There are certain jobs that are traditionally male-dominated and photography is known to be one of those, but why is that?
Is it because it is tough? Is it tiring? Does it require physical abilities that are more typical to be possessed by men? Do men have better creative thinking when it comes to building up a composition and do they understand the settings of the camera better than women do?
I have to prove to people, every time they hire me, that as a woman, I can also do all of that.
When I come to take portraits of CEOs and Directors to their offices, they always look at me with big round eyes while I am setting up lights and backgrounds, asking if I am sure I can do it by myself, and am I sure I am ok and don’t need help, but in the end I heard some of them saying that they never looked better in their life.
How often do I come to a shoot, and waiting for the crew to arrive I hear people asking when is he, the photographer, coming, assuming that obviously it is a He, and I am just a pretty edition to this photoshoot. If the assistant to the photographer is a guy, most businessmen would come and shake their hand first, assuming right away that it is the photographer.
How often (90% of the time) when a guy hires me to do the job, he says: “But you should be in front of the camera, not behind it” thinking that he is complimenting me, but instead making me feel like I am not good enough to do the job I am hired to do.
And there are hundreds of us who have to deal with this every single time.
But I still do love the challenge, and I love the struggle, I love proving people wrong for myself and for all of us.
Definitely, there are advantages in being a female photographer as well, especially in the Middle East where certain celebrations are still traditionally gender-separated. And certain ladies do feel more comfortable to be photographed by women.
However, I do often find myself to be the only woman (even in the room) in certain industry-related events, and that’s fantastic as well. Every time it feels like a win!
I have recently asked one of my clients, just out of curiosity, so why me? He didn’t say anything about my photography, but he said because I work tirelessly, because I know what they want and because I am a nice person. And that’s fair enough, I guess.
I do what I love and I do it with open heart and at the best of my ability, and it is sad that most clients would still pick a guy over me while hiring for certain project just because of the male-dominated market…or certain other reasons.
In 2017 Nikon couldn’t find a single female-photographer to promote their latest camera and all 32 ambassadors for it were men. In other brands, the situation isn’t much different to be honest.
But there are many, many talented women photographers out there, and even in the Middle East we are blessed to have a plenty of them.
So give us a chance, industry, or let us prove you wrong once again.
2018 was a tough year. It was scary, and scarring, but as well it has turned to be a life-changing year for me. Perhaps, it was the end of the cycle and something had to be let go of forever because in this universe it didn’t make sense any more.
This was the first year I spent New Year in the country. We didn’t do anything particularly memorable, just went to a restaurant, stuffed our faces and went home to sleep at 2 am. The first day of the year I did the zip-line over Marina, which was very fun and exciting way to start 2018. I also did sky diving and the biggest bungy jumping in the world this year. A lot of adrenaline was released.
In February, I was a silent volunteer to help and document GPP18, global photography event held in Dubai, gathering professionals and enthusiasts for workshops and industry-related talks. I can call myself a fairly organized person and I really suffered from lack of organization at this year’s event. I never totally knew where I had to be, who I had to help and what time I was supposed to show up and leave. I can’t say that I learnt anything new this year, or that I made new friends… it was all sort of a blur, and on the last day I even found myself to be a part of the crew of videographers to film the biggest highlight of the week – the shootout. When did I agree to that? Well, never, but I did it anyway. GPP photo week was always my most exciting event of the year and I used to be always so thrilled to be a part of it. I hope that next year it will feel more like what it used to be – a true global community people passionate about photography.
In terms of travelling, the first trip of the year was to South Africa. I used to live in Cape Town ten years ago, and it felt amazing to be back, I am still very much in love with that country. A lot of things changed for the better, and a lot of constructions went up, but it still feels just incredible to climb up the Lions Head Mountain and look down at the ocean hugging the city.
