LEMAG: Thank you for finding time to speak to us, Ahmed. You were one of the artists we specifically chosen to feature in our first issue. The reason for our choice was perfectly simple: firstly, your image have become quite known recently – and for a good reason – and secondly, your work is a testimony to the fact that monochrome long exposure photography reaches far beyond Europe and North America.
You were born in Cairo but now you live in Kuwait. Kuwaiti society is markedly more open than other Gulf Arab societies yet, on a number of occasions you said that working with a camera there can be tricky. Do you think that being a photographer in the Arab world differs from doing it in other parts of the world?
Ahmed Thabet: Yes of course, let’s to be honest, we still have a lot of restrictions and unexplained fear of camera, Kuwaiti society is to some extent open relative to others, and some of my very successful photographs have been taken to Kuwait city streets, really beautiful, but yet Dubai gives you a full chance to experience architecture photography in full scale, Egypt still having many issues, definitely Cairo it is not photography friendly city, although historical architecture in Egypt in general may be incomparable with any other places in the world, hope one day I can fix my tripod on Nile river and take long exposures as I always do.
LEMAG: Tell us a bit more about your work please. What are you looking to achieve when choosing your subject and do you come to it with a pre-coincided idea, or is it a matter of slow development once you see your images on the screen?
Ahmed Thabet: I always work on a long photography project, might take one or two years, I like the slow process of photographing and editing as well, some guys call my technique photography Sufism (I like it). I am not crazy about gear, sharpness, high quality, brands, I do not need it, I just need my vision to be set before the shooting session starts, I collect as much as I can of information about the subject matter, I give big attention to the architect who built the building, I try to see other works of his to understand his mind in playing with lines and shapes.
Usually vision comes first then with this preconception idea and implementing it on the architecture really the final product usually comes very satisfactory.
For example, my series Scimitar it is very classic example to this strategy of work, I was fascinated by the shape of the old medieval Arabian sword, which has a curved blade, wide from above and the two lines come close at the base, I believed this shape can be applied on architecture, I went everywhere looking for the subject matter which may fit with this vision, took around 3 years, finally I came up with scimitar series ( which the ancient name of the sword by the way ) and it has won in a lot of classy international contests.
LEMAG: What do you consider as your greatest achievement to date, photography- wise?
Ahmed Thabet: Really 2017 and 2018 was fantastic for me, the world new me and respected my art, but I think second category winner in architecture in MIFA 2018, and Abstract winner, in 1x international contest 2018 both are the closest to my heart.
LEMAG: You shot you images in Kuwait, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore and th UK. Do you have a favourite place that responds best to your imagination and to what you want to achieve?
Ahmed Thabet: Yes these were my battlefields which I achieved some sort of victory on, to be honest I got defeated in anthoer battlefield like Cape Town South Africa and shockingly Cairo Egypt, some fellow photographers consider NY the capital of architectural photography in the world, I have not gone there, may be
But to me Singapore was stunning. Gives me everything, the beautiful architecture, the friendly atmosphere, and the variability of subject matter.
LEMAG: Can you let us on those who influenced your photography?
Ahmed Thabet: I have been influenced by many photographers, but if I have to mention names, with no doubts the international figure Joel Tjinjelaar comes first, to me Joel is the most important photography figures in last 30 years his impact was huge and still, as equal to Joel comes Julia Anna Gospedarou – both are authors of one of the most important book in black and white photography (From basics to fine art).
In abstract names like names like Jef Van Den houte, Hans-Wolfgang Hawekamp, Greetje Van son
In mood names like Carla Dlm, Teruhico, Thomas Vanoost, really many have they real impact on my body of work.
LEMAG: You made a splash with your monochrome long exposure architecture images. Is there any other kind of photography you think you could devote yourself too?
Ahmed Thabet: Yes, abstract and mood photography, I have been developing my skills and I think up to now goes well
LEMAG: If you were to set yourself a photo challenge, what would that be?
Ahmed Thabet: To put my tripod on the bank of Nile river in Cairo and take long exposure 10 minutes.
LEMAG: And what is the biggest challenge or obstacle that you meet while developing your own images?
Ahmed Thabet: Many, but the most disturbing to my with long exposure (thermal noise and after editing halos lines on the edges).
LEMAG: Photography seems to be your great passion, is there anything else by way of a hobby or pastime? Is there a room for anything else?
Ahmed Thabet: I spent most of my twenties and thirties practising martial arts, by the way I am a very peaceful man, but I liked it, especially Taekwondo recently swimming, and reading in history, you can consider me a historian.
LEMAG: Once again, thank you for the chance to interview you. We are looking forward to seems more of your excellent work.
Ahmed Thabet: Thanks you. It has been pleasure to be interviewed by you.