Often when coming across photographs of Yemen, it’s a photojournalist from AFP or Reuters who captured one of the many corners where rubble gathers, or where children rummage through trash for food, or buildings’ debris clusters on the ground, and these photographs become all that defines the country and its people.
But it is often the banal (and banally beautiful) moments, erupting as though from a parallel universe, thrust into a much uglier one, that hit the hardest, and that make the most impact in the context of a war that has been raging on for almost 5 years. That kind of a war tends to involve much more than the days publicised for having more bombings than usual, or more deaths. It’s also about the couples dressed in full wedding attire, trotting across a smoke-filled, shattered street to a church or mosque for their ceremony. Or the group of women who decide spontaneously on one day to take a trip to the mountains, miles away from the cities, which now fester with violence.
It is also about life beyond Yemen - about the asylum-seekers, immigrants and refugees who have made a life in another place and who don’t receive nearly as much media coverage as do those who don’t make it, who end up being processed into series of numbers, facts and figures that almost erase the life they come from.
Below are 6 Yemeni photographers, capturing those different sides of war and life in the Middle East through a different, less explored lens.
1. Amira Al Sharif
Saudi-born (but Yemeni-raised), Amira Al Sharif’s photographs have reached audiences far beyond the Arab world, featuring in major international newspapers with her rich bank of photographs from Yemen and abroad, which are a far cry from the typical photographic documentations of the country. Often focusing her lens on women, and sometimes children, Al Sharif’s work evokes a striking difference between the war as imagined by Western audiences and how life actually unfolds within it on a daily basis - how women find work in spite of the odds stacked against them, or how certain places in Yemen seem to lie at the periphery of war, touched by it but not completely ravaged. Recently featuring in a collection of essays called Our Women on the Ground, her photography has become recognised and recognisable for its bold and divergent outlook on life in Yemen. Check out more of her work here.
2. Arif Al Nomay
Arif Al Nomay, whose father ran a photo lab in Saudi Arabia, lost years’ worth of photographs when a power failure caused a malfunction in his computer. Out of a devastating incident came a symbolic outcome in the form of one set of surviving, altered photos, originally taken during a summer festival in Yemen in 2014, exactly a year before the country descended into war. The photographs, glitched and breached with jarring lines and colours, now reflect the alteration of the very fabric of life in Yemen that came with the onslaught of war. With that and other conceptual projects, his work presents an alternative narrative on Yemen, depicting a much more nuanced view of the country. Check out more of his work here.
3. Yumna Al-Arashi
Both a photographer and filmmaker, Yemeni-American Al-Arash’s work, which rests at the intersection of the Middle East and the West, is as surreal as it is, simply, painstakingly real. Exploring the multitudes of meanings surrounding women’s bodies in the Middle East, Al-Arashi’s projects range from intimate and ethereal, as in her project in a traditional Hammam, Shedding Skin, to evoking a sense of freedom, right in the centre of a country often framed as merely war-ridden. Check out more of her work here.
4. Thana Faroq
Thana Faroq is a Yemeni photographer who sought asylum in the Netherlands, and chose to highlight her own - and other asylum-seekers’ in Europe and in the camp straddled on the border between Yemen and Djibouti, home now to over 4000 Yemeni refugees - fraught experience in a foreign, often xenophobic space. Through that project, she also gives voice to her subjects, whose words accompany the photographs of them in what ends up being a deep and genuine venture into photojournalism. Check out more of her work here.
5. Abdulrahman Jaber
Starting out his career with bold, fearless documentation of the 2011 uprising in Yemen, Abdulrahman Jaber’s work later evolved into imaginative and conceptual projects revolving around life in Yemen. With an interesting focus on Yemeni weddings during the uprisings and after, during the war, he sheds light on the jarring contrasts typical of a five-year war. Check out more of his work here.
6. Hanan Ishaq
Also beginning her path with photography by covering the Yemeni uprising in 2011, Hanan Ishaq's work has developed into conceptual documentation of people’s more intimate lives in the context of mass immigration, insecure lives, and a reality of constant surveillance and securitisation. In one project commissioned by Yemeni collective Diwan al Fan, ‘Interference’, she captures precisely those themes in an introspective series on people fleeing from a warzone, suddenly finding themselves in a strange place. Check out more of her work here.