Following the passion: From medicine to Cairo's Art of Seeing photography centre

Dina Bakr, Tuesday 9 Aug 2016

Mohamed Ismail left his gynecology practice to launch the Art of Seeing, a Heliopolis-based centre that teaches the art of photography

Art of Seeing
Art of Seeing (Photo: from Art of Seeing Facebook page)

"Taking photographs is like describing a feeling, telling a story, or discovering a person," the 45-year-old Mohamed Ismail says of his passion.

The moment he begins talking about photography, his eyes sparkle.

"Photography is my greatest passion,” he makes clear.

As he walks us through his studio that resembles a museum, he swiftly adds that “a beautiful photo speaks for itself.”

Silence reigns inside the centre Art of Seeing, a space located in one of the calmest streets of Heliopolis. The space opened last February and welcomes enthusiasts of photography who wish to gain some training. A sign above the door reads Khatwa Aziza, which is an Egyptian expression welcoming the visitors.

Working at his computer, Mohamed Ismail selects a series of photos he will use during his class on shooting techniques. This photographer is doing everything to bring out the hidden talents of his trainees to the light.

"I arrive to the centre early enough to check on everything and prepare myself for the lessons," Ismail says enthusiastically.

The building, whose walls are painted in three colors (green, purple and blue) and where he installed his studio and a laboratory to develop and print the photos, is in fact Ismail’s family house.

Interestingly, Ismail’s education has nothing to do with the photography field.

He began his medical studies in 1989, and throughout all the years spent at the medical school he kept taking the photography courses at the Camera Club in Alexandria, his hometown. It is there that he learned about photography and the different stages of development and printing on paper.

Even when he already began practicing gynecology as a profession, Ismail then enrolled in a photography course at the regional training centre at the University of Ain Shams to become a qualified instructor.

In 2011, he left his job as a gynecologist and began working in photography related to marketing and advertising, before finally founding his own artistic practice.

He underlines that with all the experiences, nothing compares to his love of photography.

"Medicine is also art. During the seven years of my studies, I had a chance to observe some details of the human body and function of the organs. This may sound weird, but I benefited from those observations in the photography field," he says with a playful smile.

"The photographer is able to define the desired effect of a photo before even taking it. When taking photos, you go beyond what is seen and touch on many domains in this activity," he adds.

Ismail reveals that to deepen his passion and acquire better skills, he also attended courses at the American University of Cairo and in Indonesia. Equally, he expanded his knowledge by reading the works Merry Fisher and Freeman Patterson who delve deep into the art of vision.

He asserts that throughout the years, he felt torn between the gynecology profession and his passion for photography. However, the awards he garnered on the way (from the Camera Club, the Youth Salon and the Television of Alexandria) only encouraged him to make his choice and he has no regrets.

"It can be very difficult to invest in one’s medical practice, while with photography it seems to me more simple and easy,” he explains, justifying his final choice. He adds that on a commercial level, it is him, after all, who decides on the pricing of his photos.

As the lessons begin at the studio, the students have their eye fixed on the trainer. This is a meditation segment in the centre, which serves as one of the ways to develop the participants’ creativity.

Prior to starting his course, Ismail awaits in total silence. A young person distributes green and blue bandana-like blindfolds to the trainees to boost their focus.

"Hold your breath and recall your childhood. You are still children. You open the door and meet one of your classmates. You feel the nature and fresh air, you breathe in while taking in every colour, every detail," Ismail says as he observes the trainees.

The exercise, he believes, encourages the participants to give free reign to their imagination.

The atmosphere relaxes. In certain moment of this meditation, Ismail asks the trainees to keep their eyes covered as they reproduce a painting they have seen or sketch, using a pen on a sheet of paper. Though half an hour passes, hardly anyone took notice of time.

Following this meditation session, everyone seems to have come from another world, the trainees seem more at ease and motivated. Ismail begins analysing each photo or picture, explaining the effect that each of them creates. This procedure is the art of vision.

In his studio and photography practice, not only does Ismail teach the techniques of this art, but he also tries to open the creative horizons of the participants. By the end of the day, it all feeds back to photography -- this passion that changed the course of his own life.


Art of Seeing centre is located at 17 Ameen Zaki street, Heliopolis, Cairo

This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo

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