In April 2019, after thirty years of military dictatorship, theocracy, and years of civil war, the people of Sudan brought down Omar al-Bashir, the man who imposed an unchallenged reign upon them, starting with his coup d’état in 1989. Sudan’s popular uprising began in December 2018. For five months, risking arrest and torture by the regime’s police, the Sudanese people took to the streets by the thousands.
Driven by the will to document resistance and repression, a new generation of photographers emerged. These artists, aged between 19 and 30, broadcast their photos through social networks. They were both actors and observers of this historical moment.
In this event, Saad Eltinay and Muhammed Salah discuss photography in Sudan, how they pictured the revolution, and what comes next. (Duha Mohammed was scheduled to participate but was sadly ill on the day).
00:00:05 [music plays]
David Campbell: So welcome again to this VII Insider event on photographing the Sudanese revolution. It’s a great pleasure to have Saad Eltinay and Muhammad Salah joining us for this discussion. We were also going to be joined by Duha Mohammed, but unfortunately, she’s ill with side effects from the COVID vaccine today and so can’t join us. But we’re still going to have a great presentation with some images and some discussion. I think this is a very important event, because it gives us an insight into what it was like to photograph one of the most significant protest movements of the last couple of years, that is, the revolution in Sudan that led to a change in government. And also to give us an insight from people who were actually there on the ground as to what it was like photographing this. Saad and Muhammad and Duha as well were part of an exhibition that brought together the work of seven photographers and one videographer to show the work that they had done in covering the revolution. This was displayed at the Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in France this year. It was an incredible exhibition and we’ll be seeing some of those photographs as we go along. And then we’ll move the discussion to thinking about, kind of the state of photography in Sudan itself, and how it can be seen more regularly and more often by the rest of us in the world. And also, what photography in Sudan might need from the rest of the world too. So we’re going to begin with Saad, I think, and you’re going to introduce some more about the exhibition, show us some images and head off, start with a discussion. So Saad, I’ll hand over to you.
Saad Eltinay: Thank you, David. Happy to join you guys today in this talk. And thanks to all the participants below. I think we have around 29 now and yeah, obviously, it’s sad that we couldn’t be joined by Duha, who was supposed to be the third speaker. And yeah, we send her best wishes. I’ll start with a brief introduction of myself. Saad Eltinay, a Sudanese Khartoum-based photographer. I studied software engineering, graduated 2012 and have been following my interest in visuals and photography since then, since 2012. I am mostly interested in human emotion and in capturing or making photographs that would speak for myself and for the things I wish to see around me. I was happy to be part of the THAWRA! exhibition in Arles festival this year, alongside the many Sudanese photographers taking the topic of the Sudanese uprising that happened, started 2019. And yeah, it was actually a fantastic journey of photography since then, and I’m happy to discuss the topic further with you guys there. First, let me share my screen. Can you confirm when it’s visible?
David Campbell: We can see that.
