Wasma Mansour, Lecture Notes (30.10.13)


Wasma Mansour is a Saudi photographer. She studied architecture but became interested in photography whilst assisting in a black and white dark room. Mansour began to use photography as a tool to tell her stories.

Mansour’s project, “Single Saudi Women” derived from her deep interest in Saudi women and how they are depicted within society, a monotonous and rigid image, always seen as heavily covered and passive. Mansour wanted to bring something modern and fresh to the debate, unveiling Saudi women, thus depicting them in an entirely different way to what society is used to seeing.

The images are very clean and constructed. This is an outcome to the choice of camera Mansour uses to create her photographs. What you choose to photograph with has a huge impact on the image making process as well as the final images, which is accurate and evident within this project. Mansour used a 5×4 camera. These cameras force both subject and photographer to slow down. One must set up the camera, then frame the subject, which is a lengthy process yet will inevitably spark interest in those you’re photographing. It’s a process that is quite unique and rare in modern times. The amount of time it takes to set up the camera, allows for the subject to relax and get involved, thus becoming a participant in the image making. Also, as the scenes were constructed, Mansour was able to take Polaroid’s then share them with the subject who could then offer their opinion.

The images are definitely the result of successful collaborative negotiation. Mansour felt it was important to prioritize how the women wanted to be seen, which is why she allowed them to see potential outcomes of the final image. Some were willing to reveal more then others, evident when looking through the images. Each image is considered and respectful to the subject depicted. This is heavily influenced by the segregation between men and women back in Saudi Arabia, the subjects had to be protected and safe.

How did one find the subjects? How did one build trust and a relationship? Mansour used Twitter, Facebook and had a credible reference speak to the subjects first and for her. To manifest a sense of trust Mansour would meet up with the subjects first in a neutral place and show them samples of her work. This would then move to Mansour entering their homes and getting to know them further. She would then meet up with them again and again. Her focus was to allow the participants to talk and share their story. The narrative of the participants inspired what Mansour would photograph.  Mansour also published her images on Facebook so her subjects could easily access them to offer feedback. For my final project at university I want to emulate this structure and process to seek my own subjects. It seems highly effective, respectable and fair to have your subjects involved in the final images of them.

Mansour’s images are beautifully simple yet reveal much larger things about the subjects being depicted. As the identity of the women remain hidden in the images, their surroundings and objects become the focus and do reveal something much more about who they are. The objects and seeing them dressed normally within the confines of their homes, reveals much more compared to if their identities were revealed whilst dressed in their veil. We get to imagine what their interests are and what they’re like as people. The objects become signifiers to the women’s identity: such as there eating habits which are still the same as what they would eat in Saudi Arabia. Their Saudi identity manifests despite being in England.

In the set of images Package, of a package of a package, shows the Saudi women’s veils inside various bags, where they now lye unused. The women, now they’re in England, don’t wear their veils. And so the bag the women have chosen to keep their veils in may reflect how precious they are to the women. One is kept inside a Harrods bag, another in a blue plastic carrier bag. The participant who offered the garment in the blue carrier bag, felt nervous once she saw the images of the other participants bags. This is when Mansour realized that the bags possess a larger message and meaning. Again these still lives are immaculate, somewhat evidential and clean. The images are very intriguing to see how the women now keep their garments or what they maybe wanted to depict, some obviously considered what the garment should be seen to be kept in.

This project again makes it clear that connection to the subject is of utmost importance. It also inspires me to consider how I would photograph my chosen issue and subjects who embody them. Developing a trustful relationship and prioritizing the participant is vital in creating powerful and accurate images.

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