Breaking down stereotypes using portraits

BEIRUT: Born to Iraqi parents in the UAE and raised in Montreal, photographer Tamara Abdul-Hadi has had a diverse photography career. Over the last seven years, Hadi’s projects have included portraits of people in Baghdad, the importance of tattoos in the Arab world and bedouin children in the West Bank.

Her latest project, entitled “Picture an Arab Man” is a call to break down the cliches regarding men in the region. The title refers to both photographing an Arab man, and imagining one, and Hadi told The Daily Star more about the project in an email exchange.

Q: How long have you been a photographer?

A: I have been a photographer since 2005. After graduating with a BFA from Montreal, Canada, I moved to Dubai and decided to pursue photography as a profession. My first job was at Reuters News Agency in Dubai as a photographer and photo editor and in 2006, I started freelancing for the New York Times and various publications, working on assignments around the region.

Q: How did you get the idea for “Picture an Arab Man”?

A: After working as a photojournalist for a few years, I started working on personal projects, and my interest immediately turned to portraiture. One of my first subjects was a young Palestinian man in Dubai and the project kind of started from there. With this portrait series I attempt to provide an alternative visual representation of the contemporary Arab man.

Q: How many pictures did you take? From which countries do your models come from?

A: As of right now I have 38 portraits for the project. The subjects I have photographed are from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and the UAE.

Q: What are the objectives of this project?

A: With this portrait series I attempt to provide an alternative visual representation of contemporary Arab men who have had long-standing stereotypes imposed upon them. I am presenting an idea and would like to invite people to take a second look and question what I believe are long-standing stereotypes that need to be broken down.

Q: Why did you focus on Middle Eastern men? Are they any different than European or American men?

A: The difference between Middle Eastern men and European or American men is that the latter don’t get branded as hyper masculine, violent and dangerous. The word “terrorist” is used a lot, especially in Western media. I decided to present Arab men in my project because it is my culture and my society. [I decided] to present these men in a light through which they are not usually seen.

Q: How did you select the men in your portraits?

A: I was mainly looking for diversity, with a plan to represent as many Arab countries as I could. I also chose to stick between the ages of 18-40.

Q: Are you planning on doing something similar on Middle Eastern women?

A: Middle Eastern women are just as misrepresented in Western media. While men are seen as oppressive and violent, women are seen as oppressed and powerless. There is a big disconnect when it comes to media representation. I decided to tackle the subject of Arab men first. It is worth mentioning that there is a lot of very interesting and empowering work about Arab women done by regional photographers.

Q: How long did it take you to finish this project?

A: I started in 2009 and at this point, the project is still in progress ...

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 23, 2012, on page 16.




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