Saad Eltinay: Alright. Obviously we have our friend, Duha, who was supposed to be here. We will still take the opportunity to show her photos as well. And meanwhile, I can also start giving you a little background about the Sudanese revolution and the event that happened. So, before 2019 Sudan had been subject to long-term ideological dictatorship that has probably devastated the country in so many ways. And maybe I can only speak about how that affected arts and photography in general, as these topics were definitely sidelined a lot, and sometimes even fought by the regime and its arms to distance the people from their agency and freedom of expression and the freedom of speech and the freedom of producing what they want to produce in a sense. And, obviously, the revolution itself, I would say that it was definitely ongoing for a quick while before the uprising that happened in 2019. Different forms of protest, different forms of revolutionary acts that has been building up. But obviously, things took, things were took to a new level on the sixth of April 2020, when when the masses of people managed to form a sitting in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum. And to be honest, it was a big changing point for everyone and specifically for myself in terms of having hope after being born within a dictatorship and being—and not knowing anything but dictatorship rule. It was a, it was a very massive change, especially on the inside, I would say when hope started—hope for change and hope for better started. Being not something that is as far as a dream, but something that maybe we, I and the people around me could work to to make it happen. The sit-in continued for almost two months, until being violently dispersed by militias. And from that point, people continued to protest until a transitional government was formed in alliance between the military and some civil components. And it’s debatable how everybody feels about this transitional government at the moment and how things are unfolding politically right now. But from my side, I would definitely say that this is all part of our evolution that I would love to emphasize that it’s ongoing and it’s still happening. And it has its ongoing impact on people, I assume. During the period of the sit-in, myself and I also think lots of many photographers have found the space to take more photos as this was—it was not entirely safe to walk around with a camera before and it was not a very comfortable experience taking photos in public. And after 30 years of of dictatorship it was even, I would say, distanced a little bit because of culture, photography and arts in general in the street, not even if you’re confronted with with authorities. No, it was in general difficult to be around the camera. And this has changed a lot especially in the sit-in, which many people describe as a mini country where their goals for freedom and change are partially available for them to practice and many many many photographs were taken during the sit in and lots of photos were produced and consumed obviously online and in many ways. And it was the same for me. The time I spent during the sit in I had lots of opportunities to go around and photograph and it started a wonderful journey of being part of the revolution through the photos and exploring the meaning of revolution to myself as well along the way. So, after, I’m not sure exactly I can remember the date, but after the events, we have been, we came together with Doha, the photographer who was supposed to be here, that I’m supposed to be showing you her photos right now, to take part in an exhibition called THAWRA! that too, would eventually lead us to be part of Arles photo festival alongside the photographers that I would love to mention their names to you now. Ahmed Ano, Duha Mohammed, who was a participant photographer and a co-curator of the exhibition, along with Juliet, Juliet Agnel. We have Suha Barakat, Ula Osman, Muhammad, who’s present here, Muhammad Salah, Eythar Gubara, and Hind Meddeb, and Metche Jaafar. Thanks and shout out to all of those friends if they if they’re listening. And yeah, it was—the exhibition was basically an attempt to paint an image to tell—to bring up the news and information about what happened in Sudan to an international audience, and visions from all the photographers were combined together to do so. And to be honest—I can only speak for my experience—it was very interesting, being in a place where photography culture is, is, I think, very intense. And conversations about photography are basically everywhere. And it was very strong, very interesting perspective for me to be part of it and be part of a very well-produced exhibition, which is something I wouldn’t usually get access to do back home. And it also kind of shed a light on many issues about the way I find myself represented as a photographer from Sudan. And also it shed a light on the distance I feel from the entire, we could say like, international photography community. So yeah, it was definitely a great experience. Would you like to add something, Muhammad?
Muhammad Salah: Sure. I’d love to see more of your images though.
Saad Eltinay: Yes, I’m sorry… I’m moving them around now. Actually, we are we’re still looking at Doha’s photographs from the—I think these photographs are from within and after the uprising that happened.
David Campbell: So while we’re looking at those, can I ask one question, Saad? Were you and Muhammad and the others—were you professional photographers, who then participated in the revolution? I was interested in your comment where you said, it was, you experienced the revolution through photography, and then the role of photography in the revolution itself? Can you say a little bit more about whether you thought of yourselves there as photographing the revolution, or participating in the revolution with photographs and the difference there?
Saad Eltinay: Yeah, I mean, for me, I have been doing photography before the revolution. But basically, my presence in the revolution was a regular contribution that I’m not necessarily doing as a photographer, but as a Sudanese person who’s invested in his own and the future of the people around him. But of course, obviously, photography was part of that, was part of the practice, and I think for me, most importantly, it was the essential part of me, kind of identifying my actual goals when it comes to the revolution. It’s obviously masses of people with many intentions, and I think I found myself walking a journey from even just be just contributing because I don’t want to be out of it to more like falling in love and really understanding the impact that could happen. And I think photography—the same way it did before the revolution, it helped me navigate the way I feel and it helped me navigate what sort of aware contribution I can make.