I didn’t take much landscape photos in South Africa, although there is an enormous potential for that there… just didn’t have time, didn’t make an effort. I documented all of our trip on my film camera, though, and those are perhaps not perfect in terms of quality, but are very special in essence.
In terms of crazy things to do in South Africa, we didn’t swim with the sharks, but we did the biggest bungy jumping in the world – around 900 m down the bridge and it was terrifying. Not sure I want to do it ever again, but glad I did it.
Upon my return, there was a few “fun” projects to shoot at work… like a portfolio of creative architectural images for one of the real estate developers, but without a permit to shoot them. Must say, it really unleashes your creativity when you have to compose your shot and be on a look-out for a security guard chasing after you, engage your peripheral vision 101.
I had to shoot a bunch of rings and bracelets designed by a local jeweler having no resources at all. I am still amazed how I managed to do it, but in the end the client turned out to be quite difficult to deal with.
I taught a workshop on landscape photography in the desert, which you can read here… and found myself thoroughly enjoying it, even though the whole things was hardly well organized…
I shot food, I shot clothes, I shot make-up, I shot furniture stores pretending it was someone’s houses, I shot people partying, people looking at art, people talking about problems in Maritime sector, I shot portraits of my friends, and portraits of friends’ friends, I went out with people to try to help them find what they want to shoot and how they want to shoot it.
I wanted to go to Iceland again, and so badly that I had to choose between keeping my day job for my previous employer or being fired, and it was the major decision of the year. I felt horrible, I couldn’t sleep, I lost half of my hair and I was being told that I am just not good enough, and I shouldn’t be doing what I am doing because I am just not as good as other people. So stepping away from this situation, leaving, being fired, going to Iceland was the best decision for my sanity. It all started there, and ended up there somewhere on the edge of the sharp cliff attacked by seagulls.
Second half of the year I started as a freelancer. I still had a few clients from my studio and it seemed I was doing pretty much the same job as before, just being paid differently. Summer is a dead season in where I live and a lot of creatives struggle so much that they prefer to leave than to stay and suffer the Dubai prices and no jobs, but I was fairly busy. There almost wasn’t a week I wasn’t photographing something, so I didn’t feel like I made such a bad decision of leaving the 9 to 5 job.
In August we did a fantastic trip to some place I have never been before – Viet Nam. There’s a whole story about that you can read here.
In September I did my last studio shoot during which the person who was in charge of the brand was fired, her colleague was sobbing throughout our shoot, and since that day I never heard from them again.
The last quarter of the year I was mostly shooting people that I know for a long time, and it really made a difference. In the end, my job is not only to document events, to make products look good, to take photos for people’s linkedin profiles… my job is to make people happy. And if you are happy, I am happy too.
Last two month I found myself shooting a lot of events for one of my most loyal and hospitable client – Saudi Arabian Shipping company and it really feels amazing to be greeted with smiles and treated like a part of their family whenever I go to their offices. A lot of photographer friends say they hate shooting events, but I genuinely look forward to take photos of these guys again and again.
Sadly, I can’t say that I took many amazing breathtaking photos of landscapes or cityscapes this year, but there is still two-three good months of the clear weather, maybe some clouds, so everything is possible. I took many film camera photos, those are very precious memories…
But let me just share a few favourite photos of mine that I took this year below… and thank you for supporting me this whole year, means a lot to me ❤
Thank you so much again for being there for me, supporting me and trusting me to be your photographer if I ever was.
Two month ago I was contacted by an agency who asked me if I am interested to shoot landscapes for them, and in those landscapes there would be some influencers and luxury watches. They wanted me to shoot beautiful landscapes like they saw on my instagram and would inspire people to travel.
Great, I thought, it was the first time someone wanted to hire me because of landscapes, of course I was willing to do that.
The photographer who did their last campaign is quite a well-established world known photographer, and they didn’t forget to remind me of that on every possible occasion.
The initial plan was ambitious including travelling to foreign countries (nearby foreign, but still abroad), but then the budget was cut and the shoot was to take place within the country.
