x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Five minutes with: Laura El Tantawy, from the National Geographic Abu Dhabi Moments Awards

A woman wears the hijab (sheer fabric covering her neck and hair) at al-Azhar Park in Old Cairo. Photo by Laura El Tantawy.
A woman wears the hijab (sheer fabric covering her neck and hair) at al-Azhar Park in Old Cairo. Photo by Laura El Tantawy.

The competition formerly known as Photomentaries has been renamed this year as ‘The National Geographic Abu Dhabi Moments Awards’. This year’s competition theme is ‘Story of Faces and Arabic Crafts’, with a grand prize of an 11-day National Geographic Expedition to Spain and Portugal for the winning entry and a USD 10,000 worth of photography equipment. The second and third place winners will also receive USD 7,500 and USD 5,000 worth of photography equipment respectively.

To mark the launch of the competition, The Art Blog caught up with Laura El Tantawy, a British/Egyptian photographer, who has international recognition for her work and has exhibited in solo and group shows in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Here she is for a quick Q&A:

Q: To start with please can you introduce yourself. You are clearly a very successful photographer and with Egyptian heritage, have you photographed much in the region before?

A: I have photographed extensively in Egypt and have also photographed in Iran, Turkey and the UAE.

Q: What would you say makes this region stand out?

A: The region is rich in tradition and culture and this is always interesting to photograph. I also feel it has been extensively seen through Western eyes and it’s good to increasingly be seeing it now through the eyes of locals. I think the balance of foreign and local perspective is important.

Q: How long have you been on the judging team for this competition?

A: It’s my first time.

Q: What are the criteria you look for in a potentially award winning photograph?

A: I look for images that are strong compositionally, emotionally and that show me something I have seen before, but from a new, different perspective.

Q: With a theme such as ‘Story of Faces and Arabic Crafts’ - it seems like the panel are looking for specifically portraits from the Arab world - is this correct?

A: I am not looking just for portraits. I am keeping an open mind to the theme and the image I will see. I have no expectations and will react based on the criteria I generally react to when it comes to images.

Q: Have you started seeing entries yet - if so what are the standards like? If not, being familiar with photographic art in general from the region, what do you expect the standards to be?

A: I have not seen the entries yet. I think the standard will be intermediate. I believe I will see a lot of images that look like ones I have seen numerous times before, and it will likely be tricky to choose a final three, but that’s part of the challenge of being a judge for contests in general.

Q: Finally, the prize for this competition is pretty prestigious, with a cash prize and a trip to Spain and Portugal - what kind of boost can a prize like this give to an emerging photographer?

A: I hope it gives the winner confidence in his/her photography and the motivation to continue to make strong pictures. Having said that, prizes are important, but they are not everything. Being a serious photographer is a lot more than just winning awards – it’s about making a mark.