David Campbell: So, Saad, show us some of your images and…
Saad Etinay: Okay. Yes actually. So, actually the images that I have selected mostly are images of both the uprising—none of them are the images that I showed at Arles—and these images are some sort of translation of how even my approach to photography has changed after that specific experience and it is all due to how, the way I actually perceive change now. And to be honest, being part of the revolution and so-called political change has taught me one most important thing is that this change, this issue is a social issue. And it is not healthy to just see it through the scope of politics and expect politics to change my experiences as a Sudanese person living in Sudan and being part of a continent and obviously a globe. So, my work shifted I would say like dramatically towards change in my immediate space, toward processes of learning and unlearning, healing and engaging actively with the people around me— in terms of friendship in terms of family and also in terms of space analysis, producing work that can sit in as a base for me to actually analyze and understand the dynamics of being present in Sudan and the issues that obviously can be broken from personal into general topics. So, my work basically focused on the family, friend, direct relationships side and how these things can be handled with the same mentality that the entire revolution was handled. And I was also interested in the urban space around me and what it tells about the collective emotion of people in terms of people fearing, people feeling fear people being unwilling to invest in a cause that is more general and so on.
David Campbell: Saad, just a small technical point you might just need to move your cursor. The word cancel appears on some of the photos…I believe that doesn’t cancel everything for you. Anyway, that’s okay.
Saad Eltinay: I think it’s sleeping.
David Campbell: There we go. Yep. And when you’re making this new work are you making it for a particular audience? Or are you making it for yourself, are you trying to change, produce a particular narrative or change a representation in a particular way? How do you think about the purpose of your new work?
Saad Eltinay: It definitely touches on the things you just brought up, but mainly the work is of course, obviously it’s mine and the first intended person from it is myself. But this is the thing about photography and maybe arts in general is that you kind of have a tool that can actually inspire, that can actually intrigue and get people thinking about topics. And I think the fact that I perceive my work as very random and to some extent abstract is why I think that yes, we definitely my photography is can be can mean something to anyone in in their own different contexts. At the end, the topics that I’m focusing on now for example, if we talk about family, my own personal, unique experience with family is also a mirror to the other families around in the neighborhood. And the same struggles I handle, I find myself facing, for example with authority, is the same— It’s just a miniature, I would say, of the entire authority crisis. Not just the one facing Sudan, but I think the one that everybody is facing everywhere, all around the world. So I think what I appreciate about my work the most is that it is all the way there between very personal and very specific and subject to my own context. And at the same time abstract enough for people to relate to it, in a way.
I’ll try to work my fingers around and show you photos and Doha’s again. I haven’t been doing that very well. Hello. Am I heard?
David Campbell: Yes, yes. Loud and clear.
Saad Eltinay: Nice one. Yeah, I would take a break now and maybe move to Muhammad.
David Campbell: Okay. Muhammad, over to you. Perhaps you could also tell us a little bit about your background, how you came to be part of the group that was in the exhibition, and then talk us through some of your images.
