An interview with Saudi Street Photographer Zuhair Ahmad

We stumbled across Zuhair Ahmad's beautiful Saudi Streets series recently and instantly fell in love with his beautifully captured street scenes. We reached out to him for a quick interview to find out how the project came about.

How long have you been shooting? What is it that you love about photography?
I started photography in early February 2010. My passion for photography has grown every time I shoot, especially after the first year where I found myself deeply in love with street portraits & street photography. I find joy and happiness when I go out and encounter people and photograph their lives.

How long did the project take from start to finish?
I started the project in October 2013. The project is not yet complete, I'm half way there as I photographed the streets from 12 cities out of 20 cities which is my main goal.

How did you decide which cities to visit and where to go in each city? Did you have any fixers?
Because I live in Saudi I know most of the important cities here. I also chose the cities that I didn't see any photographs from because photography is popular in only some parts of the country, not all of it. Usually before I go to any city I try to contact photographers who are nearby or live there and ask them about the city to find out exactly where to photograph so I don't waste time in looking for good spot to do so.

Why did you decide to only shoot the series only in black and white? 
Most of my photographs are black and white, not all of them, but still black and white is the main thing in my photographs because it is simple and leads the viewer to how the place looks like in real life, the colours usually will be just distraction.

What gear did you take along with you on the trip?
I use the Fujifilm X100s as a main camera for the streets, it's light, small and perfect for many situations! I sometimes carry along a DSLR camera which was the canon 400D in the past until a few months, when I bought the Canon 5D Mark III. I use them to capture close up portraits or detail shots using the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II.

What are your views on the Saudi street photography scene?
It still new to most of the photographers, a lot of them don't understand how to capture a real street photograph. In fact most of the street photographers I know in Saudi only shoot from mobile, because that’s where they started. The others who use professional cameras find it difficult to go out and photograph and I don't blame them, street photography isn't easy, and it's very hard in our county as a lot of people disagree with anyone holding a camera in a public place. The reason why I originally started my project is to be an inspiration to others, hoping it will change some of them to this field!

Did you encounter any issues while shooting? Did anyone ask you not to shoot? Did you always ask permission to shoot people?
As I said before it's hard to photograph the streets in Saudi, the police officers aren't always cooperating, strangers come up to me and ask why I am photographing in their neighborhood (as if they own the streets because the live there, its very frustrating!). As for the permission, sometimes I ask for it, sometimes I don't, this is street photography! A lot of scene require you to be as candid as possible.

What was the main thing you learned on the trip?
I learned that I smile a lot and feel happy when I photograph people on the streets, when I encounter them, talk to them, seeing their lives up close, it's really something else for me as photographer! I mean, sometimes I put down my camera and chat with a group of complete strangers!

What advice do you have for anyone who is thinking of taking up a big personal photography project?
If any photographer wants to make something that people will remember him for it, start a project, even if it's a small one! When you are ready just do it, we all love to take photos and share one at time, but their comes a point where you find it boring to share only photos that's not connected to each. People love stories, so they will love a series of photos that tells a message. That's one of the reasons why I started my project and when I finish it I will start another!

See more of Ahmad's work here. You can also see images from a separate project he's working on here, where he returns to streets his shot before to hand out prints to the people in his images.


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