PICTURE #4 SHOWS ONE CHILD WATCHING A COLORED TELEVISION AND ANOTHER ONE ON THE FLOOR TEXTING ON A MOBILE.
    WHEN I VISITED EGYPT TWO YEARS AGO I NOTICED SEVERAL THINGS THAT DISTURBED ME,
    OUTSIDE ONE OF THE STORES THAT WE DID SOME SHOPPING IN THERE WAS TWO BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GIRLS BEGGING FOR MONEY.
    THEY WERE THE SAME TWO LITTLE GIRLS I SAW EATING KFC OUT OF A FAMILY BUCKET SITTING IN THE BACK OF THEIR FATHER’ TRUCK.
    ANOTHER TIME WE WERE DOWN BY THE MARINA AND THERE WERE SOME WOMEN BEGGING FOR MONEY AND SHE HAD A YOUNG BABY ABOUT 18 MONTHS OLD WITH HER.THE BABY LOOKED LIKE IT WAS DRUGGED.
    THE MOTHER WAS TALKING ON A MOBILE,EATING A KIT KAT BAR AND HOLDING HER HAND OUT FOR MONEY.MY HUSBAND DROPPED SOME COINS IN HER HAND AND WE LEFT.
    THE POVERTY IN EGYPT IS A TERRIBLE THING AS IT IS ALL OVER THE WORLD.BUT THERE WERE TIMES WHEN I GOT THE FEELING THAT THESE PEOPLE THOUGHT WE OWED THEM THE MONEY THEY WERE BEGGING FOR SIMPLY BECAUSE WE HAD MORE THAN THEY DID.
    THERE WAS ONE NIGHT WHEN WE WENT TO A PIZZA HUT FOR OUR EVENING MEAL AND WE HAD TWO SLICES OF PIZZA LEFT SO WE TOOK THEM FOR OUR TOUR GUIDE/DRIVER.A YOUNG BOY KEPT TRYING TO GRAB THE PIZZA OUT OF MY HANDS
    WHILE HE AND A COUPLE OF HIS FRIENDS WERE DOING QUICK WORK TO A LARGE PIZZA.HE WAS SO PERSISTANT IN THIS TASK THAT HE FOLLOWED ME INTO THE CAR.THE BOY WAS ONLY ABOUT 12-13 YEARS OLD BUT I WAS FRIGHTENED AT THAT MOMENT.MY DRIVER HAD A FEW QUICK WORDS WITH HI AND HE BACKED OFF.
    I LOVED EGYPT AND WOULD LIKE TO GO BACK AGAIN.
    THE PHOTOGRAPHER REALLY TOLD A STORY WITH THESE PICTURE.A GOOD CLEAR INSIGHT INTO THE LIVE OF THE POOR.
    WELL DONE.

    • Was the intention to show poverty?

      There is far more richness in this photo series than mere poverty.

  • Considering the country in which these photos were taken, regardless of the subject’s religious affiliation (Christian or Muslim), it is so inappropriate to have included a nude/bathroom photo in this collection and highly disappointing.

    • karim

      You are concerned only by nude/bathroom photo in this collection.
      Really i’m feeling ashamed of such a close-minded mentality people like you.
      And then we ask ourselves why we’re in daily life shit ……..this is cos’ of such a narrow -minded people like you.
      You don’t care of the problem ‘s roots but you’re interested of a side fucking affaire.

      • Rani

        You don’t know her to speak to her that way.

      • Abdelaaty

        Karim, your reply gave me cancer. I feel ashamed of people who reply such such comments too. just cursing around, accusing other of being close minded while they’re being just worse. And it IS a concern that those pictures are posted without consent of the families, you should respect that.

        • All photographs were taken with consent.

          • Ahmed

            i find it hard to believe that those photos were taken with consent. and more important with full awareness that they will be exposed to the world this way.
            saying it doesn’t just prove it. you have to provide real evidence that these photos were taken with consent and full awareness of that these photos will be publicly published.

          • fine

            It is porn by Egyptian standards so perhaps maybe you should be arrested for your porn blog next time you make it back to Egypt, since we know you don’t even live here Mohammed.

          • sara

            Written consent, with full explanation on how theses photos will be used? If so, please attach the form they signed, because it is highly doubtful in this country they would agree to this.

            Legally they are allowed to sue you and the photographer.

      • Ismail

        Karim, I understand where your coming from, though I believe you have been misled. First of all, addressing your complaint about open mindedness, It seems to me that you have been affected greatly by western media and have fallen into the traps that have been set up for people like you by deliberate psychological and cultural warfare.
        Neither your culture or your religion would agree with such a photo, if you think that being open minded is looking past your morals and culture, it is you who should be ashamed of yourself. Open mindedness has to do with being open to different solutions, points of view and suggestions. In fact, if you were open minded then you would not attack someone of your same culture with the same ethics that your parents taught you for standing up for these same ethics. Finally, I would like to leave you with one question which might leave you with a heightened sociological imagination, if your morals do not comply with your country and they also do not comply with the west. Who are you?

    • Muslimah Al-Tunisiya fil Amreeka

      Lower your gaze then “Aishah” Schwartz. This is a reality of living in conditions like this, and as for these conditions, there are much worse. Face reality. It’s disappointing that Muslims of the west don’t realize the life of Muslims in other places until they live it. There is greater sins in those pictures than one person bathing, and those sins are burdens of yours and mine to bear. It’s our Islamic obligation to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Want for your brother what you want for yourself. How dare western Muslims judge Muslim and Christian Egyptians from our place of privilege.

    • Nobi

      I think your capslock button is broken

    • Misk

      I’m completely agreed with you. And also knowing egyptians (muslims or christians) they have very different thinking of showing their naked bodies to people. Normally they don’t do it even between near friends. I’m sure the poor man who appear naked even don’t know that his body is shown. What a very bad way to betray someone who open the doors for someone else..

  • Who

    Intense. Thank you.

    And, repeating a question asked earlier: “… but did they agree to be exposed to the world like this?”

    • All photographs taken with consent.

      • impossible, no Egyptian Woman of the class depicted in the photo will agree to a nude photo, if only out of fear of persecution by her neighbors.

  • Excellent work.
    I am always looking for this kind of humanistic point of view in photography. Thank you Bieke.

  • Very insightful and meaningful photos. The look in their eyes, the joy of crowding together no matter how small the place is, and kids everywhere as typical as the Egyptian life can be . They agree for her to stay over and maybe share their bed, but did they agree to be exposed to the world like this ?!!

Feature
@khairatmk

Mohamed Khairat is the Founder and Chief Editor of Egyptian Streets.

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