x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Photographs of Arab men steer away from 'big beards and guns' images

Tamara Abdul Hadi's exhibition Picture An Arab Man looks at Arabs aims to get away from the stereotype of Arabs in the media.

A photograph in Tamara Abdul Hawi's exhibition Picture An Arab Man.
A photograph in Tamara Abdul Hawi's exhibition Picture An Arab Man.

Typing "Arab man" into Google pulls in some pretty odd results. There are lots of vaguely Orientalist scenes of men in national dress staring wistfully across rolling dunes. There are very old men with wrinkled faces. And there's a stock photograph of a man holding a snub-nosed gun stuffed with dollar bills.

A strange line-up, and exactly what the Iraqi-Canadian photojournalist Tamara Abdul Hadi has been looking to address.

"I wanted to present the Arab man as a gentle being, which I know from my brothers and my father," she tells The National from Jordan, where she is currently based. "I wanted to present Arab men in a different way than the images we've see in the mainstream media since 9/11 and the uprisings across the Middle East last year."

Getting away from "big beards and guns" has been Abdul Hadi's guiding light in the project, she says, and has been working on Picture An Arab Man for the past three years in between her own work as a photojournalist around the region.

She has photographed men without any visual signifiers of location, wealth or style of dress.

"That's why the men are bare-chested," she explains. "I didn't want them to be individualised by jewellery or clothing. The colours are almost uniform as well, with the only variation being slight differences in skin tone."

Abdul Hadi's images have a delicacy and levity that we might associate with hand-coloured photography. Yet these were simply shot against a natural background and in natural light. Also, we know nothing about the individuals apart from their first names and their backgrounds – with Iraqi, Palestinian and Emirati among the nationalities she has shot so far.

The photographer now wants to realise the project by shooting men from parts of the region she's yet to reach, including Yemen, Morocco and more of the Gulf. She also wants to produce a book to accompany the project, and has registered her intention on a new crowd-funding website: www.emphas.is.

With less than two weeks left for potential backers to apply, and just under halfway to her target sum of US$8,280 (Dh30,414), Abdul Hadi says she's been pleased with the response so far. "I would definitely recommend it, but it's also hard work - you really have to try to get the word out. I've received a lot of press attention because I've put this project online. But interviews don't always translate into getting funding."

Emphas.is caters specifically to photojournalists looking to realise big personal projects. Pledges yield rewards, with a mid-range $100 donation giving the backer a print of their choice, a set of postcards and a note of personal thanks. Conversely, $3,000 allows corporate sponsors to get their logo displayed in the book.

"The book started out being aimed at a western audience because they're more used to seeing stereotypical images of Arab men," says Abdul Hadi. "But there are stereotypes that exist in our own society, too. I'm aiming this project at anyone who has a one-dimensional perspective."


For more information, and to pledge, see www.emphas.is or Google "Picture An Arab Man" for Tamara Abdul Hadi's project