The initial plan was to shoot throughout the month of September with the final images to be delivered by the end of the month, the reality was that we were shooting Monday to Thursday and the final 16 images to be retouched and delivered by end of Thursday.
Last shot was done at sunset of Thursday followed by the trip to the luxury watches office that I only left by midnight. The number of images they selected was 50. The delivery time was Friday end of day. The luxury watches were to be retouched to the “studio-shot” quality. They were shot in the desert, on the beach and in a mountain village. You can imagine…
When I agreed to do this project, it sounded exciting, inspiring, well-paid and ego-boosting.
By the end of that week I felt emotionally-drained, I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours per night, I felt like I was trying to sell my soul to a devil with all the requests from 5 people who were around me at all times trying to direct the shoot; I felt like there was no money in the world that would cover the emotional damage that shoot left me with. And they didn’t even put my name next to my images when they printed them and exhibited them in the biggest mall in the world.
So what is the positive take away from this experience?
For me it is to shoot what I don’t care about for the money, and spend money on travelling shooting whatever I want, however I want.
Don’t sell your art for nothing. Don’t let other people sell your art for nothing. If people want your art to promote their brand, they better have means to pay for that. The only exception for that would be giving your art away for charity purposes – if it can save someone’s life, don’t hesitate.
Two days after I sent all the pictures to the client, they called me up and asked if I was willing to give them two more images of mine for free provided they quote “make sure to include me in their next project”.
Absolutely not, you want the pictures, they have their price.
Can it be more epic than to be able to post a blog post from high above the ground? I am pretty impressed by this myself.
Today I wanted to reflect upon the event that closes GPP events every year – Shootout. The principle of the shootout lies in having 3 photographers competing against each other on a given subject. None of them is supposed to know the subject before they arrive to the stage (as they are taken out while others do that).
This year we had 3 amazing photographers to participate – David Hobby, Rafael Concepcion and Benjamin Von Wong.
Although by winning a shootout you don’t actually win anything apart from a round of applause from public, there is still a lot of pressure involved. All the people who come to the event have stickers with the faces of those they support, and there is a lot of trash talking going on before the event starts. It is also usually super sold out, so you can’t just show up, you have to register, and usually there is a massive crowd before the beginning of the event.
I honestly love all three of the above mentioned photographers, but I somehow made friends with Benjamin who is an amazing personality apart from being super talented and creative. I really wanted him to win cause he shared his idea with me and it looked really cool what he was planning to do…
The weather that Friday was more resembling the end of the world. Sandstorm mixed with heavy showers, wind *that actually managed to blow away my credit card from the pocket while I was walking from the coffee shop that day. Everything that was not attached was flying around. 1 minute spent outside and your eyes are so full of sand that you can’t stop rubbing them for the next couple of hours. That kinda weather.
Ben showed up early and didn’t know much what to do with himself, so I asked him if he wants to go for coffee. He is that strange person who wears a t-shirt and bracelets with his own name (well, we all have our peculiarities… I like to wear bright pants :P) but what was funny that day is that he managed to lean on some freshly painted wall so his t-shirt and also most part of his arm was covered in paint. If you ever met Ben in person, this fact probably won’t sound surprising… but out of all days, this had to happen when you have to create magic in front of 350 people…
After that coffee I don’t know whether it was the stress or the caffeine, but my friend turned into fire-spitting selfie-sticks-spearing entertainment machine and went to warm up the crowds, riding up and down the street on his boosted board.
RC was half, if not the quarter of the RC we have seen during the week cause he was super tired and couldn’t sleep last night. David Hobby continued shitting his pants, although he has done the Shootout before… but he was the most stressed out of them.
During event there are also commentators, and someone who counts how much time is left to complete the task. Each photographer is given 20 minutes to take the picture, and to edit it. And in the end the audience decides who took the best picture. No pressure, really.
