Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Women & Photography

Published July 17, 2012 - Muscat Daily. Click here to view the article on the newspaper's website

I'm writing this with my feet in buckets of cold water as I recover from a seven-hour hike with all my camera equipment through an unnamed city in a faraway land where I am taking an intensive outdoor urban photography course.I know it’s not considered the most feminine of activities, especially for a young woman from the conservative south of Oman. Fortunately though, being feminine and proper is the least of my worries most of the time.

I cannot recall exactly when I first became interested in photography, but over the past ten years or so my interest has evolved into a passion. My early days involved experimenting with black and white photography using film cameras (remember those?). I have since progressed to Digital SLRs with multiple lenses.

Despite my passion and ability to take good photos, I am not by any means a professional photographer. I would like to become one someday though, hence the investment in good equipment and the intensive photography hikes overseas with an incredibly talented photographer and teacher. Had I attempted the same adventure in Salalah, I would have ended up in serious trouble for endangering the reputation of my tribe (I’m only half-kidding).

This brings us to the topic of today’s column; females and photography in Oman and Salalah in particular. First of all, I’d like you to keep in mind that the relatively small community of photographers in Oman has traditionally been all-male. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the public emergence of females in the field of serious photography has occurred only over the past three to five years at the very most.

In Salalah, the only semi-acceptable photography profession for women is wedding photography. Women who take on this profession usually see it as a quick way to make money (approximately RO100 per wedding) in an all-female environment. Most of them go out and purchase an expensive camera, but due to lack of proper training the results are usually far from professional. I’ve seen results where the bride had red-eyes in almost every photo.

Besides wedding photography and without sounding too pessimistic, I can almost say that society frowns upon female photographers here in the south and perhaps in other parts of Oman as well. I know this from experience. I’ve appeared in public a number of times with my big chunky camera and was either given strange stares and asked what on earth I was doing, or word reached one of my male relatives that I was seen in public drawing attention to myself. A couple of years ago I ventured out into Muttrah Souq in Muscat with a female photographer friend and we also received plenty of glares.

To be fair, things are definitely improving quickly in the Muscat area and very slowly in other parts of Oman. There have been a few exhibitions in the capital over the past couple of years highlighting the work of female photographers including a very recent one at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah.

Furthermore, a little over a week ago, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said ordered the establishment of a governmentsupervised Omani Photographers’ Association. Up until now the only outlet for photographers innSalalah has been the photography branch of the Omani Fine Arts Society. Again, it has been entirely male dominated until very recently. The handful of females who were brave enough to join is practically invisible according to an inside source. Personally, I have always felt a little intimidated by the club and didn’t consider joining.

On a final note, I hope the new association pays extra attention to training and to the unique role women can play in the Omani photography scene. After all, we do represent half the population! I know there are many hidden female talents behind closed doors in Salalah that are simply waiting to be encouraged and unleashed. The future looks a little brighter. Till then, I’ll be counting the days until I can freely set up my tripod in central Salalah and shoot to my heart’s delight without feeling judged or intimidated!

1 comment:

  1. Salam alaikum Susan.
    A few years ago i discussed with a certain someone in Salalah about setting up a Photography Exhibition that would cater to the needs of the local Dhofari people of all ages. I saw great talent in my ears in oman, mashaAllah many pictures brought tears to my eyes. Everytime i walk past a certain photogprahy studio here in khaleej, the thoughts come flooding back of Salalah's beauty and how i wish one day the dream i had will come true. I can only hope in the coming years, i find people who are open to the idea and willing to put forth effort. InshaAllah there will be a day when women and children alike are taken seriously for their artistic skills and get to show them off to the world. InshaAllah inshAllah inshaAllah.
    Ive had the blessing of seeing your work first hand, looking at thsoe pictures bring a huge smile to my face and inshaAllah in time to come there will be a day when we meet again and take even more pictures.
    Habibiti, ur a beautiful ray of sunlight that shines on Salalah. Keep up the good work & know that you've got my full support no matter what.
    Love you all.