#Phonar Session 5 – Wasma Mansour ‘Single Saudi Women’ Reflection.

Wasma Mansour got into photography by assisting and managing a black and white dark room, following studying architecture. Brought up in Saudi Arabia, Mansour moved to the UK to study an MA in Contemporary Arts. Having always had an interest in subject matter of Saudi women, Mansour decided to explore it with photography for her PHD project. Trying to challenge the stereotyped images of them which she feels are monotonous, depicting them in a particular way of heavily veiled and passive, she wanted to add something else to the debate. Using a 5 x 4 camera, this got her participants interested and also allowed her to create ‘polaroid proofs’ so they could have an idea of how their images would look in the end. Mansour would allow her participants to suggest how they would want to appear to highlight the importance of degree of visibility to these women. Intially Mansour was under the impression it would be easy to find people, even looking through Facebook and Twitter but to make the participants feel confident in her, she had somebody who would talk to them and let them know she was trustworthy.  Meeting her participants on a neutral base, Mansour would show examples of her work and introduce her project before being invited into their homes. Mansour conformed to a semi-strucutre and believed in allowing the participant to share their story, then came the photography. Photographs in the Still Life collection were also inspired by their stories, showing things you wouldn’t find in your average UK household and small elements of ‘Saudi-ness’ like an inscence burner or post-it of prayers. As the project had to come to an end, Mansour maintained a blog where she put up some of her photographs allowing the opportunity for feedback. In the collection ‘a package, of a package, of a package‘, Mansour photographed the participants veils in bags, an indication that these women still want a link with Saudi. The key aspect she took away from this work was to prioritise the participant and to let them lead especially if it’s sensitive and critical within the representation of themselves.

For me, I love how Wasma Mansour decided to challenge the stereotype photography which has been produced so far where she expressed how they are depicted as heavily veiled and passive. Through the 3 elements of Single Saudi Women – Portraits, Still Life & A package, of a package, of a package, I feel Mansour has brilliantly rewritten their ‘stereotype’ as such, capturing unique elements of their lifestyle and reflecting what is important to them. This made me think back to Fred Ritchin’s talk where he quoted Mark Maguire who said “if you want to change the world you have to start describing it differently”. Mansour recognised how these women were being depicted and decided to photograph things her way with her style in order to change these views, essentially helping change the views of the world. I love how each collection tells us a little more about them, especially with little elements of ‘Saudi-ness’ which she mentioned. I also found it really interesting to see how in each photograph, the amount degree of visibility for each participant. Mansour left this as their choice which I think makes a really strong collaboration.

Something which also caught my attention is how Mansour initially thought it would be easy to find people for her project. She even used Facebook to randomly send messages to those who thought might be interested which made me think of the Stephen Mayes and Fred Ritchin talk where they commented about social media bringing people together. Mansour has used this networking platform as a tool to aid her work. It also highlighted the importance of how things do not always run smoothly in personal projects and it’s crucial to have solutions. I have learnt the hard way a number of times photographing when equipment has failed or things haven’t gone to plan therefore I have learnt it never hurts to be over prepared. Another thing I found interesting is once she made these connections, she has one person who would speak to these potential participants and would tell them that they could trust Mansour. I think this is a really clever and useful idea to have another source put her participants at ease but at the same time, it lead me to question whether Mansour should have built this bond herself. I appreciate she took the time to meet them at a neutral base, getting to know them, sharing her work and introducing the project but would it have created a stronger bond between partcipant and photographer if they were able to create that trust themselves? Or by not having that extra person, would it have left Mansour in an awful position with no one trusting her. Nonetheless, it worked for Mansour and I feel she has created some brilliant images.

Wasma Mansour’s talk can be listened to here.

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on October 30, 2014.

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