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Monday, 21 May 2018

Ballet photography by Egypt's Sherif Sonbol to show in Poland

The artist's new exhibition will be held at Smolna Gallery in Warsaw

Amina Abdel-Halim, Friday 24 Mar 2017
Sherif Sonbol
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
Views: 3050
Views: 3050

Egyptian photographer Sherif Sonbol's work is set to be displayed at the Warsaw Culture Palace's Smolna Gallery in Poland, opening 27 March to celebrate the International Day of Theatre and running through 20 April.


The focus of the exhibition will be the artist’s ballet photography, a field in which his work is particularly well-known and has received critical acclaim over the years. 


Sonbol had long cultivated an interest in the artform before he ever began to photograph dancers. His journey as a ballet photographer started before the opening of the Cairo Opera House, at a time when there were no ballet photographers in Egypt. The artist was first approached by prominent Egyptian ballerina Magda Saleh, who asked him to photograph dancers at the Sayed Darwish Theatre.

It was then that he began to learn about ballet, to better understand what constitutes a beautiful picture of a dancer, or as Sonbol himself told Ahram Online, “a picture that captures the dance move at its peak” rather than one that is simply pleasing to the eyes.

Sherif Sonbol
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

The photographer was guided in his artistic endeavours by many a prominent figure in the field, including Saleh, Erminia Kamel, and former director of the Cairo Opera House Ratiba El-Hefny, under whose direction he became the Opera’s photographer. He also cites well-known ballerina Sahar Helmy, with whom he has often worked in the past, as his inspiration and one of the people who ignited his passion for the dance.

The photographer’s understanding of ballet is evident in his body of work. What renders Sonbol’s images so exceptional, is that he is able to capture the soul of ballet. 


He does not fall into common portrayals or cliches, but rather delves into the dancers’ world, sometimes taking behind the scenes pictures, or capturing the performance from unexpected angles. His knowledge allows him to recognise the poses and movements which will truly convey the ballerina’s skills, elegance and discipline.

While many photographers are able to photograph ballet as something which is pretty, Sonbol seems able to capture the heart and furious intent inside the movement.

Sherif Sonbol
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

Sonbol explained his unique approach to photography by saying that one needs to be able to separate oneself from the subject of the photograph and see it only through the camera lens.

"If am taking a picture of my daughter, for instance, she is no longer my daughter, but the subject of the picture,” he said.

As another example, he cites the infamous picture of the “Napalm Girl,” taken in 1973 during the Vietnam War, by AP photographer Nick Ut. The picture a depicts a nine-year-old girl, running towards the camera as her body is being burned. “The photographer ran to the girl’s rescue, but only after taking the picture. While he took the picture, she was no longer a child. She was the subject of his photograph."


Sonbol has contributed greatly to the world of photography, and was the first Egyptian photographer to have a book of work published.

Sherif Sonbol
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

Self-taught, Sonbol was inspired by the works of Antoun Albert, Emil Makram and Mohamed Youssef, which helped him define his own distinctive style.

He began his artistic career working at Al-Ahram, and went on to become chief photographer at Al-Ahram Weekly. Today, his works are published across all Al-Ahram publications.

Sonbol is the only Egyptian photographer to have had his work exhibited in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre. Following the great success of his New York exhibition in 2003, the artist held several exhibitions in Egypt, Germany, Finland and Poland.

Sherif Sonbol
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)


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