Profiling Photographers: Marwa Abou Leila

Today we are delighted to sit down with the curator and editor of Photobook Egypt, Marwa Abou Leila, who is also the co-founder of Photopia Cairo. Marwa will be joining us at GPP this Saturday, March 4th, for the UAE launch and book signing of Photopia’s Photobook Egypt project. Save your spot here.


Gulf Photo Plus: How did you get started in photography?

Marwa Abou Leila: I got started in photography as a hobby during my university days back in the nineties.  I have always been interested in documentary photography but had to follow a career in corporate banking for many years before I made a sharp career shift back to photography - this time as a photography school founder.


GPP: What was the impetus for that switch?

MAL: After the powerful political changes that took place in Egypt in Jan 2011, along with the vast spread of affordable digital SLRs, many talented photographers appeared on the scene.  It then struck me that Egypt did not have a full- fledged, independent venue for photographers that supports both emerging and more established ones. So my partner - the UAE-based Karim El Khadem - and I employed our passion for photography and capitalized on our long corporate experience to create an educational, non-intimidating “hub” for the photography community in Egypt.Our main vision is to bridge new talents with more established photographers through formal educational programs, talks, exhibitions, private coaching, or even free, informal advice and guidance.  


GPP: What led to Photopia's decision to start the Photobook Egypt project this past year?

MAL: When I was visiting London in December 2015, I sat down with the amazing Brett Rogers – the Director and Curator of The Photographers’ Gallery in London -  to discuss a potential collaboration between her gallery and Egyptian photographers. When she had a look at the photo stories from Egypt, she advised me to start publishing affordable photobooks to spread the work. The Photopia team then took serious steps to curate and publish the stories, launching the project in December 2016 at a successful book signing event in Cairo. The books are now selling in Cairo, Dubai, and London.


GPP: What did the process of curating the project look like for you, especially working with so many different photographers? 

MAL:  The projects are quite diversified, covering totally different topics/themes from different  perspectives (social, historic, daily life, political). In the beginning of the process, we work on all projects in parallel in order to collect all the material needed to start the design process. Towards the middle, we start printing models for the books, revise the editing if needed, and approve the color. In the final phase, we focus on one book at a time: proofreading and applying final edits until it comes out of the printing house as a beautiful visual documentary. The photographers are strong believers of the project, so they were very cooperative in the whole process.


GPP: How did you find that process compared to photographing and editing your own work?

MAL: I haven’t had the time to make photography of my own ever since Photopia was established. I got hooked up in a more interesting mission that I enjoy immensely: supporting other photographers. I regard myself more as a curator /photography school director rather than a photographer now. Moreover, I detach myself completely from being a photographer when curating other photographers’ projects. I find it much easier to edit other photographers’ work objectively than my own.


GPP:  Are there plans to bring any additional books into the project?

MAL: Photobook Egypt is an ongoing project that publishes a new edition of 4-5 books twice a year (8-10 new books a year). The upcoming edition includes 4 new stories: Kitchen Memoirs by Yehia El AlialyTales of the While Mountain by Mohamed Ali EddeinThe Trip by Ali Zareey, and Egyptian Baby Showers (traditional Egyptian Sebou celebrations) by Asmaa GamalKitchen Memoirs and Tales of the White Mountain are part of the second volume of the series that will be launched in Cairo in April 2017. Since we wanted to introduce seven books to GPP fans as opposed to five, we decided to include two of these unreleased (officially) stories at the launch in Dubai. 


Learn more about Photopia on their website and Facebook page. 

Follow the Photobook Egypt project on Facebook and Instagram.

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