Storytelling comes in many forms but photography can be one of the most compelling. Seeing Bahrain through a local’s eyes is one of the joys about getting acquainted with a culture so rich in history and tradition. FACT’s Shabana Adam caught up with photography maestro Mustafa AbulHadi to learn more about why illustrating the tales of island life and a civilisation with such deep roots is at the forefront of his passion and talent…

Bahrain; a place where capturing the humanity in every moment is made possible through its incredibly warm and inviting communities, its raw cultural roots, abundant heritage sites and, of course, the buzz of lively neighbourhoods where people from all walks of life are welcomed with smiles and friendly intrigue.

Mustafa AbdulHadi understands what we mean. Having photographed some of the most hidden corners and every day going-ons here, if there’s one place to start your culture course on what to expect from our unique island nation, it’s with Mustafa’s photographs. “Bahrain is full of beautiful places, both modern and old, and it has a very distinct culture,” he says. “From ancient occupations and events to customs and traditions that continue to this day. This is what makes it a special place to live.”

Some of his iconic images include an overhead shot of Ramadan gatherings at Iftar time, a farmer harvesting dates, casually atop a palm tree, a majestic sunset at Qalat’al Bahrain and many captures of local people doing normal, every day things like enjoying tea inManama Souq or fishermen coming ashore with theircatch of the day, and even a young child praying at the mosque. All of these are representative of the cultural mix that has formed over hundreds of years as a result of diverse rulers, foreign visitors and expatriates who have settled in the country and made it their home for decades now.

Mustafa was in primary school when he first laidhands on a camera. Since childhood, he has enjoyed documenting more intimate moments and occasions of his family. It wasn’t until 2012 that he took the leap and bought a DSLR camera and proceeded to teach himself the ins and outs of photography through YouTube tutorial videos.

“I was in college and was anxious to buy a camera,” Mustafa recalls. “My friend had a Canon camera and he advised me to buy the Canon 60D, and here forth the obsession started. I was shooting every day and in every place, trying all kinds of photography until I found my own style and passion which is photographing culturesfrom different perspectives that tell the stories of itspeople,” he adds.

A photograph is to Mustafa what a novel is to a writer. What he doesn’t express in words, he conveys throughan image. In fact, his love of discovering differentcultures started from a young age, and being equipped with a camera has allowed him to tell the stories of, and highlight, particular cultures through an image. Aside from Bahrain, Mustafa has photographed poignant places around the world including India, China, Sri Lanka, Oman and more recently Italy, to name but a few of the destinations highlighted on his instagram page: @mustafaa7.

In Bahrain, Mustafa likes to “portray people, their daily lives, their work, events, and traditional market scenes in Manama Souq, Muharraq, and village life where you see authentic Bahrain,” he says.

He keeps the process of subject-to-‘gram simple, using his camera, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to take and edit the images. Mustafa is an advocate of showcasing his talent and these cultural stories through his online platforms. “There is a saying in the marketing world: ‘meet your audience where they are’,” he tells us. “Social media is essential to sharing your work and yourself and it is accessible to all ages and groups in society. It’s the photographer’s job to demonstrate this in today’s marketing environment through multiple uses and creative strategies,” Mustafa continues. “The goal is not to get a huge number of likes, shares, and comments, so do not stress if this happens to you. The point is to get your audience talking, taking action, and encouraging others to do the same.”

Of course, photography is as much a skill as it is a passion. Mustafa’s advice to other budding culture snappers is to practice, and then practice some more. “Practice makes perfect,” he says. “Enjoy being curios and  you will gain a lot of experience. Learn more about the different settings of the camera and techniques of photography to get achieve the results you want. 

“One of the best and most efficient ways to learn is on YouTube, it’s where I learned a lot of from the basics of photography to advanced lessons and, more importantly, self assessment, looking at the results of your own learning and accepting constructive criticism from others,” Mustafa explains. 

“Do not stop at a certain extent AS the world of photography is wide and wonderful. Try hard, take chances and do not be afraid to call out your own strengths and weaknesses and areas for development to continue your progress. And most importantly, keep smiling to everyone,” he adds.

In a place like Bahrain where the heartbeat and soul of a country are well and truly itspeople, finding landscapes or communities,celebrations and gatherings to photograph is a gift for any photographer. Mustafa carries an innate need to wander, observe and capture, with the camera as his passport to storytelling. For us, as viewers, this is a chance to imagine and give life to every person, place and cultural happening thatwe see. How powerful and special is that?