Representations of the Middle East are still, in large, a one-sided portrayal in the mainstream media. There’s an instagram page out to change that. FACT’s Shabana Adam chats to Lindsay Mackenzie, the founder of Everyday Middle East, a platform used for sharing images that redefine photographic representation of life in the MENA region…
We all tend to use instagram to show off a delicious plate of food, our latest shopping buys, and, of course, endless selfies. But, for Lindsay Mackenzie, this social media outlet presented a whole new world of opportunities. Lindsay set up an account called @everydaymiddleeast in March 2014, in a bid to help dispell negative visual representations of the Middle East, and show followers what it’s really like to live in this part of the world, through the eyes of local photojournalists.
The account, which has around 50,000 followers, has gained much recognition and is currently displaying 90 images from its Instagram feed, in a public exhibition, at the Gulf Photo Plus gallery space, in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. The idea to have the exhibition came from the owner of Gulf Photo Plus, Mohamed Somji, who also happens to be one of the contributing photographers for Everyday Middle East.
“The idea of Everyday Middle East is to create a space for photojournalists to publish ‘everyday’ images from the region,” Lindsay explains. “It’s a way to push back against the visual representation in the Western mainstream media of the Middle East and North Africa. “As working photographers, we’re often assigned to take images of the most extreme or exotic people, or circumstances, but we rarely have a chance to publish day-to-day images,” she continues. “So the Instagram feed – and exhibitions like this one – are a way to show more than just the worst cases, more than just the stereotypes, but to show the unexpected, the intimate, the mundane – the everyday.”
“ Instagram is visual – it’ s all about images – so it’ s a natural fit…”
Everyday Middle East currently has 25 contributors, a mixture of expats, dual citizens and locals, who are all professional photographers, living or working frequently in the Middle East and North Africa. “The images are all captured with mobile phone cameras, but other than that there are no rules,” Lindsay shares. “There is no editor who selects the images – each of our contributing photographers has access to the Instagram account and can publish when and what they would like. “The idea of the project is to focus on ‘everyday’ images – and that can mean different things to the different contributors. But I think that is what makes the project interesting. It’s not one perspective or agenda but instead 25 different perspectives,” she says.
The network of Everyday Projects, which includes Everyday Africa, Everyday Asia and Everyday USA, inspired Lindsay to start a platform for the Middle East. I ask why Instagram over all other social media channels? “Instagram is visual – it’s all about images – so it’s a natural fit for what we are trying to do,” Lindsay says. “We’re also showing that there is great work being done by photographers all across the Middle East and North Africa.
“We’d like to continue to grow – both on and off Instagram. The main goal is to find ways to…”
And that new technology and new media platforms like Instagram mean that it’s possible to re-imagine the representation of the region – and that anyone with a phone and an internet connection can be a part of that,” she adds.
The efforts of Everyday Middle East are being appreciated the worldover, as Lindsay recalls: “The responses have been quite positive. One of the first comments we received from someone in the United States said, ‘We who live in the U.S. seem not to have a true picture of Middle Eastern life. This photo gallery of Everyday Middle East is helpful, interesting and fascinating. Thank you for creating it.’ We get comments like that from time to time.”
The main challenge that Lindsay sees Everyday Middle East facing is one of funding, as to maintain the momentum of this project beyond social media will require some kind of monetary input. Up until now everyone involved in the project has participated without any kind of compensation. When it comes to future vision, Lindsay has a number of goals. “We’d like to continue to be part of a conversation about visual representation of the Middle East in the mainstream media,” she says. “One of my short-term goals is to get mobile phone cameras in the hands of people who can’t afford one themselves so that we can include their perspectives and show more of the ‘everyday’ beyond the affluent and urban.
“I’d love to give a mobile camera phone and provide internet access to a student in rural Yemen, or to a farmer in a small town in Algeria, for example, to broaden the everyday perspectives that we can show.” With such a beautiful aim and the determination to show a more realistic side of the Middle East, I’m sure that this is only the beginning of an exciting journey, for Lindsay, the contributing photographers, and Everyday Middle East.
GO: Free to attend and open to the public, the Everyday Middle East exhibition will run until February 26 in the GPP gallery space, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. Call (0)4 380 8545 for more information. Follow @everydaymiddleeast on Instagram.