Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian , Tuesday 21 Feb 2023

At the region’s greatest photographic event, Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian spoke to the curator

Dalida by Marawan Sabra
Dalida by Marawan Sabra


“I don’t know what I’m going to do when this festival is over,” I  told Marwa Abou Leila, the Cairo Photo Week curator who could be seen at almost every single event, two days before the end.

“If that’s how you feel,” she responded, “what do you think it’s like for me?”

Taking place across 10 downtown Cairo venues within walking distance of each other, the third Cairo Photo Week — “Back to Raw” — celebrated Photopia Cairo’s 10th anniversary. Following “Tell your visual story” and “Depth of field”, “Back to Raw” is a metaphor for “going back to the authentic practice of photography,” as Abou Leila explained: “We wanted to teach proper photographic practice as the image went viral on social media: fashion, food, architecture and so on.”

As well as exhibitions, the event offered over 100 educational activities: talks, workshops, panels, portfolio reviews, networking events, open studios, and co-working spaces. It brought together dozens of renowned speakers and mentors, Egyptian and foreign, specialising in all genres of photography, cinematography, painting and art. It also featured bloggers and content creators telling their stories and answering questions.

With its strong historical vibe, the newly renovated Radio Cinema and Theatre space is the perfect choice of venue. According to Abou Leila, “Al-Ismaelia Company has been supporting this initiative since the first round and we have a gentleman’s agreement that the Cairo Photo Week should always stay there, in Downtown Cairo, to be accessible to everyone.” The plan is to revive the culture scene in the area so it is a win-win situation for both parties.

The World Press Photo, showing in Egypt for the first time since it was founded in 1955, is perhaps the first highlight. Held inside the theatre, the exhibition shows the archives of some of the most powerful, challenging and courageous photojournalism and documentary photography from across the world recognised by the foundation, including the first ever picture to receive a World Press Photo award by Danish photographer Mogens von Haven, of a motor-cross competitor tumbling off his motorcycle on the race track in Denmark. Also on display is the first colour picture to receive a World Press Photo award, “Life” by the Dutch photojournalist Jacobus ‘Co’ Rentmeester, which dates back to 1967. It shows the face of an American commander of an M48 Patton gun tank looking through his lens, from the Vietnam War. So is the photo by a woman to receive a WPP award, French photojournalist Francoise Demulder’s image of a group of Palestinian refugees fleeing the Civil War in Beirut in 1977.

“Getting the World Press Photo Exhibition to Egypt was my dream for so many years,” Abou Leila said. After 10 years teaching photography at Photopia, “we managed to make it happen through the Danish Embassy in Cairo. It was also a happy coincidence that there are Egyptian, Sudanese and Palestinian photographers who were awarded by the WPP in 2022, which made more sense for the exhibition to be here.”

Egyptian documentary photographer and storyteller Rehab El-Dalil was 2022 WPP Contest winner. Her documentary photos of Sinai Bedouin women are also on display.

In the foyer of the space, there’s the Borderless Exhibtion curated by film director and fashion photographer Amr Ezzeldin celebrating the first print issue of an eponymous magazine “Divaz of Arabia”, brings together the Middle East’s various  cultures. Ezzeldin, an architect by training, intermingles painting, photography, and calligraphy, using fashion as his binding agent. Every time I passed this red painted area I discovered something new that changed my view of the whole. A painting-like image by renowned interior designer and photographer Karim El-Hayawan, who organises Cairo walks, features a drawing on a wall by a construction worker. “I took it with my phone and I don’t think of it as photography,” El-Hayawan said in his public talk. “It is social observation and it’s the photo of actress Salma Abu Deif.” He added, “the street is my inspiration, it generates curiosity, it generates confusion and as a result it generates conversation.”