An avid explorer and the craftsman of otherworldly scenes with his unique cinematic rhetoric, Egyptian-Korean filmmaker and photographer Abdelrahman Gabr was challenged to crystallize his magnetic vision on Egypt – only this time, using a mobile phone; the new Huawei Mate 9 Leica Dual Camera.
Gabr, who already shoots stunning portraits for his Faces of Egypt photo-book with Leica – and is an official photographer for the brand as well – has a distinctively candid, yet sophisticated approach to his home country’s streets and its inhabitants. “I use the same lighting and equipment when shooting for the project in Aswan as is used in high-end celebrity photo-shoots. I feel like we need to do justice to these people in the pictures,” he says, as his words resonate with the sharpness, the texture, and the vividness of his photography.
So, armed with the new mobile phone and eager to take on the challenge the filmmaker set off to uncover hidden spots in his hometown, Alexandria, as well as in the country’s unruly capital in search for inspiration. “Huawei contacted me to shoot premium photos in Cairo and Alexandria with their new phone, which has a dual Leica lens,” Gabr tells CairoScene. “And I thought it was hard, because most of what you see in Cairo is street photography. These cities are not like Dubai, where everything is brand new; Egypt has ancient stuff, which is not very well preserved. So I took it as a challenge for myself to test out the camera,” he says.
Aiming to unveil the unseen sophistication hidden somewhere within the city’s walls, he walked through bridges in the dark of the night, went up the stairs of a hotel at the center of the river Nile, and hopped on a boat through the legendary river. And there, amid - and despite - the ubiquity of urban paraphernalia, Gabr found the peace and quiet, the light and the shadows, the idyllic sense of beauty the city orchestrates from sunrise to night.
“It was difficult,” he confesses. “I didn’t want to shot the places that were usually shot, and the weather factor is very hard in Cairo, so it’s not easy to get a good shot. But the phone camera has an option to shoot raw, which is a feature I always use with DSLR cameras. So that was a big factor in getting good shots,” he explains.
Embarking on a historical tour through Sofitel Hotel, located at the tip of Al Gezira island, the filmmaker and photographer painted the Nile in shades of pink as he photographed the sunset on a boat. "I went to the hotel for a night; we had that beautiful Jacuzzi on the Nile river, the location is premium because you have a matchless view," he says.
From a hotel window, the night shot is stunning, "I actually just positioned the camera and shot in night mode; the whole thing captured itself. what this camera does is taking multiple exposure shots, and then blends them to make them nicer. So the camera was doing everything," he says.
One of the most striking photos is a slow-motion shot of the statue of Umm Kulthum, in Zamalek. “I took that photo from the bridge in slow motion, it’s like a second exposure, which usually means you need a tripod. But I just had my phone and a gorilla pod; so I went up and took the shot. That would have been impossible if I had a big camera. I could see police officers from below the bridge, looking at me,” he says. “That was the best thing about the phone camera, move around with the same quality of a camera.”
Hopping on a boat through the island, Gabr found the Nilometer, “which you don’t usually see in photography,” he says. “Its architecture is very old; it was built before Mohamed Ali. Inside, the architecture is amazing,” he says as he recalls the way through the river towards Maadi, where a bridge caught his eye. “I was under the bridge on the boat when I took that picture, and I really like black and white architecture,” he points out.
As he strolled towards Cairo’s Gezira club, the photographer bumped into a scene of an old man horse-back riding. “I was walking around, thinking there was nothing special to shoot when I saw him. It was a perfect shot; the tower, the greenery, and the sky which was clearing up after the rain,” he explains.
Back in Alexandria, Gabr headed off to the city’s most beautiful spots in his eyes; the city Sporting Club and the lake, located behind the old airport. “The sun was just setting and I saw two people who are rowing on a kayak. The sunset was amazing and the whole lake was beautiful. It came out really nice,” he comments.
Hailing from Alexandria, but born in the USA, the 34 year-old photographer and filmmaker taught himself the craft as he studied computer engineering at university. Aside from TV commercials, and corporate videos for clients both abroad and in Egypt, the filmmaker often takes on personal projects, which he cherishes the most. “I usually work under commission, but I always work on personal projects on the side, which are the things where I best put my creativity and point of view,” he says, as he recalls a recent photo journey to Norway, where he witnessed the Northern light. “I was collaborating with Sony and Leica cameras, which gave me their cameras to go there and start shooting. I was able to see things that happen twice a year, and it was amazing.”
His most renowned project – yet to be released – is Faces of Egypt, a project where he involved Leica as a sponsor to document the Egyptian unique idiosyncrasy. “The idea came up as I was doing a time-lapse video called Egypt HD, and went to a lot of different locations. I had to deal with local people and things get more interesting when you get to sit down and talk to them; see the way they adapt to their locations, when you share their customs, their food,” he recalls. However, nowhere would he find these stories represented; neither on Google nor on printed books, “I wanted to do something new, to show their lives in a different way; so I went back to them.”
With other projects in the works - such as a video depicting the inspiring stories of those who are not looking for fame, but inner glory, titled Seeking Glory – the photographer plans on including the newly launched camera amongst his indispensable photo gear.
“As a photographer, it’s a must have equipment, because I can’t have my camera every day, and the phone is always with us, especially when I travel,” he says, as he highlights its special feature: it’s dual lens. “One of the lens captures black and white only, and the other one captures the colors; so the camera then matches them automatically and that combination gives you the true colors and contrasts. It’s like our two eyes we have; the two lens transmits information to the sensors the same way our two eyes transmit information to the brain.”
*The content of this article is sponsored.