Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Pulitzer Prize Photo

Marium Chaudhry

Snap. Stop. Stare.

As an amateur photojournalist I tend to do the first of the three actions rather than the last two.

On our trip to the Sinai, I decided to try something new. I decided that I would leave my camera in my bag and try to venture out into the desert without my beloved partner.

There is power in the shutter of one's eyes. Forget the big lens that straps itself on the hollow body of a camera. Using a camera to capture a moment is like a strong, healthy man using a cane to walk. Cameras are a curse if you don't know when to put them down and a blessing if you realize that your eyes are stronger than any camera lens.

I saw the most amazing sights in the Sinai.

From nights of utter blackness strewn with stars, from bedioun men calmly comforting camels and mountains enamating holiness, I saw Egypt's beauty in the span of 48 hours.

And I have nothing to show for it.

But I do have the pictures in my head. In this blog, I will try to show you my pictures of my Egypt, my images of its essence. For I am jealous of the camera that speaks for me. And this is my moment to shine.

But in the nights of the Sinai, shining is a feat left to the stars of the Arab world. In the pitch dark of hallowed desert winds, the sky speaks for itself. I have heard the black ink sky being compared to black velvet and stars to diamonds. I disagree with this analogy.
The sky in the Arab world is as dark as you want it to be. At first glance it is like black ink. But the longer you look at the sky, the color glistens from black to dark blue and to slight shades of white.


The stars are not like diamonds. They are strewn in the sky like marbles that fall out of a child's hands. Glassy and clear. They twinkle like diamonds but are not as capricious as diamonds. Diamonds are fickle mistresses that shine for anyone that lays their eyes on them.
Stars in the Egyptian sky shine for those who take the time to look at them. They twinkle for a second and then quietly stop blinking as if waiting to see if one is really staring into their eyes.


My camel stopped right at the edge of a bundle of rocks on Mount Sinai. My camel, who was named Asfour, and who, my camel driver, Sobh, swore was sent for me from heaven, was in love with wandering off to the edge of the mountain. I rode a camel for two hours to the top of Mount Sinai in darkness.
All I could see was the light from Sobh's flashlight and the stars in the sky. Sobh animately started talking about his camel's digestive problems as I felt Asfour's stomach rumble beneath me.

Stricken with fear of falling off the camel and equally scared that my camel was going to throw me off the mountain I held on for dear life and took a picture.

It is the most beautiful picture I've taken yet. Worthy of a Pulitzer. And its all in my head.

Asfour crunched her feet on the ground as Sobh grinned, his old face, brown with lines that crisscrossed from the edges of his eyes to the cleft in his chin. His eyes were brown and old, his beard, shaven and white. My green bag hung on the bright red saddle that was strapped on Asfour's back. My red and brown embroidered shawl covered my head as it lazily wrapped itself around my shoulders. The mountain looked sinisterly brown. The sky looked white with the blaze of stars. And at that one moment all the stars twinkled together.

There is some thing about Egyptian nights that even cameras can't capture. A feeling of utter beauty that cannot be translated onto film. There is not one person that travels in the orbit of these nights who is not touched by its winsome path. Unless they walk through it with their eyes closed.
For there are moments that are lost in adjusting the speed of a camera's lens, moments like the grin of a bedioun camel driver as he explains that camels drink water after three days, seconds when a shooting star races through a sky illuminated by galaxies, and a split second when you think to yourself, “did that camel just turn its head around and smile at me?”

Moments. And it can take exactly that moment, the one that you actually take to look at the picture around you instead of holding an artificial lens next to your eye that can define your entire journey.



sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sam said...

Thanks, Marium. Although I always love to see your actual pictures, your words did the job this time.

For a different photo of life in Sinai:


Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Mariam, what a wonderful piece.
Cameras: you are a photo-journalist, so you use them. I: I photography as an art form, as a mode of Seeing. Yet when I am in a place, I take almost no pictures. Not being a photo-journalist, the camera (for me) is an screen between the experience and me. I want to experience the experience. I'm interested in photos of "visual puns" or unusual things, but not of "holy" experiences. I'm not critical of people around me snapping madly away (unless they tell me to move--then I'm annoyed!) But it is not my way. My replacement cell phone has a camera (yikes!). In my Egypt month I took no pictures with it except the last day, e.g., of the acacia tree outside my window. Now I haven't been able successfully to set up the requisite website account, but maybe some young'un can hep me out.

Last year I rode a camel in the dark to the top of Mt. Sinai, but my camel knew the way very well. When we reached the top I sobbed audibly for minutes because of the beauty, and the symbolism of the place. My crying worried the tour guide (Egyptian based, half-Bedouin young man), but he said his mother (Bedouin) cried when she was happy, too.