UAE-based photographer Waleed Shah is no stranger to socially poignant work. He’s tackled body insecurities, stories of immigrant fatherhood, and COVID-related racism. Now, his newest work turns inwards, to the freelance creative community of the UAE, who have been navigating cancelled events, postponed projects, and the professional limbo of the coronavirus.
“Things have started to kind of pick up, I have one job over the weekend and it feels like there’s something in the air. But initially it had completely wiped out my income. Zero,” he says. “Whenever someone would call me, I would say, ‘Mowjood. I’m available. You got work?’”
"When it comes to the art world, I think a lot depends on how long this all lasts, of course,I’m an optimist in a time of crisis. Creativity was with us in the caves; it’s in every bone in our bodies. Viruses don’t kill art. But even successful artists will be pushed to the limits and I think Instagram is almost all we’ve got." — Egyptian-Emirati-Jordanian actress, presenter, and media personality Sawsan Saad.
Shah’s project revolves simply around the word ‘mowjood’, which translates to “I’m here, I exist,” and which he uses to showcase local creatives—artists to dentists to engineers—as a reminder that they are still available for work, through photographs that bring their talents and titles to life.
Operating on a pay-as-you-feel basis, Shah put out a call on social media and invited dancers, TV presenters, graphic designers, and content creators into his home-turned-studio. While observing social distancing guidelines, Shah photographed the creators in striking black-and-white portraits that place the young professionals on the cover of an imaginary magazine.
"When this is all over we’re gonna have to work twice as hard to recover from COVID. I just graduated so my life is confusing now anyway. The virus just made it confusing for one more reason. I’m trying to be part of creative projects so I don’t lose the creative flow I had pre-corona, it’s hard and a little depressing but it is what it is." — Pakinam, Abu Dhabi-based graphic designer.
“People who can afford to pay can name their price, and if they can’t then hopefully, some good karma can be sent my way,” says Shah. “We are all standing in solidarity with one another, and I want to make them look like rock stars.”
You can check out the full project here.