A Photographer in Kuwait
It’s not easy being a photographer here, especially since photography is technically illegal in Kuwait. It is possible, though, if you are discreet and don’t take pictures of military or oil-related locations without permission. “Kuwait Today” is a project I’ve been working on over the past year. I have enough images for it now, and I am at the printing stage, working in my recently set up darkroom.
Strict Muslims do not accept pictures of people, or anything besides quotes from the Quran that are hung on their walls. More than half of Kuwait’s population is made up of foreigners and although most of them are Muslim, some Western ones are interested in the Arts. There are a couple of galleries and it’s fairly easy to get good cameras and supplies for photography. There is one shop in Kuwait City where I can get my Ilford fiber based paper, and another where I can get my Kodak chemicals. Most foreigners are here for business purposes, though. Not a lot attention is given to cultural activity either by the Kuwaiti community or by expatriates.
I’m trying to show the “real” Kuwait, a country where rich Kuwaitis speed along the expressways in their expensive sports cars while Bangladeshis work twelve-hour shifts, six or seven days a week. Many work outside on construction sites throughout the plus 50°Celsius summer months, and earn about $200CAD/month. That’s well below the poverty line living in a place where a fifteen-minute taxi ride costs about $15.
Kuwait’s landscape is flat. There are no mountains or hills, in the entire country. There are not even sand dunes which always make nice subjects for photographing. This leaves little to be said for wildlife or landscape work. Since this is the case, I’m approaching “Kuwait Today” from a different angle – close-up scenes, wide-angle views of modern and worn-down architecture, as well as everyday images that we don’t see in other parts of the world. People always make great subjects too.
The celebration of Iftar, the time of day when the Ramadan fasting ends has caught my interest recently for a sub-project. Muslims should not eat or drink anything during daylight hours during Ramadan, even smoking or chewing gum is prohibited. People are arrested for eating or drinking in pubic during Ramadan. Two men were detained here recently – one for smoking a cigarette and the other for drinking juice “in broad daylight.” But at sunset, the days’ fasting is broken by eating a date and a piece of fruit, followed by a full meal and all night celebrations visiting relatives and eating until early morning.
One nice gesture during Ramadan is that Bangladeshis are given a free meal at Iftar. I recently
walked over to some large tents set up for the event where hundreds of hungry Bangladeshi men were waiting patiently for 4:50 in the evening when they would break the days’ fasting.
I approached the area slowly, not knowing how I would be welcomed. A few men who saw me stopped and motioned for me to take their pictures. I did, and asked them their names which are well beyond my language skills to pronounce. Few spoke any English, but they were very warm towards me and happy to have their pictures taken. I was even invited to eat with them. I’ll be going back for more photos with a few to give to them as thanks for their kindness.
Another picture I took was of some Pakistani men. I was walking on the Gulf beach with my camera slung around my neck. One said hi, and wanted his picture taken with me with his own point and shoot camera. I said, “Sure,” and took advantage of the situation. I asked if I could take a picture of him and his friend. They agreed and in the seconds it took me to compose the shot, six more men had entered the frame! I don’t know if they were friends but the guy who took my picture has his own camera in his hand in my picture.
It is different working in this part of the world, and many wonder why I bother taking pictures of ordinary things. When I walk by camels grazing on my way to the store, I have an urge to share my experience with the rest of the world.