From Khartoum to Addis: Q&A with Sudanese photographer Ala Kheir
Ala Kheir (b. 1985) is a Sudanese photographer and cinematographer. His photographic scope covers a wide range of subjects and styles with an aim of self-reflection on the subjects that come across his eye. Ala has visited Addis on several occasions, and we invited him to share some of his work produced in his own and the Ethiopian capital. We also asked him a few questions about being a photographer in Sudan, how the field is progressing in his country, and what his experiences as a photographer is in Addis vs. Khartoum.
There are no photography-schools in Sudan, and photography is a relatively young profession in the country. How did you pick up the art of photography?
Until recently there was no photography school in Sudan, but now the Rashid Diab Art Center has included photography in the curriculum. I started photography during my last days of University. It started as something fun to do, and now it is more like an addiction. Online material was my greatest teacher, and I learned all the basics from the Internet. Sharing photos online on photography-websites also facilitated meetings with great photographers who helped me in terms of suggestions and comments on my work.
How is photography as a profession and art progressing in Sudan?
Photography in Sudan is coming back strong. During the 90s there was a decay, and not many photographers around, and most of the good photographers were already working outside the country. For the moment there is a huge number of young photo-enthusiasts who on a short time turned to be great professionals, and the number is increasing rapidly.
What are the challenges being a photographer in Sudan? Perhaps in terms of getting jobs, support and exhibition options, and also how to afford the right equipment?
The main challenge for any photographer in Sudan is the “Permission to take photos”. Taking the camera out of your bag in Khartoum will for sure attract police attention no matter where you go.
In terms of Job it is starting to get better especially because of the demands and interest from companies. Yet exhibitions are still rare in Khartoum and there are very few places to exhibit photos at.
As for equipments, Sudan now is having bad economic times, and the pay is not enough to get the right equipment, and many photographers spend years working with only the kit-lens
What was the idea behind the Facebook group ’Sudanese photographers’ you opened a few years ago, and what has the development been since its opening?
“Sudanese photographers” was group on Flickr created by Sudanese artists in 2007. In 2009 I created a sister group on Facebook aiming to bring together all professional Sudanese photographers as well as young amateurs who love photography. It’s a place where everyone can showcase their work, and get criticism and guidance. The group started small but expanded very fast, and many of the members have developed a lot since the opening of the site.
This year the group has moved some serious steps ahead. We managed to register the group “Sudanese photographers” as an official non-profit organization in Sudan. This opened up many doors for us, and it will help us to create big events, host artists from outside, apply for funds, and a lot more.
How do you perceive your role as a Sudanese photographer in terms of changing and challenging some of the stereotypical images that has been communicated around your country by foreign news-photographers and documentarists?
Positive imaging is what is needed to be reflected about our countries, and it is our duty as young artists to help change the negative perception that the world have formed about countries like Sudan and Ethiopia. This is done by producing art that reflect the real Africa and it is people, so that people can enjoy the beautiful Africa on a distance or by coming here.
Local photographers are responsible to show and be proud of where they are from, and that pride will be clear and visible on their positive images about the countries. Spreading those images on websites, joining international exhibitions, writing on blogs, etc. are all ways to spread positive images, and it is a direct contribution to making a better view of the country.
You travelled with the Invisible Borders team in 2011. Can you tell us some of your experiences travelling as a big team through different African countries, the strengths of this project and the outputs?
Travelling with Invisible Borders team opened my eyes to many things that I did not pay attention to before. Especially while passing through my own country Sudan, I started looking at things differently. And I learned that a local photographer should also consider looking at things from a foreigner’s point of view. Things that might look normal to us might be really unique and worth sharing with the world. During this trip I was also working alongside young, bright, and creative African artists, and we met many artists, which was inspiring and a good experience for someone like me who has no art background.
In 2010 you went to Addis for the Fotofest, and you visited the city again last year with the Invisible Borders team. What are your experiences being a photographer in Khartoum opposed to being a photographer in Addis?
There are many differences between Khartoum and Addis. It is easy to notice the difference in climate, geology, architecture and also the people and nature around them. Khartoum is a city that is 100% influenced by the Nile, and its existence is directly linked to the Nile. Addis feels more like an ancient civilization that was hidden for a while. It is beautiful and unique in its own way. I enjoyed photographing both cities, and each has its own impact on me. Technically I favour photographing in Addis because of the light conditions compared to Khartoum’s harsh sun. Yet a sunset on the Nile takes your breath away.
How does the urban landscape of Khartoum differ from that of Addis, and do they have anything in common?
Khartoum and Addis are similar in many aspects. Addis is older but in terms of economy both cities experienced a similar transformation from the 1900 till now, and this influences the building style to some extent. The urban landscape in Khartoum feels open and spacious – the landscape in Sudan is flat and encourages to go wide – where in Addis there are hills and ups and down. The architecture somehow feels the same in the two cities especially buildings built around the 50s. Khartoum and Addis are both going Modern, which is easy to tell from all the new buildings that are rising to the sky, however, a touch from the past is still present.
Ala About the selected photos: The photos here are mostly views from locations that reflect my feelings towards the cities. I have many other photos from both cities but the ones posted here are more like I can close my eyes and think of Addis and Khartoum through them.
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