6Qs with Photographer Laura El-Tantawy //
One look at her shots, and you probably wouldn’t believe that Laura El-Tantawy had no interest in photography as a kid. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a dual degree in political science and journalism and completing a fellowship in visual journalism at the Poynter Institute in Florida, she began her career as a newspaper photographer, which took her from Florida to Wisconsin and back to Egypt. Now based in London, Laura travels the world with her Canon 30D shooting her own projects and freelance assignments. She has an eye for detail and a knack for capturing life in a way that shows you what you may have felt but not seen had you been standing in the same place at the same time — so it’s no wonder her work has been featured in publications like National Geographic, Harper’s and Saudi Aramco. When asked to summarize her work in three words, she says: “emotion, life, color.” Take a look behind the lens with FEN, then make sure you check out the exclusive gallery Laura shared with us.
Black & White or Color: Color
Now playing: Bob Dylan
Favorite Photographers: Michael Ackerman, Rebecca Norris Web, Giorgi Pinkhassov
1. What’s the first picture you ever took?
The first picture I took was in university when I started taking my photography course — our first assignment was to go out and approach random people on campus and ask them if we could take a headshot of them. It was an absolutely horrible set of pictures. I didn’t know what I was doing, it was awkward, the people’s expressions were awkward — it was actually so bad that I was assigned to go out and re-do it.
2. Do you see the world differently through the lens?
Yeah, because I’m really looking for certain things like the color, the movement and the light. If I don’t have my camera, those things will pull my attention, but
when I’m looking through the lens I’m in a completely different zone.
3. What’s the longest you’ve gone without taking a picture?
I used to have to take at least one picture on a daily basis because of my practice as a newspaper photographer. Every single day [I was] out there taking a picture of something. And then when I became a freelancer, it was a lot more about me initiating the work and projects that I wanted to do. So it could be a month that I go without a picture that I’m taking seriously and intensely, that’s intended for something.
4. What’s your favorite thing to photograph?
People. In the last year or so, I’ve really been focusing more on women. I’ve developed this interest in photographing women’s issues — like the project on the veil, and I just recently photographed something in India that was about the widows of farmers that were committing suicide.
5. What’s one place or event you can’t wait to photograph?
I would really love to photograph some kind of conflict or war situation. I’d love to be there to witness it first hand and document it in pictures. For a very long time, that’s really what I wanted to do. I stopped dreaming of that because I realized maybe I’m not so emotionally prepared for it, but if the opportunity comes my way, I’d take it. The other thing I’ve always wanted to photograph is fashion, like New York Fashion Week or something like that. I’d love to do that, that would be fantastic.
6. Has anyone ever confronted you/complained for taking their picture?
Yeah it happens all the time. And typically, from my experience, it’s always someone that you’re not even photographing that comes up to you and complains. It sounds really strange, but usually I’m pointing my camera in one direction and somebody that’s behind me comes up and says, “Why are you taking a picture”?
Normally, I don’t ask people for permission to take their picture before I take it because if I do, then the picture will completely change. Whether they like it or not, they become very conscious of me and my presence. So I usually try to smile at the person and give them some kind of recognition like ‘yeah I’m taking a picture of you’ but I’ll just leave it kind of open ended.
For more of Laura’s work and to purchase prints, visit her website >>