When you think of a regular exhibition of photographs taken in Egypt, images of Pharaohs, the Pyramids and the Nile River spring to mind. This is not the case with “Egypt Metamorphoses, a newly opened photography exhibition encapsulating the nation’s expansive and sometimes contrasting geography as well as the far-reaching transformations that changed its landscapes.
Held at the American University in Cairo’s Sony Gallery, the exhibition takes the viewers on a 50-year journey through the lenses of photographers Dale J. Osborn and Kamil Vodera. The pair shed new light on famous monuments and resorts, places that are typically listed on a tourists itinerary. The photographs zoom in on the streets of Old Cairo and its coffee shops, on mosques and schools, and show scenes from the lives of average Egyptians, highlighting many of the nation’s traditions.
Away from the cities, Osborn and Vodera explore the deserts, mountains, oases and irrigated fields. Between these two poles, the photographs depict how a traditional way of life could not weather the sweeping expansion of urban development.
“We wanted to combine the essence of Egypt and how it is changing so we combined these two series together in one exhibition, said Hana Benesovska, the organizer of the exhibition, an Egyptologist and art historian at the Czech Institute of Egyptology.
The exhibition displays two series of black and white photographs taken about 50 years apart.
The first photographer, Osborn, is an American zoologist. He realized his photographic skills during his zoological and botanical expeditions in Egypt between 1964 and 1967.
Vodera is a Czech photographer who came to Egypt in 1990, and stayed for 16 years as part of the photography expeditions organized by the Czech Institute of Egyptology.
Together, the two collections represent a pictorial testament of Egypt’s metamorphosis over those 50 years. Placed side-by-side in one room, the two parts juxtapose the essence of the desert and the simple rural lifestyle of the Nile Valley in Osborn’s photographs with the fast-paced, dynamic daily routine depicted in Vodera’s images.
“Many of these pictures were taken 50 years ago and can never be repeated, Shems Friedlander, director of the Sony Gallery, told Daily News Egypt. “They are an insight into Egypt and they really show a part of [it] that we have to preserve. And this is one way we can do it: visually.
The renowned artist, writer and photographer also noted, “The entire collection of photographs are all pre-digital; they have been taken with film, developed in a dark room and printed out beautifully.
Vodera’s collection depicts the schism existing in contemporary Egypt and how the past and the present continue to co-exist in the country. One image shows a man holding his shisha in one hand and a CocaCola bottle in the other; while another shows a milkman standing in front of a BMW. Urban expansion is accurately portrayed in a photo entitled “Where did the Desert Go? which shows a group of camels strolling down the streets of Cairo.
On the other hand, Osborn’s collection illustrates traditional Egyptian life through a group of photographs of the Quran schools in Old Cairo, the water buffalo and a number of snapshots of the customs and habits of Nubians and Bedouins.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Sony Gallery for Photography at the American University in Cairo, the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University in Prague and the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Egypt. It was inaugurated by the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture, his Czech counterpart and the Czech Ambassador in Egypt.
“These days we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Czech Egyptology Institute, which is one of the most renowned Egyptology institutes in the world, Petr Gandalovic, the Czech Minister of Agriculture, said.
“I think that the Czechs have done a lot of work here in Egypt and this exhibition [shows] how Egypt has changed from the time each photographer has taken his pictures, he added.
The exhibition opening was packed with Czechs living in Egypt, who admired the collection and called for more events that would build a cultural bridge between the two countries.
The exhibition is being shown for the third time. It initially premiered at a famous coffee shop in Prague before being displaying at a museum in the Czech capital.
Following its current stint in Egypt, “Egypt Metamorphoses will head back to the Czech Republic where it will be exhibited at the Museum of Anthropology.
The exhibition is showing at the Sony Gallery, Main Campus, the American University in Cairo, daily from 9 am to 9 pm until May 27.