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6Qs with Photographer Rania Matar //

byMarwa Helal

RaniaMatar_6302As an artist, Rania Matar consciously stays away from politics. “By looking through the political lens we stop looking at people as human beings but as friends or enemies, as similar to us or different,” she says. “Politics is what makes one dehumanize the ‘other.’”

Her book, Ordinary Lives was selected as one of the Best Books of 2009 by Photo-Eye Magazine. “In my work I am only looking at human beings, at mothers, at children, at families and people trying to go on with their lives regardless of their political affiliations and religion,” she says. “We are connecting at a personal and human level. When we put politics on the side, we can look at people’s faces and eyes and see the person — a person who is just like us.

“We can see a person’s humanity. What drove me to this work in the first place is that I grew tired of the politics of this whole area, of politicians and their slogans, and lumping people into one category or another.”

Check out the exclusive gallery Rania shared with us >>

Window or Aisle Seat: Aisle
Favorite Magazine/Newspaper: Aperture Magazine/NY Times
No morning is complete without: Coffee

1. If a picture is worth a thousand words, which ones reappear in describing your work and why?
I hope the words that would reappear in my work are:

humanity, dignity, resilience, beauty and vulnerability.

I like to photograph people, to show them in their surroundings and to show the beauty in everyday ordinary moments of life. This would apply to my work in Lebanon, in the Palestinian refugee camp, and in the aftermath of war. There is beauty in humanity and one just has to take the time to find it. There is dignity, resilience and humanity in all those simple mundane moments of a mother nursing her baby in the refugee camp, of the girl bringing a smile to her mother’s face in front of a background of destruction, of a girl juggling in a building where all the walls have been blown off.

It also applies to my new body of work “A Girl and her Room,” in the sense that I am looking for the beauty and the complexity of the teenage-self without any judgment associated with it. I am portraying those girls in their element, in their very private and personal surroundings; by themselves, vulnerable and free of any preconception associated with teenagers.

2. How has your background in architecture influenced your work as a photographer?
I studied architecture and combined it with numerous art classes in college — mainly painting; the combination of all this has been extremely influential in my photography in terms of seeing. Looking at everything from composition, texture, and light, to framing an image became second nature.

3. What are the challenges when photographing live subjects? Especially people — and how do you overcome them?
I truly enjoy photographing people. I don’t think of it as a challenge. I am drawn to people, to what they do, how they behave, etc. I am drawn to people in their surroundings. I am very aware of how I frame each image and where the person is in the photo.

In the more intimate and interior shots, access is the most important part and the biggest challenge. Once access is granted, it is up to me to make sure the people I am photographing are comfortable with me around. I need to earn their trust and make sure they know that I respect them, and I try to make myself invisible. I build a personal relationship with the people I photograph. I always go back and visit and I always keep in touch and send images.

It is very important to me that the people I photograph understand that I am not just looking at them as subjects but as human beings with a story to tell.

I listen to their stories and take their cues of what they feel comfortable portraying. It can feel very vulnerable being photographed and observed by someone, so I really have to create a relationship of trust and comfort.

4. You teach photography to young girls in refugee camps — tell us about that.
I just started this past summer in 2009. I worked with teenage girls in the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut with the assistance of the Norwegian People’s Aid. I thought girls often have fewer opportunities and that teenagers would be perfect for this — photography could also be an accessible way for them to find a way to express themselves and portray their everyday lives. It was a huge success and I tremendously enjoyed working with the girls. The equipment was pretty basic, so it wasn’t as much about teaching them about the rules of photography as much as teaching them how to see, how to frame, how to edit and how to create a final body of work they can be proud of. The variety of projects that came out in the end was very impressive.

5. Can you ever shut your “photographer’s eye” or are you constantly looking for the next picture?
I never shut my photographer’s eye. It does get exhausting sometimes but at the same time, I wish I would never shut my photographer’s eye. It keeps me seeing life, beauty and uniqueness around me. Even if I don’t have my camera, I see the picture.

6. What does a photographer see that others don’t?
I am sure every photographer will have a different answer. For me, I tend to notice the beauty and quirkiness of human behavior, those funny little beautiful fleeting moments that come and disappear, that a camera can grasp in fractions of a second.

For more on Rania Matar, visit >>

Purchase Ordinary Lives here >>

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