Portraits with Many Tales: “Faces of the Middle East” by Hermoine Macura

A photograph tells many tales. Our first impressions of an image or another person influence the stories which are told. So powerful is our perception that it has the potential to condition history, culture, and individual emotion. Australian TV news anchor for Dubai One Hermoine Macura captures the tales of people in the Middle East through photographs. Hermoine traveled throughout the region photographing the rich cultural intricacies of the inhabitants and historical landmarks which make up the Middle East. The resulting images tell stories of a region in the constant throws of development, political, and cultural change.

What is “Faces of the Middle East?”

My first book, FACES OF THE MIDDLE EAST is the culmination of 7 years of photo-journalism which I’ve accumulated during my travels and work across the Middle East. Neither a definitive story nor a political statement, it focusing on the various peoples and minority groups in the region. In particular, my aim was to profile and document the simplicity and beauty found in the inhabitants of the Middle East.

How did you become interested in the subject matter? Did recent regional and international political such as 9/11 prompt your desire to more actively capture the Middle East and its people?

I’ve always had a deep interest in Middle Eastern issues and am always following developments from the region. As a Christian, this area has, and will always be, very special to me. However it was just after September 11th that I decided to move from home country, Australia, and be based permanently in the Gulf to get closer to the action. Apart from the Arab awakening, I also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the regions core issues as well document how the Middle East is far more than just a monolithic culture, but rather, a richly diverse area that continue to shape the world.

You are a trained journalist and work as an Anchor for Dubai One TV Emirates News. How has your education and experience influenced your photographic work?

While education is an invaluable asset, I believe to really see the truth; you have to experience and see it, first hand for yourself. I never truly understood the suffering, injustice, rejection, political corruption, the Arab-Israeli conflict and extremism; people have been exposed to, both in the Middle East and abroad, until I moved here. There are some things you can never learn out of text book.

As a Journalist, I’m currently living first hand through events and situations that are shaping history, and while I currently focus on local news at Dubai One TV at the moment, my experience in international news and travels across the region, have undoubtedly offered me a first hand insight into what’s really happening and what we need to do to work towards peace, co-existence and stable socio-economic development.

What were the responses from the people you photographed? Were they keen to share their stories with you? Can you recount a particular experience which moved you?

Most of the people I photographed in my book are very ordinary, simple people from across the Middle East and were shocked that I even wanted to take their picture. When you venture outside the big cities, most people live a very simple life here, which focuses on their family. Ironically, in some places like Iraq, some people I photographed ended up wanting to take a picture with me as well, as it was such a novelty for them!

However in saying that, FACES OF THE MIDDLE EAST also features many people who have suffered beyond belief. There were many times I was moved to tears as I listened to real life situations and experiences people had endured during the political unrest and conflicts that have taken place here. While the Gulf is very stable, safe and secure, outside the UAE and a large part of the Gulf region, people in the wider Arab world face a lot of oppression and injustice both internally and externally. What you are seeing now taking place across the Middle East are the people saying, they have had enough. In his book, My Vision — Challenges in the Race for Excellence, The UAE Vice President, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, speaks about the Arab renaissance. I believe in many ways, we are on the verge of it.

As for stories, that have moved me, there are so many. FACES OF THE MIDDLE EAST is a selection of just over 100 images from about 10,000. In general, it’s the women who have inspired me the most with their courage, faith and endurance, despite the circumstances.

What are your favorite images from your book?

My favorite images are the ones of old people and children. I love the candidness and openness of children; they are so pure and hold the future in their hands. I also love the wisdom and experience of old people that shines through in photographs as well.

“Faces of the Middle East” is a book that goes beyond national and political boundaries to bring together the people of the Middle East through photographs. What are your hopes for the project?

I’ve been told it sounds too utopian; however my greatest desire is to see peace in the Middle East. I believe it’s possible and I believe we can do it in one generation. In the Koran, Sura 13:11 explains, “Truly, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” When I look into history and back on my experiences, real change never came from organizations and governments; it always came from the people first and was for the people. I hope this project helps to open people’s minds to understanding each other more, create further dialogue, which in turn will help to support the peace process and co-existence.

The book is already being sold in bookstores across the UAE. How would you like to expand it on an international level?

We have a series of exhibitions and launches regionally and internationally, which will continue to unfold over the next few months. Several universities have also contacted us to come and exhibit at their campuses as well. My publisher, UAE based, COVA group, is currently working on international options for distribution as well, so I guess at this point, the sky is the limit.

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