I wouldn’t be the strong and driven person that I am today if not for the unconditional support provided by the many loving women in my life.
Moreover, haven celebrated International Women’s Day recently, it occurred to me that through travel and photography I have often found inspiration in women all over the world, and I am sure you you got the same sense. In their stories and circumstances there has many times been something worth capturing and telling, and I just happened to believe that utilizing photography as a storytelling platform is a powerful practice. Seeing is always better than just hearing right?
I hope you also agree that sharing visual stories of women gives some of them the kind of voice that they might not be able to acquire on their own. In that sense it really is a portrait photographer’s duty.
Having said that, when I looked through my photo library, I didn’t find as many photos of women as I thought on record. Thinking about it I realize that portrait photography is not my strongest suite, for all the horrors and insecurities it inflects on me!
You know, fear of approaching people, failure to engage the subject, worry of unpredictable reactions, horrible midday light, etc. These remain issues that I intend to work throughout my photography journey, but there were few times when stories just had to be told through my eyes. I’d like to share some with you today.
I hung this photo on my home office’s wall to always remember to answer the question she probably wanted to ask me, but never got to .
~ MOSHI, TANZANIA.
When an altitude sickness attack cut our Kilimanjaro climb short, we spent few days in the town of Moshi at the heal of the mountain to recover. We walked to the market every morning to see what the locals were up to. I didn’t make much of it at first, but when it became way too obvious to ignore, I asked our trekking guide who stayed back to ensure I was ok, why is the whole town staring at me so intensely? He said they wanted to know what’s my story, and why am I hanging out with all these white people! Until this moment I just responded with polite nods and smiles, but it was this woman who turned back repeatedly, each time with a more perplexed glance that got me to lift my camera and shoot.
although not conditional, locking eye contact with your subject indicates a bond with the photographer, and establishes a connection with the viewer
Mother Hamda weaving at a UAE national day celebration to showcase one of the country’s fading traditional arts.
~ DUBAI, UAE
At the extremely rapid speed in which the UAE is developing into a global contending economy, prevent the local culture from receding behind closed doors of museums and galleries, and keeping it alive in real life has been a growing concern. Thanks to the effort of such ladies and the older generation, thus far these traditions live on, albeit at the risk of being viewed as borderline staged culture.
Photo tip: Don’t snap and run. If possible, get to know your subject, learn their name, get some context of their life and settings. Promise, It will lead into capturing a better visual story.
A diplomat, a sustainable energy award manager, and royal events organizer. Each in her own way running the world in high heels
~ ABU DHABI, UAE.
Photo tip: if cultural barriers stand between you and your shot, get creative with capturing the details. A woman’s face is not the only part of her existence that tells a story.
This photo is one of my all-time favorites, simply because these women are my best friends. This shot was preceded by one of the upper parts of the ladies, then I thought I might need a publishable version! It is common knowledge that photographing women for publishing purposes is a sensitive matter in the UAE, so I often have to get creative with what I decide to capture in order to tell those kinds of stories.
This story is about the most gracious, kindest, most hardworking, beautiful women I know, who’s sense of style and pride in traditions is not to be underestimated.
She walked into my frame and posed, instantly adding another dimension to the story of eternal beauty that I was trying to capture.
~ AGRA, INDIA.
India is a world of deep mystery, that could possibly take more than one lifetime to unravel. On my first visit I couldn’t escape the stark contrasts; in one moment I’m marveling at the unmatched exquisiteness of the Taj Mahal, the next I’m confronted with the tremendous poverty and despair that surrounds it.
I lingered in the Taj’s gardens to drink in the beauty. I prepared for a long mystical shot. Looking through my view finder, she had arranged a whole new composition for my photo. I lowered my camera attempting to clarify a possible misunderstanding! She stood her ground and saw right through me.
Verbally asking didn’t seem to be the best mode of communication here, so I put my camera back up to my face and waited for few seconds. I shot randomly, when that didn’t startle her, I adjusted my settings and shot again. We exchanged polite smiles, she walked right pass me. She never told me her name, but I thought she just gave me her unwritten consent to tell her story.
Photo tip: Subjects are not objects. They deserve kindness, politeness, courtesy and gracefulness. Whenever you can, ask for permission before you shoot.
The nurturing and protective nature of a mother goes beyond race, religion, or even language barriers.
~ TANTAU ISLAND, Hong Kong
I wasn’t the best day to venture into the less charted side of Hong Kong on Lantau Island. It was hot, stormy, and a transport fiasco brewed on the side. At the precise moment we arrived on Tai O fishing village, it poured down like someone had just unzipped the sky. Not the circumstances I had in mind for exploring a pre-colonial stilt house settlement.
We scurried off under the nearest roof, which was inside a short corridor lined with dry fish and spice stores. Not wanting to exit at the other end so soon, we hung about in front of one store and watched a grandmother and a little girl pass their rainy day playing and singing. Just the soothing breather needed at the time.
In few minutes, we somehow became part of this scene, so she invited us to join them in the safer shelter.
Young Emirati girl in traditional flag dress celebrating UAE national day on 2 December.
~ Abu Dhabi, UAE
I call this photo – Tiny Hands, Big Attitude. Little Emirati girls are kind of raised to know they’ve got it that way. I have never met an Emirati 3+ years old who didn’t know she will grow up to become a queen and rule the world like it was her own Muslim Barbie Doll house!
Photo tip: To isolate your subject from the crowds shoot in aperture priority mode, and don’t be afraid to Zoom in, to get more of the details that that matter.
If you like this post, you would probably also enjoy reading one of my favorite photography books, The Atlas of Beauty by Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc. She traveled for more than 6 years to capture incredible visual stories of women in 50+ countries.
Final thought- you don’t need to go far and away in order to find interesting woman stories to capture and tell. Look around you, and I am sure the women in your life or have stories worth capturing and telling.
Do you have any people photography tips you’d like to share with me?