Muhammad Salah: Thanks a lot, David, for the introduction. And thank you, Saad, for the wonderful comprehensive presentation and also the background of photography and the photographic landscape in Sudan. And thank you everyone who is present with us today. My name is Muhammad Salah. I studied linguistics in Khartoum…and I got into photography in 2013 by chance. I was kind of like looking into a hobby, and I came across the camera. And from there, I kind of like took on an inkling to the medium, somehow. Currently, I’m working as a curator in training at an art space in Berlin. I’m based between Berlin and Khartoum at the moment. And yeah, I’d say my practice now has shifted more into being really concerned with the conceptual framework of photography at large, with the invention of the medium and how we can see images, and yeah, and how kind of like images inform us and so on. As Saad said, we kind of like joined the revolution as citizens and as young people who always dreamt of change. And yeah, we really wanted kind of like to break, sort of like rip the social fabric of the country that we were both born in, into a dictatorship. Bashir took over the country in 1989. And we were both born in the 90s. So Sudan is a very complex case in terms of its history, political history, as well. We were first colonized by the Ottoman Empire, which kind of like shaped the whole narrative of Islam and, you know, political Islamization of the country, and later on, the British came down through the Egyptian and colonized the country. And as we all know, colonial forces used Africa as a political playground in implementing policies such as divide and rule and so on. So, post-independence, the Sudanese forces, or the Sunni civilians who gained and made the independence for the country, didn’t really make any proper reformation of the country—not social, political or economical reformation. So we kind of like inherited the colonial system, but through local individuals, and specifically the army and the military. So for me, the experience was kind of like literally it’s “be or not to be” in a sense of like political resistance and also sort of like resisting the social fabric as I said, and expanding it. In the beginning, we were even leaving our smartphones at home and just protesting until the sit-in—and the sit-in I remember the first day I brought my camera was the 11th of April, the day Bashir was taken off power. So yeah, I would say I photographed in the beginning. So, I think it was rather like a responsibility that I felt that I had to document the revolution. But later on, I was commissioned as well, so I also made profit of that revolution in a sense, you know?
David Campbell: So, Muhammad …
Muhammad Salah: Berlin and the exhibition happened and my fellow photographers. Yeah, sorry, go on there.
David Campbell: I was just gonna say, Saad, perhaps you could end your screenshare and Muhammad, you could put up your images so we could go through those as you’re talking?
Saad Eltinay: Sure. Yes, I just did. So you can go ahead.
David Campbell: Excellent.
Muhammad Salah: Can you see?
David Campbell: Yes.
Muhammad Salah: Okay, great. Yeah, so I basically was commissioned to do some work for a few international magazines, Washington Post, and Financial Times, and so on. So I’d say for me, I almost say it in a toxic, masculine way by saying that I joined the revolution as a boy, and I came out as a man, but I think like manhood is a fluid concept. So, I’d say like, I went to the revolution as a boy, and I came out as mature person, in a sense. Yeah, and I think I have really big issues with photography, and the violence that it has, in its practices as a medium as well. So I’d say the experience with the revolution, kind of, like balanced the power dynamics that I have with the camera. In a sense, I remember these times when I took photographs of the army people in the military, and they were kind of like, you know, saluting me and posing me because they had the camera, you know, because I literally had the power to capture them, you know, in a sense. So, for me it was also you know, kind of like a foundational framework, to challenge myself and also to understand myself better. So, the history of photography in Sudan started with the same way, you know, the British came, and they brought their photographers to emphasize a certain message. And in the 70s, Leni Riefenstahl, the German photographer came to Sudan and kind of like, traveled all the way to the Nuba Mountains and produced her three books, the Nuba of Kau, The Last of the Nuba, and Africa, and later on that image, and these photographs were kind of like, representing Sudan in the west to some extent. So, I kind of like felt some sort of responsibility to respond to these images and to also, you know, kind of like shift my own understanding of what photography means. So, I kind of like went into a journey of self discovery through the camera in a sense, I kind of like reclaiming the medium of studying light in a sense and connecting to my own growing up. So in the 70s, during the governance of Jaafar Numeri , who was also a military person, he was very interested in photography. So, he trained lots of photographers and every ministry in every state has a photographer. These photographers made images and documented every ceremony be it governmental, be it administration, or social. In the beginning of 2000s, late 90s, a French photographer came to Sudan and collected these negatives from the photographer from the Ministry of Culture. So to speak, at the moment, we don’t have any archive that sort of like tells the history of photography in the country. And through also the process of urbanization and political customization, photography has become evilized in a sense and it was called to be haram. So to be practicing art in a sense was kind of like a revolutionary act in the first place— being called, it’s either like to be called an artist is to be called insane you know, insanity, as well is a fluid concept. So I’d say like this is my kind of like, my take on the topic and my approach to photographs and photography.
