WAVES OF EGYPTIAN SHAABI BEACHES
Shaabi Beaches through the eyes of the Photojournalist _ Roger Anis
For the ones who might not know it, Egypt is a lot more than just the pyramids and the temples. In fact, Egyptians live in different world and for each their ways of doing summer. Some go spend their summer by the villas and cabanas in the North coast, trying to get a tan and attend a party or two, while others enjoy their summer as they catch a breeze or hit a wave at a Shaabi (local) beach. Yes, Egypt is as diverse as the way it just sounded. Lucky enough, Photographer "Roger Anis" got us covered on this as he documents the way it is like at a Shaabi beach on a summery day.
Based in Cairo, Visual storyteller and documentary photographer "Roger Anis" intends to convey real life stories from society and surroundings with the use of visuals, and only visuals. Anis’ creative talents go beyond photography, as he majored in Fine Arts and studied Film alongside. As he scratches surfaces of the society and goes deeper with his subjects, one is left mesmerized with the dynamic sides of reality portrayed. And just like Anis interacts with his subjects to capture the tiny details, we sat with him to grasp the details of this project on ‘Shaabi Beaches’.
Shot on Location: Alexandria, Baltim, Gamasa and Ras El Bar (Egypt)
Can you tell us about the vibe of a Shaabi beach and what it is like to spend a day over there?
The vibes were all cheery and merry; there was neither sense of showoff nor attempts of impressing anyone; it was really pure and delightful. Shaabi Beaches are just about simplicity, and the people there do take life one day at a time. It came as no surprise to me since I have been doing photojournalism for quite a while and that is how it works; it actually allows you to put yourself in other people’s shoes. So much beauty relies in it, it is as if you won the lottery of getting closer, documenting moments and inspecting how others run their lives rather than just examining things from afar. This project in specific is special in the way it clears grey clouds, clarifies misunderstandings and abolishes common stereotypes. Personally, it felt very festive and I truly enjoyed the vibes it gave.
You could have picked so many other themes or different subjects to capture, yet you chose Shaabi Beaches in Specific, what was the reason behind that?
We could say there was an element of nostalgia and a desire of revisiting the past and moments I reminisced. That desire was born as I flicked through images that carry sentimental childhood memories. Some of childhood pictures were taken in spots as Ras El Bar and Baltim, although my memories of them were vague, I was passionate to just go and see how different things are in our present day.
If not for the sense of nostalgia, where do you typically find your inspiration for your projects?
I guess a major source of inspiration would be the experiences of people around, myself included. If I come across something interesting or vague enough to trigger my curiosity, I will be all out digging and depicting realities.
We could see that the composition of the subjects you portrayed in this shoot are well integrated and significant, were they random or planned and carefully selected?
What first takes place prior to approaching any of my subjects is a careful observation, a sense of attraction has to be there in order to be drawn to them and make me take a step further. For instance, I observe the harmony between members of a family, as if it is a color palette, a poetic state, something that makes you wonder what is going on amongst them. Once this image is painted in your head, you have got to make it real. You could start off with making conversation, explain the concept, and respect their boundaries; it is vital to make them comfortable in order to come up with authentic content. At the end of the day, make sure they are aware that this content will be published; ask for consent as it is their right to know and choose whether to approve of it or not.
Your work reminds me of the great magnum photographer Martin Parr when he documented the beaches of Cannes, has he influenced you in anyway? What do you think is the difference between Egyptian Shaabi Beaches and Frenchy Cannes Beaches?
Martin Parr is a legend without further a say, and I would always recommend whoever is passionate about documentary photography to have a look at his work for inspiration. But, I would not say that he was my main influence in this project. I had the idea in mind, and I later on looked at Martin Parr’s work, and others including Nermine Hammam and a list of artists too long to mention. Speaking from experience, I found these Shaabi beaches more alike to French and Italian beaches than some other beaches in Egypt, like the ones in the North Coast or Gouna. Shaabi Beaches rely solely on the concepts of joy and simplicity. The whole motif behind being by the beach for those people is spending quality time while getting hit by the rays and waves. Some of them go out of their ways just for the sake of having an hour or two by the beach. They do not spend weeks or days there; I even doubt that the majority of them could not even afford it due to other life commitments. The ones who visit Shaabi Beaches do not think of how they will be perceived, what next spot to hit on their prestigious itinerary, or how to mix and match outfits, nothing at all but some sun and fun by the waves.