David Hobby chose to be the first since he couldn’t stand the waiting any more. This is when we found out that the subject of the shootout was “Balance”. If you are given a task to shoot balance in 20 minutes, I don’t know how many ideas will emerge in your head… but I thought right there and then, shit, I can’t think of anything.
But David found his balance by inviting a father and daughter on stage and took a simple one light portrait of them saying that it is so difficult to balance your work and personal life and the line is so thin and fragile. It was incredibly touching. I think Zack Arias cried. Although people say he cries all the time. It was sweet, just the image wasn’t that striking.
The next in line was my dear friend Benjamin who couldn’t be himself if he didn’t put out the show. I think everyone sat there with their mouth open looking at what he was trying to do. He put one of the directors of GPP on his boosted board, gave her a 360 camera, made half of the audience run upstears for more dynamic image, smoked the place up with some smoke aerosols, asked the other director of GPP to pick up the fire extinguisher and to push Hala on the boosted board through the audience. It was spectacular but the technology or Mohamed’s pushing abilities failed a bit and the picture didn’t come out that well.
The last was mister Rafael Concepcion who I was expecting to be joking around and making everyone cry of laughter as he usually does, but instead he wasn’t saying a word. He asked for a tripod, trigger, gels, some lights. Pulled out a random Emirati guy with a camera and a girl in the background and was trying to create something without telling us what his idea was. It was stressful to look at him. Even more stressful that looking at David Hobby almost making the little girl cry.
And in the end, RC created an image of red and blue balance in the back of the Emirati guy who was wearing the perfectly white outfit. The image didn’t speak to me really, but we all just wanted to give RC a hug and say that he did great. So that’s how he won the shootout. His image was the most technically perfect. That we can’t deny.
It was a great show that felt like it only lasted a couple of minutes. Everyone was on the verge of exhaustion, but we took a group picture where I got to hug RC 🙂 and then loaded ourselves on the bus to go party in style in Dawn’s villa.
Lack of sleep, stress and long working hours don’t mix well with alcohol so half of the night people were trying to throw me into the swimming pool, spilling drinks on each other and then when it started raining we were all dancing around the plastic ball that changes colors in a half tribal, half Macarena way. It was definitely a night to remember.
Today’s story is about how we went to the desert to photograph a conservation project with Benjamin Wong as a part of his workshop for GPP17.
The idea behind the project is that desert kills trees, and we need to help planet by planting more trees. So Benjamin and GPP teamed up with a charity company that plants trees. He found really cool looking trees in Sharjah desert as well as an artist who created absolutely incredible costumes of deadly creatures.
The whole team behind the project is talented beyond measure… and what I love most is that it was done for a good cause.
Initially we planned to go to three locations to create 3 images, but unfortunately with the usual Dubai organisation we only managed to do 2 trees. Nevertheless Ben took 3 shots that I am sure going to be mindblowing when finished. I saw one almost finished, and it is really impressive.
I had a really funny driver in our 4×4 who was:
looking like a rock star from 90s.
in fact British, but spoke with Indian accent.
had a problem with his neck but refused to go to the doctor saying that Jesus will help him.
promoting eating camel meat and drink camel milk even after I told him I was a vegetarian.
was singing songs about Jesus the whole time we were driving *and we had an Emirati lady sitting in the back of the car.
asked me if I want him to model for my fashion shoots.
and was thanking Jesus every time we made it over the dune.
I also met a guy in this workshop that I have been following on Facebook for a while but I didn’t realize it was him. Only after he complimented my Fuji, the whole puzzle came together for me to figure out who he was. Pleasure to meet you, Waleed.
What I saw in the shoot is that Ben is just like me, always does everything himself. There are plenty of people to help, but we still have to do everything with our own hands. 😛
Apart from seeing the magic in the action, we got lost in the desert, got stuck in the desert, got rained, blown away by the wind… my camera got so sanded to the point that shutter speed won’t press any more. Thankfully there was free camera cleaning service available during photoweek.