David Campbell: So it’s interesting that photography arrives in Sudan as part of the colonial enterprise. It’s then, as you say, haram and not permitted by a post-colonial administration, a Sudanese post-colonial administration and you’re taking it up as kind of a weapon against both the colonial memory or lack of it and the contemporary practice. I mean, What does that tell you about photography itself? Because a lot of the critiques are photography is it’s colonial. That’s it. Do you see it as having potential to be anti-colonial? Do you see it as a tool for resistance? How do you conceive of photography itself?
Muhammad Salah: I mean, absolutely. At the end of the day, the military is a colonial power, right? I mean, the formation of military, the concept of self, of militarization is a colonial concept. So, for me to have a camera on confront this body is a revolutionary act in the first place. And I remember Kamau Brathwaite, who was a poet from Barbados, spoke about how he kind of like reclaimed his own practice of writing poetry by not writing the pentatonic, but writing the Calypso, which was African sort of music. So I think I’m kind of like, taking myself through the same process of repairing my own broken imagination, you know, of kind of like understanding or deconstructing what is a good photo. What is a good photograph? I mean, what is a photograph at the end of the day? Nobody can answer that. Anything could be a photograph, right? So, I think like, my process is literally sort of like finding what photography means to me as an individual. But also, I feel like once I started questioning that I delve into many other topics, such as you know, like, so if I can’t really know, what is a photograph, then I mean, what is time, right? And then if I don’t know, what is time, what is space? And I feel like yeah, photography for me became sort of like this spiritual practice which really deconstructs, you know, what we know of the world, because it really informs us. And I think with the existence of these institutions, which still exists in the West, I mean, I’m not going to delve into names, but we know the institutions that really informed our visual literacy of what photography is and what a photograph is. So, I feel like, sort of like a good practice would be to start—in a country like Sudan—it’s kind of like to invent our own, you know, photography, in a sense.
David Campbell: Yeah. What’s your experience been? When you’re commissioned by, say that—you said you were commissioned by the Washington Post, Financial Times, and so on? What’s your experience been with organizations like that? Do you feel that they have a way that they want to see Sudan? Or are they letting you make the vision of Sudan and they accept the vision that you provide?
Muhammad Salah: I think so far, I’ve been so lucky to have photo editors who kind of like gave me the space to do what I want. So, sometimes I can play with archival material, sometimes I just photograph what I want. Sometimes I photograph with expired film sometimes. Yeah, I collected—yeah, like random photos from the street and kind of, like, scan them. So, I had the luxury of, you know, I mean, it’s still, it’s an ongoing process. I wouldn’t say that, you know, I repaired my imagination fully. It’s, I think it’s a lifetime process of, of deconstructing these preconceptions.
David Campbell: And now that you find yourself between Khartoum and Berlin, do you find yourself always in the situation of having to deconstruct those preconceptions? Or do you think…
Muhammad Salah: Definitely. I also, you know, I feel like being in Berlin also gave me kind of like a— really enriched my perspective, that the revolution isn’t, you know, linked—isn’t really tied to political borders, in a sense. You know, there’s always issues somewhere, there’s always inequalities. So, you know, like, I finished the revolution in Sudan, I went to Berlin, Black Lives Matter started. Then, you know, also the strike on Palestine started. I joined the revolution, you know. LGBTQ rights, there’s always some, you know, some inequalities that we need to act upon—climate change, everything. And I feel kind of like, you know, very strengthened in my belief that we’re all kind of like, global citizens in a sense and I feel like it really dismantled the concept of the I because, you know, I didn’t choose to be I, you know, I could have been any. So, yeah, I feel like this is my practice.
