Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Money!

I shot my first ever Sunday story for the Los Angeles Times about the ways the decline of the U.S. dollar is affecting people all around the world. I was nervous--not a big surprise--but it turned out pretty good. The paper used six of my photos in a slide show on the website and two in the newspaper, including one on the cover.

The assignment was to photograph a Cairo market. Here are a few of my favorite images:


The LA Times Cairo bureau chief, Jeff Fleishman, decided we should go to a market in the Hadayek al-Qobba neighborhood at 10:30 a.m. However, my buddy and mentor Max advised me to get up early and shoot something on my own. Of course he was right. Always listen to Max, he's the bomb. So I hailed a taxi at 7 a.m. and headed for the market in Imbaba.


Caged chickens in the morning will be chickens on a plate by supper time.

The taxi driver who took me to Imbaba got out and walked through the market with me, which was extremely helpful. Without my asking him to, he automatically did damage control and answered people's questions about why I was there with my big ole camera. Also, I covered my hair and neck with my handy-dandy scarf. Not that it helped me blend in, but at least it was a signal that I was trying to be modest, and stop staring at me, damnit! The scarf actually does help me work.


A vendor dunks a freshly-dead chicken in a vat of bloody water in Hadayek al-Qobba.


The market in Hadayek al-Qobba was much smaller than the one in Imbaba and people became suspicious of me and my big ole camera rather quickly. Cairo is such a funky place to shoot. So far I haven't been able to spend a lot of time shooting in one place. Some people are friendly, but often they tend to get really agitated, even when I'm shooting something as seemingly innocuous as a public market. Sometimes they'll be friendly at the beginning, but if I stay too long they get nervous.

I was sooooooooo glad I already had some images in the bag from my morning in Imbaba.


A man sells limes from the ground at the Imbaba market.

The market in Imbaba was huge and I walked through it twice. Some people who were friendly the first time around weren't on the second, and some people, like the guy selling limes, who didn't want to be photographed the first time I walked by, decided I wasn't so bad and that I could take their picture this time.


A woman sorts pigeons for sale in Imbaba. Yes people eat pigeons in Egypt. They also like bunnies.


A vendor in Imbaba waits for customers next to scales, plastic bags and a calculator in his potato stand.

I have to say overall that people in Imbaba seemed more open and friendly than the people shopping in Hadayek al-Qobba. They were more likely to approach me saying, "Tisawwarina?" (You photograph us?) and smile. I don't know why. Max wondered whether the time of day had anything to do with it--the people in Imbaba perhaps not quite awake so early in the morning? Maybe Imbaba, located much closer to downtown, receives more foreign visitors than Hadayek al-Qobba, which is on the far northern outskirts of the city? Who knows? Egypt is still quite a mystery.


Layla Youssef sorts through tomatoes in the Hadayek al-Qobba market. She and her husband survive on a $127-a-month pension.

Prices on everything from cheese to laundry detergent have doubled and tripled in the past several months. The majority of Egyptians struggle to get by as it is. This country is really in the midst of a major economic crisis.


Yes, I somehow found the man smoking his morning sheesha from behind his apples in Imbaba.

I didn't ask him, but I wonder if the sheesha was apple-flavored.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two days in Doha

My new Egyptian friend Rawya, pictured above, left an open invitation for me to visit her in Doha, Qatar. So when it was time for me to take a break from Cairo, I knew just where to go.

Thanks to Rawya the tour guide, I really enjoyed my first visit to the Arabian Peninsula. We went to the beach, the desert, the market, an obscenely giant shopping mall and the Al Jazeera television station headquarters where she works. Below are a few highlights from my mini-vacation:


The afternoon I arrived it was way too windy to venture very far away from the main road (those are not our tracks in the sand), but I have always held a fascination for the desert. It amazes me when I think about how people can adapt and survive in such a place.


In the case of the Gulf States, people found unimagined riches--oil and natural gas--beneath the sand. Qatar is now one of the richest nations in the world, with the ruling al-Thani family owning the rights to the natural gas and oil deposits.


After sunset.


One of my favorite stops on the Doha tour was the headquarters of Al Jazeera English, which is right next to the other Al Jazeera station, the Arabic-language version, the one that the Bush administration allegedly considered bombing in 2004. Rawya is a producer for the international television network. I actually think they're better than CNN--less likely to do the same old lame info-tainment reporting so typical of American television news. (Sorry to all my buddies in the American television news business, but...)


Buttons galore in the control room. Live television is pretty amazing. I always thought putting a newspaper together every single day was one of the great feats of modern man. Television is so much more immediate, publishing constantly throughout the day.


The makeup room. Who knew there were so many shades of foundation?


Doha also has an interesting market or souk. The Gulf is much more religiously and socially conservative than Egypt is. From an outsider's perspective, this means that women and men are more separate, and women are more likely to wear the niqab, or face covering. Above, folk musicians perform in a courtyard. Women sit and listen on the left, men over on the right and mixed groups sit at a restaurant in the foreground of the photograph.


Okay, so men really do wear the white robes and the checkered scarves in the Gulf. It's not just a stereotype. I don't know why that fascinates me, but it does. I walked through the men's side in a cute, short dress to get this picture, which was rather intimidating.


People did not harass me while I was in Qatar--a nice change from Cairo. The souk was clean and spacious, and the men relatively well-behaved.


Rawya and I of course had to go scarf shopping. Above, she tries to decide between green-and-black or green-and-white while I vainly include myself in the picture.


There were actually tons of women in the souk too, but they were more camera-shy. And I was on vacation!!! Leave me alone.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hunger

These people are hungry.

I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say.

Above, a girl waits in the women's line for bread at a kiosk in Usim, Giza, Egypt, May 29, 2008.


A trio of women scramble to catch a share of bread as it falls to the ground.


A bread distributor shoves a basket back through the window at the bread kiosk. There is obviously not enough food to go around in Usim. Some people were trying to go through the bread line twice, but were systematically rejected. Why would a person go through the trouble and humiliation of fighting (and I do mean fighting, clawing, screaming, pushing) his/her way to the front of the line a second time? I don't know what it feels like to be that hungry.


A distributor hurries to fill a woman's bag with bread.


I just kept thinking, how can a person do this every single day?


The men's breadline.


Bread crisis over? No way.

These photos were shot by me and edited and toned by photojournalist Max Becherer, who is pretty much the bomb. He is represented by photo agency Polaris Images. Please check out his website. (He did not put me up to this. He is an amazing photographer and a very sincere person.)