Interview :: Documenting the diversity of cultures / by Mohammed Ismail


I was recently interviewed by the Qatar Tribune. If you didn't get a chance to pick up a copy of the paper, you can read the interview, which was conducted by Lezima Gomes here:

Mohammed Ismail, a professional photographer, who came to Doha in 2011, is currently working on a photography project called Faces of Qatar.

Ismail, who was born in Libya, moved to England at tender age of four. His love for photography started during his first year at law school. He purchased a compact flash camera, Casio Exilim, which he carried whereever he went.

Ismail's project aims to showcase the ethnic diversity of Qatar and encourages people to meet and know one another. Qatar Tribune spoke to Ismail to get an insight into his work and the objective behind it.

What brought you to Doha?

In 2011, a civil war broke out in Libya. A group of Libyans started an independent Libyan satellite channel. They were looking for volunteers, I grabbed the opportunity. The position later became a full-time job.

What have been your experiences so far?

My experiences in Doha have been a bag full of mixed emotions. I admit that I am still in a culture shock over some aspects of life here. People here have a different way of doing things, which is fine, but I don't think I will ever be get used to their ways.

Tell me in detail about your project Faces of Qatar?

I have met people of many nationalities and been disappointed by the lack of interaction among them. Arabs mingle with other Arabs, Asians with other Asians and Europeans with other Europeans and so on.

This is in stark contrast to what I saw in London. The aim of my project is to make people re-evaluate their perception of other people and to encourage them to meet and get to know one another. The project aims to highlight the ethnic diversity of Qatar.

When and how did you start this project?

I would have loved to walk the streets of Doha and approach people for my project, but I was apprehensive about their reaction.

I was not sure how they would take it so I set about posting on Twitter and Facebook. The people at Doha News and Qatar Living were kind enough to retweet and Qatar Living even put my first few images on their front page which helped me a lot. Since then, it has been growing via word of mouth and the social media.

Tell me about the initial response and how it has been so far?

The initial response was positive. People love the idea and it is therefore not difficult to find participants. Some have been more open in answering questions and it adds an extra dimension to the project.

Can you share some fond memories about the project?

Every individual I meet is a fond memory in itself. I've said this to a couple of the participants. I think I am the one benefiting the most from the project as I get to meet people from all walks of life. It is fascinating to see so much diversity in culture, ethnicity and ideas in such a small place.

Why did you choose to concentrate only on the face?

I feel anything else would only distract the viewer from the individual before them. When we view an image, our eyes tend to focus on the areas which grab our attention. That can be a colourful piece of clothing or an object in the foreground.

I wanted the viewer to see the individual's face and particularly the eyes as they are the windows to the soul. I ask the participants several simple questions, so the viewers can iunderstand the individual better. This way they will not have any pre-conceived ideas of the individual.

Who are the people you have captured so far?

So far I have covered people from Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Montenegro, Morocco, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland and the UK. My goal is to cover every nationality living in Qatar.

Future plans for the project?

I have been approached by some people who want an exhibition of some of the images. I will go for it as will give the project more exposure and help me in completing it. I am also thinking of publishing the images into a book.

How can one be a part of the project?

I met groups of people at the MIA park for three weeks. But now Ramadan has started and the park is closed for maintenance. If your nationality is not on the list of those already covered, get in touch with me via my Facebook page or website.