So grateful to have been a part of this unbelievable experience. Left tired, but motivated and inspired to dare to dream bolder.
Getting stuck in the sand 15 times on our way back maybe wasn’t the best experience ever, but we made it out alive with or without Jesus’ help.
Loved being a part of it. Thank you Ben, Valentina, Kashyap, Bernhard and each of the students. You guys rock!
If ever life stops being epic, oh well, that would be boring, wouldn’t it?
The GPP17 photo week is done, and gone, but not forgotten! So many adventures, so many funny stories, so many inspirational people.
Had a chance to go to Grand Mosque with the master Yoda, mm, I mean Hobby, David Hobby to photograph the blue hour. Doesn’t that just sound like a dream? David Hobby, however, wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t have a plastic diana lens, which he taped to the converter for the Fuji camera. The lens was faaaaar from being sharp, but he also converted images to black and white, and square format right away. Interesting choice for the blue hour class photography, but why not, honestly? Anything, but ordinary. I only had a chance to take one picture for myself of the magical sunset that was happening that night, but I am happy with what I got. I was there to take pictures of David and the students.
Another awesome moment of that night was that Patrick Hall from Fstoppers team had to come with us to film the class, and he showed up in shorts and had to wear a kandura (the local dress). He honestly looked awesome!
Next morning I had to teach a class on live performance photography with Sony Middle East. My husband showed up for support and won the heart of my assistant, who later on sent me a bunch of messages emphasizing how much he liked my husband. Okaaaaaay 🙂
Teaching again was fun, I liked enthusiasm of my students, they asked questions and shared their successes in that short amount of time that we had. I honestly struggled to take images with the Sony because I didn’t know the camera so well, because the light was changing every 5 seconds, as well as the white balance and the direction of the performance. But some people managed to create some awesome photos.
The weather was pretty horrible the whole week – it was dusty, stormy, rainy, cold, and sandy. But we still had fun.
We got a chance to try electrical scooters that were fantastic experience to ride around. How long do you think it takes to take an image like this? And under the rain?
The next day I went to take pictures of the one and only Sara Lando, the beautiful weirdo, who had a class in a mannequin storage room. All the students had 30 minutes and a topic given to them – to photograph the model in a certain mood with the mannequins. That was mindblowingly creative. I loved it.
Went to Davide Moneteleone’s talk that night, which was again sponsored by Sony so had to shoot with Sony….somehow I feel I am gonna end up with that Sony in my pocket one day. All of the odds.
That night we went out for drinks with the crew and the photogs, and I ended up sitting next to Davide. He is Italian, but lives in Russia, which I don’t understand. But the guy really has a Russian soul. He even looks Russian now. It was interesting to listen to his stories… but on my other hand was his sweetheartedness Zack Arias. I love what Zack does. I feel his pain about seamless backgrounds. I wish he drowned me with his medium format megapixels in the back yard and made us all feel uncomfortable. Next time, ha?
Got to know Rafael Concepcion better and he is a fun man, and that story about massage… khm. One day he employed me into shooting the whole behind the scenes story of him using the surface pro. That was fun. He immediately makes everyone around him laugh.
Had a company dinner in Iranian restaurant which was awesome as I got to know Benjamin Von Wong better as we went hunting for vegetarian food together, and ended up sending selfies to Patrick di Fruscia at the end of the night. I am so grateful to the fact that he ended up on my side of the table because otherwise I would never had a chance to take BTS photos in his workshop which was honestly mindblowing experience. He is a crazy genius.
Spent my Valentine’s Day talking to Ben about environmental issues in Dubai and in planning his next day shoot. It honestly deserves a separate post that I hopefully will be able to produce.
I am so happy to have met my old friends Damien, Tracey, Altamash, get to know my colleagues better and make new friends.
God bless coffee. Thank you GPP for making this all happen.