Shooting the Photographer: Noha Zayed talks about “Khatt” and Arabic typography
Artist and Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Basma Hamdy preserves a one-volume treasure that highlights and contextualizes Noha Zayed’s astonishing photography by chaptering it and punctuating it with brilliant essays and interviews around arabic typography. Creative entrepreneur and artist, Noha Zayed’s personal Instagram account as well as the popular arabictypography account that she co-organizes “cataloging Arabic letters from all over the world” are often cited in the lists of the best photography accounts in Egypt. .
Yasmine Motawy, talks to Noha Zayed about the book on the eve of the opening and launch of Khatt’s book: Egypt’s Calligraphic Landscape at Kodak Passageway, The exhibition runs from December 19 to 28.
The decision to contextualize the photography changes things, because in your Instagram account, many photographs derive part of their impact from being immediate and decontextualized, unexplained, with a rare hashtag to explain the bizarre circumstances or the fortuitous place. you came across. . Did it really concern you?
As I’m self-taught in photography and a lot of the other things I do, I spend a lot of time experimenting and refining my form and content, so even my approach to delivering and reproducing my work is evolving. Like most people, I have a complicated relationship with social media depending on where I am in my life.
My dad would have parties where he would pull out his slide projector and tell our guests about the photos he took, and I guess that kind of display reel is what I found on Instagram. As a photographer, when Instagram first came out, it was the best social media platform available to me; I didn’t want to be branded or say too much about myself or the photographs. On Instagram I sometimes had a hard time not responding to people when they posted questions asking for more details or information about a photo, I didn’t always feel like the information could be properly cushioned in an Instagram post. The bigger my account, the more requests I got to transform myself into a brand, but I really wanted people to focus on the photography itself rather than my character.
While I was comfortable with Instagram as an outlet, I struggled with the meaning of what I was doing, and that led to the book project, a new space where I solved my meaning problem. by filling in the gaps left by social media. With the book, I felt I had organized the photographs into something more useful. I enjoy books and have always thought that arranging and solidifying photos in a book would be a second act of creation.
I had the privilege of watching you take some great photos with your iPhone. The democratization of the form you use, and the fact that every nook and cranny of Egypt has been photographed and broadcast, must make the recognition of your talent as an Egyptian photographer especially special? Have you collaborated with other photographers? How did it go?
I take weekly trips on Fridays to take pictures with photographer friends and have been doing this regularly for the past 2 years. We are a fixed trio and sometimes other photographers join us, so far the collaboration has been very informal and relaxed.
When I started out, I mainly took photos with an iPhone and used my Nikon camera when traveling. As I got more serious in photography I made the switch and now mainly use Fujifilm and Canon cameras.
As with all photographs, I often get the opportunity to go where others don’t, and I recognize that photographers are motivated by different things, and so I’m not too worried that photographs are part of it. of the flood. Yes I think it all comes down to willpower and motivation so for example when I’m in Upper Egypt taking pictures I’m really grateful and interested in what’s in front of me I don’t think about the photo I take as’ A photo of Egypt or a media / tourist snapshot or a statement about the country. To maintain the integrity of some of the photos that might fall into this category, I often refrain from captioning many of them.
In fact, a lot of times when I plan to shoot something specific I usually fail in a big way, only after taking pictures and spreading them out that they make sense. I take a lot of my photos on the fly, I’m a quick photographer which I think is a heirloom from my iPhone days.
I grew up addicted to written words, reading the backs of cereal boxes and medicine brochures, and like you, I believe that the right book or the right message comes when you need to remember something; your eye clearly gravitates to the written word as well, how prepared are you to capture the moving text on the backs of the trucks you talk about in the essay “Trucks: a moving canvas”?
On the road, an iPhone and a clean windshield! I sometimes change direction and take an exit to chase a truck. I took an advanced driving course when I lived in Libya but still think it’s pretty dangerous just don’t do it.
In chapter two, âText Sells,â the contemporary street signage you capture evokes an eerie sense of nostalgia for what still exists but is likely to fade soon. This sparks greater discussion of the changing urban landscape, with older neighborhoods being neglected and new satellite towns receiving attention and investment. What part does this feeling of loss play in your photography and your documentation?
Although this book is about calligraphy, it remains personal; loss means a lot in my personal life, so I guess that is reflected in my outlook. I am also an object collector and my memory is assisted by photographs. I am interested in constant documentation, I see how the villages change with each visit, one panel replaces another, a chipped wall repainted differently, I sometimes meet trucks that I have photographed at other times on other roads, and these encounters shoot me.
I have also been to places that were on the verge of disappearing or drastically changing. For example, I was fortunate enough to visit an area of ââSudan before it was submerged by water due to the construction of a dam, as well as the geographic locations that I had read when I was child. Sometimes I feel like I’m running against time to capture things before they change or go away. Maybe that’s why I shoot so fast.
The fifth final chapter, âGlory manifestedâ, humanizes religious invocations by contextualizing them in the urban spaces from which they, as well as the devotees of the city, cannot escape. In fact, much of your work places the high, the human, and the beautiful amid distractions and visual clutter. The photograph you selected for the exhibition poster also juxtaposes the sacred and the profane. Is this part of a deliberate aesthetic?
I find it very interesting that people tell me that my photos show them beauty in the midst of ugliness, because they often refer to the very photos I took when I was in the depths of despair and unhappiness. Either way, in Egypt you have to constantly contend with all this awesome grandeur on one side, and the mundane grotesque on the other. Looking back, those photographs that people see as positive are probably my attempts to localize the humor and make sense of it all.
What are we going to see from you next?
The question I get the most is “what are you doing?” and I know I’m lucky because what I’m doing gets me where I want to be. I love having a lineup and on the same docs thread I’m doing a lot of audio recordings these days, a few photography projects, working on the family banana farm, and trying to figure out what to do with my life.
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