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Photography in The Arab World Between Reality & Wishes

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

It is not hidden from anyone the great level that the world of photography has reached today. Where our time has been called the era of the image because of its importance and its great place in our daily life which included all aspects of life.

It is included in all branches of science and knowledge by all institutions that regulate human life each according to his specialization. 


It is normal that there is a big difference in level between Arab photographers and foreign photographers in Western countries in terms of the educational, cultural, and technological level of the photographer.

When reviewing the institutions that are interested in photography as science and art in the Arab world, we see that there is a great disparity between one Arab country and another in terms of interest in this important and vital aspect of our daily life. 

Hence, it is necessary to stand for a while to discuss this topic and give it its right to attention the same as other topics of sciences and arts. So we can know where we are in the world of photography and what we have reached, and give this aspect its right and put it in the appropriate position and take care of it based on the needs of each Arab country.


It is normal that there is a big difference in level between Arab photographers and foreign photographers in Western countries in terms of the educational, cultural, and technological level of the photographer. This is due to the great interest of the institutions concerned with photography in terms of vocational and university education. Not to mention ministries specialized in culture and media, institutions and media, press and advertising agencies and all the bodies that enter photography in their departments and work. Especially the largest and most important section which is photojournalism due to the proliferation of newspapers, magazines, periodicals and other publications. 


If the following question was asked: Who is responsible for the science and art of photography in our Arab countries? We will hear a clear answer in some Arab countries, and evaded answers in other Arab countries. 


The time has come for the institutions concerned with photography in the Arab world to pay attention to all its divisions and types, each according to the field in which they are specialized. In addition to giving it the importance it deserves so that people including photographers, artists, and creators have the right to reach the position they deserve among the world’s photographers, and to take their role in representing their country and conveying the beautiful image of it to the rest of the world through exhibitions, events, technical and promotional forums, Arab and international meetings and encounters.


From this standpoint, each of the concerned authorities must take its role in this aspect, for example:

Ministries and institutions in the Arab countries should take their role in introducing the subject of photography into the curricula of media colleges seriously to reach the degree of specialization, and to grant a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. This is not much for the faculties of media to practice their duties towards this broad science to bring our students to the level suitable for them in this field. As for what is currently present in the curricula of media colleges does not reach 10% of the subject of photography and is being dealt with in a non-serious manner, and it is not being applied practically. Which makes students rely on themselves to enrich their information from external sources. No to mention teaching this subject by doctors who did not practice real-time photography in some countries and as a result, the information the student receives is weak. 


In order to improve, we need to teach the subject of television and film photography in colleges of art and expanding its teaching in the audio-visual departments. So that we can produce distinguished and capable competencies that serve the country and play their role in filling the institutions’ need for scientific cadres specialized in all fields of photography. Not to mention stimulating the creative potential of students in this field.


These establishments need to launch photography exhibitions for its students in a serious manner. Moreover,  specialized colleges need to hold workshops, lectures, and seminars by hosting creative people and professionals from the people of the country and foreign guests, and to exploit every possible opportunity to satisfy the students’ desires for the subject of photography that is loved for all. 


Ministries of technical education and vocational training in some Arab countries graciously paid attention to the introduction of the subject of photography in their curricula. They also grant a diploma in photography and television after a specialized study for a period of two years. Same as in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. We hope it will expand to include all other Arab countries as well in addition to the preparation of the needed curriculum. There are also art institutes in some Arab countries that teach photography but not with a major. It is considered as an integral part of other academic courses.


Ministries of Culture and Information, each according to their field need to hold activities, events, personal and group exhibitions for photograph artists similar to fine artists, painters, designers, and others. Also, work to hold large artistic competitions in the field of photography, whether at the level of the country or other countries, and allocate awards and certificates of appreciation to highlight the bright aspects of the country. In addition to encouraging its institutions to participate in all Arab and international exhibitions and artistic forums. We shall not forget that the most important product of this exhibition is the presentation of new artistic faces that have passed the stage of practice to reach the stage of professionalism and encourage competition for the purpose of creativity and break the monopoly of some in this field. 


Also, ministries of tourism, tourism promotion institutions, and companies specialized in tourism, shall take their role as well because the image takes great importance in their work and there are many countries where tourism is its backbone, Tourism promotion depends mainly on video films and photographs that occupy a large proportion of posters, folders, books, tourist publications and all kinds of means of identification recognized in the world. The image is the most powerful way to convey the truth to others, to define the beauty and nature of places and their unique charm. 


Hence, it is required from these concerned institutions to pay attention to the photography and to establish departments specialized in photography and choose photographers who have a special interest and are specialized in tourism photography. In addition, they need to open training courses for them and provide all the modern technical requirements that their work need. So that they can produce ideal results to convey the bright message which the tourism institutions aim to promote. No to mention trying to periodically renew the pictures about these places and not to rely on pictures taken years ago, and to try to hold specialized and collective exhibitions related to tourism photography and popular heritage. Holding competitions at a regional or international level will also help to achieve the needed result. In which photographers of various levels participate to show their capabilities in highlighting the beauty of the country and presenting it in the ideal way according to the vision of the photographer and moving away from traditional images and weak photographers.


Civil society institutions for students, youth, women, and other associations can provide services to their members and their participation in developing the talents and capabilities of their members by providing specialized courses that benefit their members and develop them to develop it into a profession in the fields of press, commercial photography, studio and events. Syndicates, associations, and associations of journalists, media professionals in general, and photojournalists must pay attention to developing its members by holding specialized courses and workshops. Advertising companies need to encourage their photographers and develop their capabilities by placing them in specialized training courses and providing them with modern equipment and technologies.


Federations, associations, and photography forums in the Arab countries, which take it upon themselves to spread the culture of photography and make it accessible to everyone and to take the hand of photography enthusiasts to develop their talents and ability.  It must take it upon itself to represent photographers in Arab and international forums, exhibitions, and various competitions in all parts of the world and encourage the collective participation of photographers of all kinds, specializations, and levels without distinguishing between one and the other. Also, not to monopolize the privileges of one group without another and to hold personal exhibitions of photographers according to their importance and to set their own agenda throughout the year. 


These associations also work to keep pace with scientific development and technological progress, follow the latest developments in the world of digital visualization, deliver it to its members, publish educational lessons and cover the activities and events of its members through the issuance of a magazine specialized in photography and a website on the Internet. In addition to hosting international, Arab, and personal exhibitions and holding artistic events for a number of well-known photographers and artists at the level of the Arab world and the world, to explain their personal experience in the world of photography and not ignoring its prominent and distinguished members. These associations also organize specialized trips for their members according to a well-studied scientific approach to important areas. It also hosts specialists to give lectures to its affiliates to increase their scientific and artistic information and encourage them to visit personal and public exhibitions of fine artists to learn about their experience and benefit from the vision they have in their view of the topics. The most important thing in the activities of these associations is to hold specialized workshops to develop the capabilities of their photographers, to provide distinguished products by specialists in this art, and to hold various seminars in the field of photography. 


Based on the above, we see that there is a responsibility that falls on all the aforementioned institutions and others in developing and disseminating the art of photography. We are still at the beginning of the road where they are some Arabic countries that do not have even one club of photography while one of the European countries has hundreds of institutions, clubs and scientific, educational and social links for photographers.


Don’t we, as Arab photographers, have the right to be optimistic and aspire to realize dreams for each of us, and thus our dreams serve our countries and our people? 


Kemal OGHLY

Head of Photography Dept. at the International Cultural Academy

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