Mukheil, Saudi Arabia
Time / Date:
7:27AM / September, 11 2013
Camera Body: Fuji X-Pro1
Lens: Fuji 18-55mm f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/2000
Focal Length: 18mm
This was part of a documentary on one of the oldest regions of Saudi Arabia dating back roughly 1000 years. The area is known as Asir, which translates as “where it is difficult to live” and appropriately the people of the are have a unique spirit. The market in Muriel is a central link in helping maintain the traditional culture of the region where vendors from all around the region to sell traditional, crafts, food items, cooking utensils and sweets. Very few of these markets still exist as barometers of both culture and local economics. The footage is part of a documentary and photography in progress. You can get a sneak peak here Asir Sand In An Hourglass trailer.
A vendor adjusts tins of honey on sale at the honey souk in Mukhail in the Asir province of Saudi Arabia. Three kinds of honey are generally sold – yellow, white, and black. Each has a different flavor and according to locals and different medicinal purposes. Bee stings are also used to relieve pain and poor circulation in joints.
Fuji X-Pro1, 18-55mm, 60mm, Zoom 4n
Making the Shot:
The elderly vendors were meandering around adjusting their individual ‘stalls’ on the ground while bees buzz around still collecting honey from the fresh honey combs. This is a small community so blending in was not option. I obviously wasn’t from around the area so all eyes were fixated on me, instead of trying to hide is sat in plain sight and spoke to whoever came to me but I kept to myself pretty much until the novelty of my presence wore off. It only took about 15 minutes for them to stop trying to figure out why I was there. Plus after both I and my guide explained the point of the documentary work, they either lost interest or just didn’t care in the first place. I tried to hunker down in several spots and shoot one image every 15 minutes so as to not overdose the crowd on the sound of my shutter and therefore remain some element of being unnoticed.
Editing & Processing:
Nothing major outside of light dodging and burning in Lightroom.
Shooting in Saudi Arabia is always a challenge with much of the social climate being extremely averse to photography as a tool of defamation. So anytime a camera is visible everyone is acutely aware. However the people of Asir are a little bit more relaxed and don’t cling to the Wahabist dogma of the country at large so it makes shooting a little easier. While I was shooting these stills, I was also collecting video which made composing photos a little bit more complicated as shooting for video and stills are both very different and I was trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I don’t really know how I could have shot the image differently given those restrictions.
Light is key in situations like this but letting people go about their business is the most important part of the image. The longer you stay in one position the less people will notice you. I call this T-Rex shooting, because if you move – the T-Rex will see you. So the key is to stay as still as possible so that you start to blend into the background and only try and shoot a frame when you absolutely have to. The more you shoot the more people will be cognizant of your photographing them and will either look right at you or start to behave knowing they are being watched.
Slice of life work by James Nachtwey and David Alan Harvey are excellent examples of using light to their advantage in extreme conditions in various countries cross the world. Those are two I always try and think about when I’m composing images relying on light to tell the story.
About the Photographer
I’m a freelance journalist focusing on stories related to culture and the permanence of the anthropological status quo currently based out of Washington D.C. I’m in the final stages of wrapping up a documentary project about the vanishing tribes on the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni border as globalization slowly helps to uproot fragile cultural communities in the oldest part of the Arabian Peninsula. I’ve spent the last 8 years working on stories in the Middle-East as a freelance journalist for various publications and corporate clients. Now my work focuses on US based story-telling as well creating video content for corporate clients as well as newspaper and magazine publications like USA Today.
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