David Campbell: And a question for both of you. And one of the audience wanted to ask this. I mean, do you find certain situations, particularly if photography was still being challenged as an acceptable practice or you’re up against the military in certain situations, were you using cell phones, smartphones, to take images, were you using standard professional cameras? Did the choice of equipment make a difference? Did the circumstances help determine how you chose to equipment in those things? Or did you just make your own decisions on that?
Muhammad Salah: [Inaudible…] I’ll respond. At the beginning I used my phone and later on I used the camera.
David Campbell: And what led you to use the phone and then change to the camera? What was, kind of what was the thinking behind that?
Muhammad Salah: I think documentation genuinely because yeah, I mean, me and Saad like, at some point, we felt like we’re not gonna make it out of that space. So, yeah, I feel like the responsibility kind of like passed our own capacities as well.
David Campbell: And Saad, what sort of choices did you make about the equipment that you used? Did it depend on the circumstances? Or were there other considerations?
Saad Eltinay: Yeah, I mean, obviously, at the very beginning of the movement, it was a pretty violent one. And I was definitely mostly concerned with, to begin with, my own safety, and what sort of equipment that I would have with me that could actually transfer, like, make me a target maybe. So obviously, at the very beginning, I was at some point would have been, even if it wasn’t for the usage of the mobile phone for communicating with the people around me inside, maybe I wouldn’t even taken that. But this is, to some extent, also related to the way I take photographs. For me it is— I’m not trying to provide, I’m not trying to provide or to play the role of providing news, or providing something that is solely informative, like a protest is happening there. Take a video with a photograph because this event in front of me is very important that people need to see it. It was obviously a mass, masses of people. And if it was not for me, anybody could have been taking his phone to document a very specific event that’s going on. But this is not the way I see things. I’m, when I’m taking photos I’m more like, more like doing yoga, more than, doing something that’s more spiritual, and I am more into providing random insights. So, yes, I did have my phone with me. And I did document random events, protests going places, violence happening here and there. And I think, now that I’m thinking about it, I think that whatever material that I created for different reasons is there for a reason, and could be maybe in the future used or incorporated in ways that would make sense.
David Campbell: Tell us a little bit more about kind of bringing the exhibition together and the seven photographers and the one video maker. Saad, I think earlier on you said that, you know, part of the exhibition was really to offer a different perspective on Sudan and the revolution. That was a conscious thing to try and change the representation of the country and curate an exhibition that would do that?
Saad Eltinay: I would say that the exhibition did not necessarily— of course, it tried to bring an alternative perspective, that is a perspective of the Sudanese people. But I will say that in the core of the exhibition, it was more like just bringing something out of there, out of Sudan that is a blind spot maybe for the specific audience of photography, and so on. But I like, I don’t feel like that necessarily this— the exhibition was an alternative perspective, truly an alternative perspective, that is not mainstream. Yeah. And I feel like yes, of course, obviously. Even if it’s, it is just an experience, it is very enriching. But it does not really fit into the best way to actually represent the revolution and represent the Sudanese photographers.
David Campbell: Muhammad, what are you, what are your thoughts on that?
Muhammad Salah: I 100% agree with Saad fully, and yeah, I think the exhibition was a good start, but it really didn’t, you know, do fair to the revolution or to the country as well. And yeah, I feel like so many elements and context of the revolution is kind of like missed, especially such as like sound and spoken word and…And yeah and again what we spoke about of kind of like, yeah, reclaiming the process. And this space as well. And I feel like to start with such thing, the first exhibition should be in Sudan in Khartoum, and hopefully in the space where the sit-in was held.
