It’s ironic that I’m writing this blog about photography when at many times during the three weeks I felt like my camera was weighing me down. I don’t photograph as much as I should, but I wanted to document the special moments. Since my often “loose” memory can’t be trusted, this slowly turned into an instinctive duty. Whenever something interesting would happen, and I would look around to find no one documenting, I wouldn’t be able to shake my itch to take a picture. You can imagine my frustration when, instead of enjoying the moment I would attempt at the perfect shot, and often end up doing neither. That’s why I was especially relieved when photographer and videographer Sherif Sharkawy literally stepped into the picture. For many of us he started off as Sherif, the friendly ghost – smiling while peaking around, sometimes surprising us with his camera. Over a short period of time, he naturally became part of our everyday, with participant Lizzie Walmsley often greeting him by waving and saying “Hi Sherif! Hi camera!”.
While creating the documentary about our IPP and the Behna project, Sherif asked us to contribute our own pictures. To help guide us, he conducted a photography workshop, walking us through the technical aspects of the camera and then walking us through the streets of Alexandria. For two days, Sherif and Gudran member Mohamed El Nagar took us on photography walks, allowing us to explore the city the same way Sherif had been exploring our group. It must not have been easy having to guide foreigners with cameras and endless questions through downtown. As an Egyptian, I laughed at the comments from local Alexandrian bystanders that must have both worried and humored Naggar and Sherif – “What are all these foreigners doing? What do they want?”
At this point, we were all taking pictures as Sherif was curating the best shots from our experience in Alexandria for the opening of Behna. Seeing our pictures mounted on the walls we worked so hard to renovate was surreal. All of us were living the same environment and yet our pictures showed that we each had our own interpretations. Although, personally and probably as a group, we became quite adamant about documentation, what sometimes felt like a distraction turned into memories we can continue to re-live.
By Farida Hammad, Egypt