Using found imagery and the artist’s own photography, Mohamed Mahdy’s project presents an elegy to a communal way of life on the cusp of disappearing.
2023 Photo Contest, World Press Photo Open Format Award

Here, The Doors Don't Know Me


Mohamed Mahdy

Magnum Foundation

Using found imagery and the artist’s own photography, Mohamed Mahdy’s project presents an elegy to a communal way of life on the cusp of disappearing.

For generations, the residents of Al Max, a fishing community in Alexandria, Egypt, have lived close to the water. They built their homes right along the Mahmoudiyah canal, which connected their fishing boats to the Mediterranean. Life on the waters of the canal may have appeared idyllic, especially to photographers like Mohamed Mahdy, who was initially drawn to the site for its atmosphere, but making a living fishing at Al Max has always been difficult. International environmental agreements restrict the number of days residents can fish. Pollution from surrounding factories force fishermen to sail farther out to sea on small wooden boats, which endangers their boats and their lives. Despite the challenges, the people here have formed a strong and unique community and culture.

In 2020, the Egyptian government began evicting parts of Al Max and relocating people to housing several kilometers away from the canals. So far, about a third of the neighborhood of Al Max has been relocated. The government cites rising sea levels due to global climate change and a need for urban renewal and development as reasons for relocation, but many residents remain skeptical of its necessity. What is certain is that relocation means not only demolishing homes, but endangering the collective memories and local culture embedded in the neighborhood of Al Max. The stories captured by this project speak to the precarity of people everywhere striving for recognition amid global economic and environmental upheaval. 

People of the Al Max community speak of love letters or last words found in bottles that would wash on to their shores. For this project, Mohamed Mahdy encouraged residents to write their own letters, building an archive of private memories for future generations. Visitors to the website are also encouraged to send their letters to the residents of Al Max, opening a channel of communication to the outside world.

Experience the interactive website.

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Mohamed Mahdy
About the photographer

Mohamed Mahdy (b. 1996) is a visual storyteller from Alexandria, Egypt. His work concentrates on the hidden and often unseen communities in Egypt, tackling diverse cultural and social issues relevant to the context in which he works.  Mahdy graduated from Pharos University in Alexandria (PUA) with a degree in A...

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Jury comment

This web-based photo project stood out for taking advantage of the range of available tools to tell a unique story about a community of fisher folk in Alexandria. The project’s seamless package of images, audio, handwritten text, maps, and drawings elevated the already excellent selection of photographs. The jury was impressed by the photographer’s thorough research and engagement with the images, which resulted in a holistic story and gave the audience the opportunity to visualize and interact with the issue at hand.