Formal Specters
4 November 2016

2016 – “The portrait-photograph is a dosed field of forces. Four ‘ image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.” ― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.

The project was initially inspired by the ideation of Roland Barthes of the portrait-photograph, accompanied by visualizing these intersections in several visual works.

The project focuses on the studio portraits that are mostly related to identification documents and official papers which can last for a long time on documents such as passports, educational certificates and other documents. The officiality of those photos transcend to more than just a single empty look; it turns a finite moment into an endless repetition.

A part of the project was accomplished by installing an elementary studio extended to the gallery to photograph people living around the area, besides other work shot in real studios around Cairo.



Cairo studios – interior scenes.
Salah Neama / Salah Neama Studio.

As part of the project I was visiting some old studios in Cairo, having an interview with each studio photographer, taking a photo for the studio set then setting on the chair and taking another photo for the photographer himself before making my formal 4×6 photo.



Cairo studios – interior scenes.
Vector / Donia Studio.



Cairo studios – interior scenes.
Lotfy / Sayed Shaarawy Studio.


Sayed Abdou.
From the portraits taken at the studio that was established in Artellewa as part of the exhibition preparations.



-But your look doesn’t seem fit for an ID document
-Does the ID document require a certain look or what?! It seems that you don’t want to work
-Ok wait, why so angry? What do you do?
-Living by God’s will
-We all live by God’s will. I mean what’s your job?
-I sell tomatoes on a wagon in the street
-The ID photo is the most important photo in your life. It will give you more value as a person. That’s why your photo must be valuable. When you get married, the wedding officiant will ask for your ID. And when you’re a groom, how would you look like then? Spectacular, of course. So it doesn’t make sense that your look as a groom would be different from the photo on your ID, am I right?
-Then wear this
-If one of the police informants catches you then asks for your ID and then sees your photo, he will either give you a hard time or respect you. We don’t know what tomorrow holds for us. Maybe one day your luck will change and you’ll became a business owner with a lot of money and people working for you. By then, if you look at your ID photo you will hate it because it will be a reminder of the old & harsh days. But now, come. Tell me what’s your name?
-May God bless you, Rady
Rady, please move a little bit right… that’s enough
As I told you Rady, this is the most important photo of your life
I want a simple smile please…. no that’s too much…. that’s enough…. yes…. some innocence please…. no, now you look like a thief…. relax your brows… yes that’s it… stay still… 1… 2… 3


A part from a script written by Waheed Hamed.
Translated by Alaa Samir.





“Namozag” or Form. A small elementary studio has been established in the space where I started to take formal portraits for some residents. The photos go through the same process of normal studios in Cairo, as they have been delivered to a digital lab with a request of making “Namozag 4X6”. The lab technician uses photoshop to retouch the portrait, change the background and generate the print form that contains 8 passport photos, 1 digitally framed card and many small photos in one print to be cut and delivered to the client as a complement.


Personal school photo.





Selected videos from a series of moving portraits for the expressions of people just before having their formal portraits.




Installation view for the exhibition at Artellewa space.