David Campbell: Yeah. I mean, maybe we can think about some of those issues. We talked about this a little earlier, but if I share this image, this is the World Press Photo of the Year 2020 and it’s taken by a Japanese photographer, Yasuyoshi Chiba, working for Agence France Presse. And it was from the revolution, was from Khartoum, and the man in the middle is singing a poem, I think. I mean, tell us both of you, what your reaction is to this image itself. And then what’s your reaction to the fact that this image was selected as something to win a major award and therefore be sort of representative of the revolution? Saad, Muhammad, do you want to go first?
Saad Eltinay: Yep, I would go. Actually, I haven’t thought about—I didn’t know about the image and it winning a prize and so on, and the fact that obviously at the time, we saw around many photographers coming through commissions from all around the world. But, I think my biggest take on this would be the fact that mainstream media in general tries to sell the revolution in a sense, and to take such photographs and to mark that this revolution has actually succeeded and to communicate this to the public. And also, I would also not really be like, the fact that a photograph can actually win a prize or win something over other photographs, I, that doesn’t really make that much sense to me because I think each photograph, each set of pixels aligned in an array does have a lot to say in this or that specific context. But my biggest problem that is about this topic and with photography in general, is that it is there such photos even the exhibition in Arles—it’s good that you brought up this topic— is kind of like a way that presents the revolution as that yes, it has ended and they have succeeded. And now we should feel either sorry or we should feel either like they celebrate this heroic action. But in essence, the revolution is basically everywhere. And the revolution is ongoing. It’s a process. And I would think again, when I would do something like this, to kind of give myself agency to mark that this has ended, this has succeeded, congratulations, or I’m sorry, or whatever source of reaction that I could get. Would you like to add something, Muhammad?
Muhammad Salah: …I also agree with Saad in with what he said. And I feel like it’s a good image, you know, it’s a good image, well, then it’s, it’s reduced to, you know, become a good or a beautiful photograph or a prize-winning photograph. And, I mean, I wonder what a beautiful photograph is and there is a saying that it’s better to photograph your backyard better than someone else. And I feel like for me to kind of like look at the image, visually, it might be pleasing, but I mean, the context behind it matters way more to me than, you know, what appears to be individuals. So yeah, I also don’t agree with the format of prizes and winning and competition in general. For us, the revolution was kind of like a collective act. And so also photographing is a collective act because, I mean, when we look at the subjects, you sort of like, again, captured them and represented them. I mean, they are people, right? Each of these people has a life. And each of them, you know, is in constant motion. So when you kind of like take them out of context, you know, the act of commodifying, turning the people into things and kind of like selling them, it really goes against, it’s kind of like, you know, the whole concept of revolution in the sense. So I guess, that’s all I have to say.
David Campbell: We’ve got a couple of questions coming in from the audience, I’ll pose those to you. One is what advice do you have for photographers who are also trying to decolonize their imagination or perception of image and photography? What do you recommend when creating the images so as not to create colonial images? Just a small topic for you.
Muhammad Salah: I think, I feel like it’s the whole, I am struggling a lot with the whole concept of, you know, de-colonialism, or, you know, because I think like, de-colonialism really deals with white guilt in a sense, and it doesn’t really concern me as a person who has been colonized. Because it also really makes me stuck in the past, you know. It, colonialism was in the past. So I’d rather kind of like focus on the future, in a sense, and, you know, do the act of kind of, like repairing. So I would say, it’s just like literally finding your own self, you know, so if you, if you really listen to yourself, I mean, there is a, the whole perspective is around you. Why do you choose a certain frame? There is definitely something that made you choose a certain frame. So I think like, also your own photographs, which informs a lot about yourself and your perspective and how you experience the world in a sense. So, I’d say study your photographs, spend lots of time with the work, the work speaks back to you definitely. Keep an open heart and open mind and also reading, there is so much text on photography and on light, and representation as well. So, to understand the violence of the medium, so I’d say reading and yeah, looking at the work a lot.
David Campbell: Saad, do you have some thoughts on that?
