In recent decades, international perspectives of the Middle East have become increasingly polarised. We’re either fed images of war and violence, or served a strangely sci-fi world marked by unimaginable wealth, power and social disparity. But Gulf based creatives Chndy, Chebmoha and Prod are trying to disrupt those stereotypes; instead documenting the nuances that define their lives. Their images capture quiet, often intimate, moments that are regularly neglected in coverage of the region.
The three met on the internet, drawn together by a desire to shift the way people in, and outside, of the area experienced their surroundings. “We look at it as if we are creating a mood board for people to say ‘Okay, so this is the kind of thing happening here’ — and really, it’s the opposite of what people usually hear or see,” explained Chebmoha.
Even though they all grew up in different places, with Chebmoha between Libya and Canada, Prod in Dubai and Chndy in Oman, the collective still shares a sense of nostalgia for a place they never feel like they truly know. We spoke to them about changing minds with images.
The way you document the Middle East is so different to what we are usually exposed to, can you tell us a little about your motivations?
Chebmoha: There’s a lot of nostalgia in everything we do. I grew up in Libya but then we moved to Canada so I feel like I missed a chunk of time in the Middle East — about 10 years. So when I came back here I was looking for things — I would photograph either to reference my childhood or something that reminded me of something. It’s not a nostalgia for a specific time or place — it’s just nostalgia.
Prod: Nostalgia for me comes from re-creating the contrast in my childhood of growing up in such a fast-developing city and then going to Cyprus, which is where my family is from, every few months — it’s a very slow paced island life there. It’s about finding the balance between the two.
How did people in these areas react to you and your work?
Chndy: Three or four years ago explaining to anyone that I’m a graphic designer and I don’t have a 9 to 5 job was weird for Oman. Actually, up until now essentially, people looked at us like we were weird. The Middle East has a lot of privacy and so it’s often about showcasing what’s perfect. I like film photography because it’s not perfect, it’s all about mistakes — the overexposed, the not knowing what the photo is going to come out as.
Chebmoha: When I started shooting in film, established photographers from the region would be very critical and say “oh this is underexposed” or “why is it so grainy?” People didn’t really get our stuff. But now after three years of running around doing what we do, finally people are opening up to it.
Chndy: I just want to keep shooting in the Middle East. I don’t think there’s enough archives of what we are; what we do. I hate questions like “oh do you ride a camel?” or “where is Oman?” I want to showcase Oman more. Not many people know about it.
Written by: Amna Qureshi
Photography by: Chndy & Chebmoha