After a quick observation on your Instagram, I can see that you keep going back and forth between cityscape and documentary, what is the cause behind this constant switch?
I individually think that this serves as the basis of documentary photography. You can tell a story with a portrait of a human and similarly with the geography of a place. To me, it is crucial to click a picture or a couple from the highest point in an environment or a location where I was shooting, it is a concept that I stick by. When I am at the top, I get a sense of life from the wide shot. This exact shot gives a broader perspective on what I am doing and the wide scopes of things taking place considering that it literally taken from a wider scope. Photojournalism relies in the recognition of everything shaping the lives of these humans you are documenting in your shots; the places and background are just another part of it. You just have got to know that it is all integrated and goes hand in hand.
You have mentioned in your TEDx Talk that you have been photographing since you were in 5th grade. Obviously, this developed to the point of becoming a photojournalist and an award winner, hence you have more than enough experience to share with us how the younger generation nowadays engages with your work in comparison to generations a couple of years back?
Being part of print journalism was something I was lucky enough to experience. Back then, I used to find it very pleasant when a picture is published at a very large scale, taking up a spread for instance. I used to find it even more pleasurable when someone compliments the picture after seeing it in print. Now things are made easier with online platforms and social media, and the bright side of it is the ease of communication. It comes in handy when trying to reach a wider range of audience and take part of the conversation with them. That is aside from being able to see the impact an image has on the audience, live; it does give a sense of enlightenment on their perspectives while you get to interact with the viewers. You are basically given the opportunity to avoid future mistakes as you acquire better understanding of how individuals in society are influenced or provoked and as a consequence, making changes take place. On the downside though, so much worthy content dies sooner, this could be resulted by the form of presentation, or the pace of how things are happening globally over a short span of time. People are overwhelmed; a remarkably large amount of content is produced, an extreme sum of information is presented and we are not yet ready or prepared for all of that. One can argue that this is beneficial in terms of accessibility, but we need to keep in mind that it could also go wrong.
What kind of influence do you think your work has on the audience? Does the influence matches your intentions of what you are attempting to portray?
My main objective is to inform, along with the initiation of a conversation, one that could lead to bigger things at a later point in time. My images are captured with the intention of informing you about whatsoever, it could be a place that you have never been to before, or introduce you to a person that you have never heard of, and it could offer you a new insight or an input with relevance to science or love. From what I have seen, I like to believe that my objective is being fulfilled.
There are endless platforms for creatives to showcase their work at these days with the aid of technology, so could you tell us how different is what we see on your Instagram from what is usually published in newspapers and other professional channels?
Instagram is more casual, but the content posted is still picked with thought. I prefer to post bits and pieces on my Instagram, while leaving the choice to the viewers to see more –as I link it to a website- in case they are interested in further shots. Instagram is about giving a glimpse, as well as being selective rather than overwhelming or being repetitive. As for professional media such as newspaper or exhibitions, the selection process is run by professional photo editors or curators with a purposeful agenda, whereas my work is done after catching the moment on camera.
What would you say is a major accomplishment and a career highlight in your path so far?
A career highlight would be shooting the project on sexual harassment. It got a special place in my heart, not because of the global and local recognition it received but more because of the impact it had. It was a reflection of how much a picture could express personal stories and a major common struggle in the Egyptian society. The project wasn’t just about the sexual harassment per se, but more of how Egypt became more open; new things were spoken of and the topic of harassment is no longer a taboo or a shame. On top of it, a changing point in my life was getting my diploma in Photojournalism in Denmark, it added so much to me, so I would count it as a major accomplishment.