At a ground-floor apartment on one of the tranquil streets of Maadi, a group of young photographers gather five days a week to exchange experiences, attend classes, put up exhibitions or simply pursue job opportunities.
The place, Beit El-Sura (The House of the Picture), has been there for less than a year but as its founder, photographer Ahmed Hayman, says, “It has been living up to the expectations of an expanding community of young men and women photographers, amateurs and professionals."
During the past few years, since the 2011 revolution in particular, there has been a growing passion or even obsession among young Egyptians for photography.
“I think it is about many things: the story of the 18 days of the revolution with the endless images that photojournalists so cleverly captured of the spirit of Tahrir and other squares around the country, and the growing hype of social media, first with Facebook and Twitter and now with Instagram,” Hayman argued.
Hayman himself has started as a photojournalist, after having studied mass communication. Having been a participant in a prominent training programme for photography in Denmark in late 2010, Hayman came back to join the masses during the 18-day uprising and to document in images these monumental times.
(Photo: Youssef Swellam)
Between training programmes in Europe and the US, and between photography jobs with newspapers and independent studios, Haymen developed an awareness of the need for a Cairo-based photography learning hub.
“Beit El-Sura is not the first but it is certainly adding a new volume to this growing community of photographers who like to share experiences and join up for projects – in Egypt and elsewhere – with other young photographers,” he said.
Since its opening a little over nine months ago, Beit El-Sura has helped professional and amateur photographers to develop their skills through a wide range of classes, from basic photography training to specialised courses on food and travel photography.
In his early 30s, a computer engineer with a keen interest in photography, Youssef Swellam joined Beit El-Sura to develop skills he had developed on his own over the course of 10 years since he bought his first Nikon D5100 after his last year in the school of engineering.
It was through street photography, Swellam said, that this engineer became close to photography. The ability “to capture those very spontaneous moments of joy, pain and anger.”
Swellam used his association with Beit El-Sura to develop his wedding photography skills. Now he is a computer engineer in the mornings and a wedding photographer in the evenings.
“The concept of wedding photography has been revolutionised; it is no more about static bride and groom, but rather the dynamic groom and dancing bride. And of course it is about pre-wedding photo sessions,” Swellam said.
Gaza, 2010 (Photo: Ahmed Hayman)
It was also in Beit El-Sura that marketing student Hala Yosery expanded originally self-taught skills developed since she grabbed the Canon 60D that her father had bought for casual purposes to harness for her up and coming marketing career.
It is not just classes that have developed the skills of Yosery and Swellam. Also the chance to exhibit their work. “I am convinced that learning photography is something more layered than going through the technical details of cameras. It is about joining projects and hearing the stories of a photo or a photographer,” Hayman said.
Hayman believes that personal stories produced the best photos, whether from the January Revolution, the plight of Gaza residents during the 2009 Israeli war on the Strip, or destitute of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.
“I think when we talk about the revolution that the social media has introduced into the world photography we are not just talking about the growing interest in photography but also about the changing mood of photography. This is something that Beit El-Sura is particularly attune to,” Hayman said.
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