mercoledì 27 giugno 2012

Lebanon: Hashem El Madani

Born in Lebanon in 1928, Hashem El Madani is a studio photographer who has been working in Saida, Lebanon for the last 50 years.

Hashem El Madani was five years old, his cousins in Palestine sent him a set of portraits to keep as souvenirs. Madani's father, a moderate sheikh who had settled in Lebanon from Saudi Arabia, wanted to return the favor but these images gave him pause. Were they haram (a sin)? Madani's father decided no, they were not. They were just like seeing one's reflection in a pond. So he sent Madani and his brother to a photography studio to have their pictures taken. This was in the early 1930s in Sidon, and in all likelihood, the novelty of sitting in a studio, watching a photographer work and grabbing hold of a postcard-size print of oneself sparked Madani's lifelong fascination with portraiture. Seven decades later, Madani is the oldest living studio photographer in Sidon.

After falling in love with photography at the age of five, Madani finished school and left Lebanon for Palestine to find work. He hooked up with a Jewish photographer in Haifa named Katz, who taught him the tools and tricks of the trade. When Israel declared its statehood in 1948, Madani traveled to Amman and then to Damascus before securing the necessary paperwork to get back home. When he arrived in Sidon, he bought a cheap box camera, picked up some chemicals from a photographer in Beirut and set up shop in his parents' living room. Madani developed his business slowly. He bought equipment on credit, one piece at a time, from a photo shop run by an Armenian in Bab Idriss (the old downtown district of Beirut). As soon as he paid off one purchase, he'd make another. He retired the box camera for a Kodak Retinet; he shelled out for a 35 millimeter enlarger. He started selling 6-by-9 centimeter contact prints for just 25 cents. Business picked up, and in 1953, Madani moved his studio into the first floor of the Shehrazade building in Sidon. He bought himself a large desk, props and a stool for his subjects to sit on, a podium for elevation when necessary. He named his business Studio Shehrazade.

Madani's studio created a site where individuals could act out identities using the conventions of portrait photography, with the poses inspired by the desires of the sitters, ranging from Vogue models to kung fu moves, Hollywood romances to pamphlets distributed by Kodak and Agfa.

Motivated to expand his business, Madani set out to collect the portraits of all of Saida's families; he claims that he has photographed about 90% of the city's population. In creating such an extensive record of the townspeople in this multi-confessional Mediterranean location, Madani's archive of over 500,000 images subtly alludes to the changing political climate through his subjects' behaviour.

martedì 19 giugno 2012

"Arabian Sands" ... Wilfred Thesiger and his travel journeys

Wilfred Thesiger, born in 3 June 1910 and died in 2003, was a great British explorer of his generation and lucky enough to have lived when the globe still had some uncharted corners. 
He rode camels or walked across deserts and scrub land from Northern Kenya to Western Pakistan. Iraq and Afghanistan were more home to him than his native England. 
Wilfred rarely went anywhere without his trusty Leica which he usually carried in a goatskin bag.

He was a man of extreme austerity. The harder a journey was -- extreme shortages of food and water, hostility of terrain and weather -- the more he enjoyed it. 
He hated the modern world and its comforts. Planes, trains and especially cars, he believed, were robbing  remote peoples of their nobility, and the austere beauty of their way of life.
Sheikh Zayed with a falcon at Buraimi, 1949, photographer by Wilfred Thesiger
Closest to his soul were Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and he encapsulated their allure in his classic travel account Arabian Sands (1959).

The Corniche in Abu Dhabi, a glimpse from the past

Corniche in Abu Dhabi, 1948, photographer by Wilfred Thesiger

This picture was taken in 1948, when Thesiger visited the city for the first time. 
He found a small fishing village grouped around the "Al Hosn" or "White Fort"(it's probably close to where the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce tower now stands).

Corniche nowadays

mercoledì 13 giugno 2012

The Burqa . UAE National female garments

photo: Fatima Abbadi

Burqa The Burqa actually represents two items: one, the covering of the head except for a slit for the eyes; the other item is the metallic coloured object used to cover part of the face, and these days is only used by the older generation - this is specific to the UAE.

Abaya The long flowing black gown worn by the UAE National Females is known as the Abaya. Somewhat misunderstood by the west, the abaya is an elegant piece of attire and used to cover the female clothing. Abayas range from the plain to those with intricate jewel designs.

Shela The Shela is the piece of material used to loosely cover their head. This is sometimes black, especially those used to cover the face. And since the material is very light it is possible for the lady to see through the material.

mercoledì 6 giugno 2012

From mother to daughter.. "Art of embroidery"

The tradition of embroidery is one of the great art forms of village life in Palestine and Jordan.
Al Salt traditional dress (Jordan)
photo: Fatima Abbadi
From mother to daughter, each generation added new inspirations to the traditional designs. Women would meet on market days, for family celebrations and of course at the pilgrims' meeting places and gain muse from each other.

Embroidery history
Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. In this way, it has been practiced for decades.
Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment. Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations show people wearing thread-embroidered clothing.
The fabrics and yarns used in traditional embroidery vary from place to place. Wool, linen, and silk have been in use for thousands of years for both fabric and yarn. Today, embroidery thread is manufactured in cotton, rayon, and novelty yarns as well as in traditional wool, linen, and silk. 

In Palestinian villages, the tending of chickens and selling of eggs was the domain of women, who used this source of income to buy thread and fabric. Girls grew up watching their mothers embroidering, and learnt the skill from the age of about ten.

The main stitches used in Palestinian embroidery are cross-stitch and couching. In couching a thick thread is positioned on top of the fabric, and a thinner thread is stitched over it to keep it in place.

Motifs and colors 
The names of motifs change from area to area, and often from one generation to another.
"What is a Moon in Ramallah is a Star in Hebron. What is an Orange Branch to a grandmother is a Rose Branch to the granddaughter,"..

venerdì 1 giugno 2012

Lehnert & Landrock, Ouled-Naïl Women Tribe 1905

Ernst Heinrich Landrock (Reinsdorf, Saxony, 1878 - Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, 1966) was a photographer, based in Tunis, Leipzig and Cairo.
He is known for his works with Rudolf Franz Lehnert, published as "Lehnert & Landrock".