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Abi Naguib and the ‘constant search for identity’

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Abi Naguib says photographers need to look at the bigger picture and to history as a reference to develop their talents.

Naguib tackles the psychological aspects of photography (Photo from Abi Naguib)

Naguib tackles the psychological aspects of photography
(Photo from Abi Naguib)

While some expect a photography talk to give advice on technique, lighting and composition, Photopia’s talk by filmmaker Abi Naguib on emotional photography may have left some a little surprised.

“The talk was well-received but it was challenging because I was talking about the psychological aspect of photography and not the technical aspect,” said Abi Naguib.

Like many filmmakers, for Naguib, cinema and photography are inseparable. “You cannot [divorce the two]. Cinema is the art of moving images and to be a filmmaker, you have to be interested in photography,” she said.

Naguib thinks it’s imperative for young photographers to understand the historical context of photography as a form and understand why humanity has used imagery to express itself. “Essentially, the arts are a constant search for identity,” she said. “Photography especially had its beginnings in documenting and understanding society. In the 19th century, when the first camera that created lasting imaged was invented, it was used to document patients at a hospital. This gave rise to important concepts in psychoanalysis such as the male gaze. Photography is about knowing yourself.”

This poorly understood connection is what Naguib says is preventing many photographers from becoming great at their craft. “In this age everyone has a camera, you can take a shot that is technically good but if you do not know yourself, your shots won’t be unique,” she said. “One of the people attending my talk left halfway through and it made me think that people are used to receiving instructions. On one hand, I’m happy that everyone is holding a camera but on the other, it makes me sad that people just want to know which button to press.”

For Naguib, emotional photography allows a brief glimpse into the photographer’s own psyche, creating an ephemeral emotional connection between the photographer and the viewer.

Here Naguib’s interest in psychoanalysis is apparent. “I developed an interest in cinema when I was seven because I had an interest in how people operated and how they reacted,” she said. “To represent people properly, whether on film or as subjects of an image, you need to understand them properly. You cannot separate psychoanalysis and photography or cinema.

The talk dealt with themes like history, starting with paintings and moving on to photography, in an effort to understand how people have historically expressed themselves through imagery and how historical framework is as important to a photographer as technique. Naguib also discussed the relationship of the artist to the subject of the photograph and the journey from imagination to realisation of an image. Other themes included colour philosophy, composition, mood setting and movement in a photograph, and self exploration.

While her talk may have left those with a less refined understanding of photography underwhelmed, her emphasis on a theoretical framework to ground budding photographers might be just what others need. Naguib’s rich ideas on photography will be discussed again at the Photography Summit at the American University in Cairo’s Greek campus with a bigger focus on the artists’ relationship to their work and on film.


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