Salah Haidar to the Yemen Times:”The country needs more Yemeni photographers to show the world the beauty of the country and the kindness of its people.” [Archives:2008/1215/Reportage]

December 11 2008
Iraqi photographer Salah Haidar. Photo by Dr. Salah Fahd
Iraqi photographer Salah Haidar. Photo by Dr. Salah Fahd
Khaled Al-Hilaly
Every Friday, Iraqi photographer Salah Haidar leads a group photography tour of Sana'a during which he helps amateur photographers with techniques and provides them with constructive criticism. Haidar has accumulated 39 years of experience in photography, has won several photo exhibitions' prizes, including awards from the Iraq International Photography Exibition, and has trained several photographers. He is the spokesperson for the Union of Arab Photographers and a member of the International Union for Photographers, and considers Yemen a treasure for photography. Haidar spoke to Khaled Al-Hilaly from the Yemen Times about his work and photography in Yemen

How did you first become interested in photography?

My interest in photography started when I was 13. A wall calendar had been hanged in my room and it had twelve photos of beautiful Iraqi landscapes. At the beginning of each New Year, a new calendar appeared with new photos. These photos inspired me to become a photographer. At a nearby studio, I had the chance to learn about cameras and developing photographs.

Tell me about your current project Yemen Photo Encyclopedia?

I have spent more than four years working on the Yemen Photo Encyclopedia project and have finished 50 percent of the work it involves. This encyclopedia documents an era of history. Each volume is devoted to a Yemeni governorate. I am thinking of publishing the first volume which is for old Sana'a city. Photo captions are in four languages which will make the encyclopedia useful for researchers and tourists. Since the encyclopedia is self-financed, financial considerations control the work progress. Photographing in far places necessitates transport, accommodation and other expenses, but I hope I will be able to complete the project before leaving Yemen.

How do you photograph people on the street without them realizing?

I always respect people's privacy. I use a candid camera technique: I direct the camera to a person I want to photograph and as soon as I see his acceptance I start taking photos spontaneously from different angles.

How would you evaluate Yemeni photojournalism?

Photojournalism is still weak because most Yemeni media establishments don't pay enough attention to photojournalists and they don't provide them with photography tools or appropriate training.

Why are photography exhibitions rare in Yemen?

A photo exhibition is costly: photos need printing, framing as well as galleries and places to exhibit. The photographer's income is low, so he can only afford his family needs. There should be sponsorships and support from ministries, establishments and companies to help holding photo exhibitions, and this way photography will develop.

There is currently no union or association for Yemeni photographers. Why do you think that is?

This question is for Yemeni photographers to answer. However we at the Union of Arab Photographers will support any initiative to establish such an association in order to fill the gap between Yemen and other Arab countries in the field of photography.

Can you give me some names of Yemeni young photographers you expect to have a bright future in photography?

Anwar Al-Shumi, Mahdi Karamah, Eziah Taher, Nadia Taher and Amira Al-Sharif are promising photographers.

What is the most important quality a photographer needs to have?

A photographer should be creative and imaginative.

What are your future plans?

I am preparing for a personal photo exhibition titled: Al-Saleh Mosque, Ninety-Nine Visions. This will be my masterpiece. Then I am going to establish a photography institute for the entire Arab world or move to the United Arab Emirates to chair a new photography institute there.

How can photographers help in the development of their country?

A photographer is an ambassador for his country, so Yemeni photographers should represent Yemen to the world: its heritage, civilization, traditions and the real picture as they see it. A few of my friends outside Yemen ask me is it safe to come here, and believe that kidnapping and violence are rampant. The country needs more Yemeni photographers to change this negative perception and show the world the beauty of the country and the kindness of its people. This is the photo era, and newspapers still don't have photographers. If they want to develop photojournalism and photography in general, they should hire, train and give photographers the proper standing. Photographers from other countries come to photograph Yemeni projects, why not have local photographers?

Do you have any tips for someone who wants to become a photographer?

I encourage an aspiring photographer to read a lot about photography, explore other professional photographer's experience through the internet or magazines, and join a class or training session to learn the fundamentals of photography.