Photography is often considered a costly hobby exclusive to those who can afford it. For 15-year-old school drop-out Ahmed Qassim, who works in an aluminium workshop in Cairo’s Al-Gamalia distrct, this costly hobby became accessible after he was contacted by Mostafa Abdel-Aty.
Initially proposed as a project for Madad, photographer Mostafa Abdel-Aty organizes the photography exhibition ‘A Day in Al-Gamalia’ which was launched on Sunday, Ferbruary 22nd and wraps up on Wednesday the 25th.
Hosted at the FEDA Association in Al-Moez Street, which lies in the heart of Islamic Cairo, Abdel-Aty exhibits the work of five Gamalaia teenagers who participated in the nine-month long photography workshop orchestrated by the photographer. The aim of the workshop and project was to tear down the illusionary wall which has grown over the years between the residents of the neighbourhood, and the frequent visitors who often show interest in photography, painting, or just sightseeing.
“Like many people, I often go Al-Moez Street for photography, but during the times when I don’t have my camera on me, I get to hear the different reactions to the visitors’ requests to take photos,” explains Abdel-Aty.
“The residents and workshop owners feel as though all the visitors are well off, and that there’s a wall that separates them from the neighbourhood’s working class and craftsmen.”
“I wanted to tear down this wall by showing them that it’s normal to take photos, and that it isn’t an expensive hobby exclusive to a certain class of the society,” Abdel-Aty added.
“The perfect audience to address this thought to was of course the younger age group.”
Having received a EGP 5,000 grant from Madad, and with a contribution from Shams Stores by supplying him with four digital compact cameras, in addition to the supplies which were covered by Studio Emad Eddin Foundation, Abdel-Aty started spreading the word around Al-Gamalaia, the neighborhood which surrounds Al-Moez Street.
The participants, all aged 13-16 of both genders, spanned across very different socioeconomic classes, but all tied to Al-Gamalaia either as current or previous residents, or by working in one of its workshops.
One participant, as Abdel-Aty narrates, goes to Collège des Frèresand and has a membership in Zamalek Sporting Club, while another is a school dropout who now works in one of the neighborhood’s aluminum workshops. Abdel-Aty believes this diversity adds up to the richness of the workshop.
Over the course of nine months, Abdel-Aty would often meet up with the entire group, or work with the participants on an individual basis. It was often tailored to their school and work schedules. As Abdel-Aty prepared for the workshop, by equipping himself to teach the teenagers how to use a camera to supply them with an artistic means of expressing themselves, he soon discovered there was more to it than learning how to operate a camera.
“Working with those kids was more about their psychology then their photography skills,” admits Abdel-Aty.
“When I asked the participants to visit their homes so they can take photos there, many of them were quite ashamed of where they live, given that some of them live in graveyards or very simple roof lodgings.”
“Through our discussions, I often tried to remind them that there’s no shame or fault to growing in a simple society, highlighting that it is those who judge them who are faulty, and who should be ashamed of themselves,” reflects Abdel-Aty on dealing with the young people’s often shaky mindset.
Many of the exhibition visitors expressed that the participants photos have surpassed their expectations, which Abdel-Aty, sole organizer and caterer of the workshop and exhibition, regarded as a motivation to repeat the workshop, under the condition he finds more concrete help.
“I can’t really say I witnessed concrete change in the participants’ mindset, because the desired change is certain to take a much longer time,” expressed Abdel-Aty. “But you have to start somewhere, and maybe someone else will replicate the experience or carry on where you stopped.”
For details on when and how to attend the event, click here for ‘A Day In Al-Gamalia’s’ Facebook event page.