Everyday Middle East: More than Camels

Early morning Algiers. Courtesy of Lindsay Mackenzie
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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 at Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) presenting Everyday Middle East, a project and accompanying photography exhibition with the same title, GPP 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.

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.

Four of the contributors who have been working together virtually for over a year met face to face for the first time at the GPP talk. 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.”

* Selected photographs from each of the project's 25 contributors are exhibited at Gulf Photo Plus and can be viewed until February 26. For more info visit: www.gulfphotoplus.com

Danna Lorch is a guest blogger for The Art Blog. Follow her artistic adventures on dannawrites.com