Chobi Mela 5 Series A Photographic Conversation from Borj al Shamali Camp

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photos: Simon Lourié

cen23When I met the beautiful, young Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh from Lebanon, for a moment, I was left breathless. Her confidence, zeal and strength of personality reflected on the realms of a world that has seen much and yet, stood strong. Although she is a photographer herself, her role in this year’s Chobi Mela is that of a messenger who has brought the voices of young Palestinians to the audience of Dhaka. The Borj-al-Shamali Camp (Lebanon/Palestine) is a refugee bivouac for Palestinians in Lebanon, and symbolizes great meanings in tandem to the festival’s theme ‘freedom’. My conversation with Yasmine varied from her work to the work of others, and how the modern world perceives and pursues photography.

RS: Tell us about your contribution to Chobi Mela V this year.
YES: My colleague and I started a project called ‘a photographic conversation’ at the Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon about 7 years back. We worked with a group of young boys and girls, who were around 10 to 14 years old when we started and are now 17 to 20 years of age. They all have cameras and they take photographs, by choosing their own subjects. Later, they come back to our atelier and do the editing. They take photographs because this is the medium I have proposed them. But the idea was not to make them professional photographers, even though one of them decided that this is what he wants to become.

I’ve been living at the Camp for 3 years now and have an atelier where they come to do their editing and discuss their work. Over the years, they have produced different bodies of work and we made a selection for the exhibition at Chobi Mela this year.

RS: That’s really exciting because they are almost of my age. Because you are working with young people, were there any difficulties that you had to face because they were not professionals? Did you train them?
YES: No, age is not that important. I often think that it’s not professional photographers who do the best photographs. But if you want to do commercial photography, work in schedules and do the perfect lighting for a perfume or of a model, then you should of course train and have all the technical knowledge. But to express yourself through images, you do not require any prior knowledge. For me, it was not a problem that they are young or inexperienced. On the contrary, I think it’s good they look at images through their eyes and learn through their own practice to read images and take photographs themselves. I don’t want to dictate them western esthetics nor do I want to push them to work on subjects that would interest a certain public. They are free to work as they want to. It’s really very personal. I’m only there to ask questions in order to reflect on their works, to go deeper into it and to push them to be more aware of what they do. In this way, they are more likely to achieve a very unusual combination of subjects and presentations.

RS: Since you’ve been working with young people and started very early, do you have any advice to young photographers who are trying to make a mark in this field?
YES: To be honest, I’m no longer so much into the aspects of being a photographer. Of course, it’s something very nice and useful. However, there are almost a thousand photographers per square kilometer. Everybody wants to be a part of this, which is understandable because everything now goes through media and pictures. People don’t read anymore. They just watch television. I see photography as an interesting thing because it is more important nowadays to be able to read images and to understand them. But I wouldn’t like to encourage anyone to be photographer because I feel it has become something of a fashion. Everyone should do what he really likes to do and follow his own passion. If the passion is photography, then they should simply go for it. Anything you do in life is nice when you do it 100 percent. It can be Biology, Chemistry or anything from one of the thousand different categories. You can be a photographer, a painter or a technician.

RS: So, would you say we have an abundance of ‘photographers’ in the 21st Century world? Do you feel there are too many photographs that mean very little?
YES: Well, of course, if you have too many photographers, there will be too many photos where more than half of them will be nonsense. They will not carry any real message.

RS: There is a common belief that a good camera is crucial in producing a good photo. Some feel people who carry SLRs are the ones with the ‘real deal’. What would be your reaction to such beliefs?
YES: I think you can shoot with anything. You can shoot with a pinhole camera if this is what interests you. It really depends on what you want to do. What is most important is to work with one camera that you know very well and that you are able to manipulate in any situation. In this sense, a box with a hole can be the camera that produces great images. It is more important to produce photographs that send out a meaningful message than photographs that are technically perfect.

RS: How did you get attached to photography initially? Were there any difficulties that you had to face because you were a woman?
YES: Not really. I always liked photography. I began shooting from the age of 13 with a camera from my father which he didn’t use anymore. During A levels in high school, we had to choose two majors and one I picked was art. Finally in a class while studying history, I saw a leaflet on a photography school I’ve heard of. It was the publicity for the contest you have to pass to enroll the school. I’ve always been attracted to photography and I entered the school in 2002. To sum it up bluntly, my becoming into photography was not something I could set a starting point to; but more like different occasions where I always offset for photography.

RS: Well, you’ve been fortunate. There are many young women photographers here who cannot pursue their interest because of the society. Parents, husbands, brothers and people often sneer at the thought of a woman behind the lens. How would you advise them to proceed?
YES: I don’t think it’s a question about here and what’s happening there. It’s about pursuing what you really want. In any society, it’s very natural for a woman to undergo many obstacles in order to live her dream. If you want something, you might go against the imaginations of people surrounding you. It is important that you remain satisfied with what you do, even if it means going against others’ expectations. You have to struggle in whatever field you are in and stand up for your beliefs. It is important you live your life and not the life others have imagined for you.

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