It is rare for a photographer to portray their warmness of spirit and vibrant personality in their work. However, for young photography-enthusiast (she does not like to be called photographer) Amy Elshaarawy, it comes naturally.
Her start in the world of images was fortuitous. “I used to be a freelance writer for a local magazine some years ago. The magazine had a subsidiary in Alexandria and could not afford a photographer. Each of the freelancers was expected to take whatever photos the article required,” Elshaarawy explained.
That was her first push. “That encouraged the curious child in me and helped me a great deal to get out there and approach my subjects. The thrill of documenting what I saw got the better of me, [so] I bought a cheap compact digital camera and snapped away,” she said.
Being an Alexandrian allows her to catch the beauty of the Mediterranean city and the core of its traditions. She explains that she is more visual than technical, and goes with what attracts her in her daily life.
“I appreciate observing behaviour patterns on the street, symbols of cultural significance, things we can all relate to, but do not take the time to admire,” Elshaarawy explained, “It excites me to be the middleman between the subject of the photo and the recipients: my friends. It’s not about the camera – DSLR, analogue, Smartphone camera – it’s about what you see and how you choose to frame it for others.”
One particular photo of Alexandria in the rain in 2010, called Wet Me Alex, went viral and was shared many times, sometimes without credit even. “I woke up to the sound of the first shower that fell and quickly ran to my bedroom window, took the photo and went directly back to sleep. It was fascinating to see the light reflecting on the wet asphalt so early in the morning as the sun prepared to rise,” she said.
Citing the photo’s “sentimental value” as the reason it went viral and was shared without her consent, Elshaarawy took action to protect herself in the future. “I asked a dear friend to design a signature to preserve my intellectual rights from then on (thank you Ikon Chiba).”
We asked her to name some artists she liked. “I’m inspired by any artist or amateur who will use a medium of his/her choice to depict their views and feelings,” she explained, “I don’t want to point out specific names because I am mainly inspired by my environment, my inner conflicts, diverse habits, and the wish to document ‘one’s life’.”
She describes herself as an “optipessimist”, an urban term that means someone that combines the attributes of an optimist and a pessimist, and says that the current atmosphere in Egypt does not affect that fact. “Nowadays, everything is changing so fast that you are never sure if you’ll see the same things again. I take advantage of the thought of change,” she explained. “Today a hundred year old movie theatre stands quietly, tomorrow it most certainly may not be; [perhaps replaced by] a monstrous 15-story building.”
Many of her subjects are stray animals she sees on the street. “Here in Alexandria we have as many stray cats as we have cars, I would think. I’m not necessarily focused on stray pets for a subject but more often than not, they’ll strike you,” Elshaarawy said.
She hopes that soon there will be a book called Cats of Alexandria, and we hope she is the one who publishes it.
She explained: “Cats here own the city. They are resilient creatures that can adapt to the severity of life in our hot and humid streets. Often you’ll come across bundles of chubby cats in large numbers on the corniche where the fishermen pamper them. They have attitude and not a care in the world, it would seem. [They may be] missing an eye, or suffering a skin disease, but they manage.”
She has already participated in several exhibitions in Alexandria, and she is looking for the next opportunity, saying, “I am always looking to be re-inspired to dedicate time and energy for a joint exhibition with a clear concept to commit to.”