Hekayat: Picture stories from the Middle East book launch

The book launch began with a multimedia presentation of photography produced during the training program.© Co de Kruijf / Hollandse Hoogte

The unveiling of the photo book Hekayat: Picture stories from the Middle East took place on 5 October 2010 at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam.

The book launch was a moment not only to present the photo book that resulted from the workshop for photographers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), but also a chance to reflect on the aim of the workshop and the context in which it took place.

The celebration began with a multimedia presentation of the six photo essays selected for the book.

Following the presentation, writer, curator and critic Michket Krifa from Tunisia, who wrote the introduction to the book, spoke about issues of image and representation in Arab and Muslim cultures. She described how photographers from the region began in the 1990s to work on new ways to contribute to the representation of their identity, each within the specific history and photographic culture of their country.

According to Krifa, young photographers are using documentary photography and photojournalism as a means to address social issues in the region. However, artistic photography can be a way to escape censorship. "For artists with censorship, social [issues] might be the base," she described. "But you go through representation and creativity to escape censorship." She also pointed out that four of the six photo stories were created by female photographers, which goes against stereotypes of the region.

Krifa concluded by speaking about the current situation for photographers in MENA, in which there is an increased accessibility to photography as a result of the digital revolution. However, a lack of infrastructure and lack of a culture of images are remaining challenges.

The second half of the book launch was dedicated to a round-table discussion with workshop participant Laura Boushnak and tutor Rula Halawani, as well as one representative from each of the four supporting organizations: World Press Photo, Free Voice, Oxfam Novib and Burafo.

The six participants who were selected to contribute to the book created a photo story around the theme of ‘active citizenship'.

Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam Novib bureau head for Middle East and Maghreb, described active citizenship as "people asserting their rights and telling their story - either individuals or organizations who are daring to raise issues and bring problems to the light, but also to come up with solutions. Active citizenship is also linked to courage, to raising your voice and holding your government accountable."

Halawani, a photographer and educator from the Palestinian Territories, reflected on her participation as a tutor in the training program: "I like to give what I have. It's the least you can do for young people."

Working in the region and using photography as a means of active citizenship to address social issues is still a challenge. Boushnak, a photographer from the Palestinian Territories, spoke about her method to gain access, "I took the approach of constructive criticism, to show what is being done about the topic. You're still doing criticism, but it's more constructive. There's still a long way to go to change things in the region."

Maarten Koets, World Press Photo managing deputy director, discussed the role of the training program to develop photojournalistic skills in the region among photographers and photo editors, while acknowledging the work that still remains. "Demand is so high and resources are so limited, we need to find a way in which to reach as many photographers in an easy and effective way," said Koets.

To further contribute to the visual culture of the region, copies of the book will be distributed to photo editors across the Middle East and North Africa. Copies can also be purchased in the World Press Photo online bookstore.

The training program, the book and its launch are supported by World Press Photo project partners Free Voice, Oxfam Novib and Dutch photographers association Burafo.

About the World Press Photo Academy

Hekayat: Pictures stories from the Middle East
2008-2009: Hekayat photo workshop