Bigger picture: an inside view

UAE-born photographer Tamara Abdul Hadi strives to bring out an alternative, human side to mainstream issues. takes a look at her latest projects

When it comes to international news, images of life in the Middle East often depict the region in sweeping, broad terms. Yet for photographer Tamara Abdul Hadi, it’s individuals that are most important.

“My photography projects focus on the subjects and stories that I personally find powerful,” she says. “Mainstream media tends to show one side to a story and I feel obligated to pursue subjects that tell another, more human side.”

Abdul Hadi’s work is currently on show in two separate exhibitions in Nottingham, England and Umea, Sweden, both highlighting the work of the all-female Middle Eastern photography collective, Rawiya, of which she is a part.

“Though we each work on individual projects, we have a similar vision,” says Abdul Hadi. “Together, we present an insiders view of the region. I think it’s important to have a grouping like Rawiya, not only to share ideas, but also, in a competitive industry like photography, it’s a nice change to work together.”

And, with members based in Jerusalem and born in Kuwait, Rawiya is encouragingly broad in focus. Abdul Hadi herself was born in the UAE to Iraqi parents and brought up in Canada, moving from Montreal to Dubai in 2005 after completing a BA in Fine Art. The move was prompted by a desire, she says, to be “closer to the region”. Her work as a photographer followed.

“I became interested in photography and, as a self-taught photographer, began working at Reuters News Agency in Dubai,” she explains. “This led me to freelancing for the New York Times, and traveling throughout the region on assignment. This increased my interest in documenting the region.”

Currently in Tunisia, Abdul Hadi describes her style of photography in simple terms: “I've always been interested in portraiture, and my approach is to single out people and subjects that I feel need to be seen.” This way of doing things is vividly shown in her series, Picture an Arab Man, which attempts to present an alternative visual image of the Arab male. It began life in 2009 with a shot of a young Palestinian in Dubai, and Abdul Hadi is soon to start work on turning the images into a photo book.

While her powerfully poetic images can pack quite a punch, Abdul Hadi is matter of fact about where her work fits into photography’s rich and varied history. “I do not see myself in a specific tradition,” she says. “I do documentary photography that could be anything from portraits of individuals (like Picture an Arab Man) to portraits of places (like Valley of Peace, which documents the vast Wadi As-Salam cemetery in Najaf, Iraq).”

Above all, though, it’s her personal attachment to the subject matter that always shines through. “When I do a project, I am emotionally involved,” she says. “I always take something back with me afterwards.”