Saad Eltinay: Not so much to add. Muhammad said a lot. But I think what helped me personally with this topic is kind of keeping my practice actually around the things that I’m actually invested in, in like my daily life, and having photography as a language, as a tool attached to the way I am handling my issues. And I think in this sense, it will always be a supportive tool to help you do what actually, what you are actually doing. But I think the act of externalizing it or separating it or taking photos of stuff or exploring stuff, the taking, moving the photography practice to something that is distant from what you are actually doing, what you’re actually about, can kind of mislead you and kind of immediately get you in a position where you’re doing something else, someone else’s way.
David Campbell: So tell us a little bit about how you see—it’s one of those general questions that can be hard to generalize in response— but, how do you see the state of photography in Sudan at the moment and going forward? I mean, has it been energized by the way it participated in and covered the revolution? What sort of challenges do you face going forward, day to day?
Saad Eltinay: I mean, obviously, after the uprising it has, it was a big shift in the way the public handled the camera and the public perceived the camera, in the sense that you are more comfortable carrying this device around and people are more comfortable having it around and being exposed to it, in a sense. And I think that is great because it’s encouraging lots of movement, lots of people to explore what they can what—like where photographic practice can lead them and so on. But what is, what I find really troubling is the educational side of photography. I believe that the 30 years dictatorship experience and maybe even before the entire political, social instability that has been going on, created a feud between people who are now in a highly technological world, basically international village, trying to understand the way photography can be, is supposed to be made or consumed or so on. And there is this lack of educational institutions, for example. And I would say as well, bodies of works are examples of work that is contemporary and has been made recently, and can be some sort of blueprint or a learned, learning material for younger photographers who are upcoming. So, I see this educational gap as as a challenge. I mean, obviously, it is compatible, because we, the internet is here, and you can look around to learn these things from everywhere else, but into the news context in like, the sequence of events that Sudan came through, I think this gap is creating confusion for people who are trying to trying to get into photography and so on.
David Campbell: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by creating confusion? You mean because they don’t see it as a viable practice? Or something that can sustain them? Or?
Saad Eltinay: I mean, it’s a I think it’s a big topic to talk about because when it comes, I honestly, I don’t really see photography for myself as an industry. And this is not the reality in the street, because photography is mostly seen as an industry now where money is a big factor. While I deal with photography as a language, as a tool, as a human tool to navigate my environment. And it is, that’s not, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make money out of it. But what are my priorities here exactly? Is it to make money and therefore go into the photographic business, as a business? Or am I using this tool to improve? To help myself and help the people around me? I’ll help better my own environment. The confusion, in a sense, is the confusion of when you get into the photography, when you are into it, you are obviously educated with what’s around you, your visual literacy is going to be composed of what you see around you that is getting appreciation from what is around you. And the lack of authentic genuine bodies of work that are invested in photography as a science creates this confusion. I hope this explains what I said earlier.
David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, in the end, like every one, you have to pay the bills, even if you don’t go into the practice for money as the primary purpose. I mean, is it possible to have a sustainable practice in Sudan at the moment as a photographer? It’s a challenge everywhere but what’s this, what insights can you give us into the situation in Sudan at the moment?
Saad Eltinay: I mean, yes. People are managing to do so, but of course, it’s a, it’s very limited, their options and their skies are kind of limited. But yes, people are, some people are managing to, to make most of their living from their photographic practice and so on. But this cannot be seen out of the entire economic situation in Sudan, where many, many people are dropping below poverty lines and struggling to make their own living. And of course, the photographers are part of these people who are also struggling. And from my own perspective, to be honest, the way I am seeing it is that yes, I am seeing lots, many photographers joining the industry of advertising and so on, to be able to make their own living. Again, also, from my own perspective, I’m not super happy with that because I feel like it is giving the financial value back to the people, but there is so much more to photography that you can actually gain on a personal level and you get distracted looking on that side, but not on the other side.
David Campbell: Yeah. Muhammad, what are your thoughts about the big question of the state of photography in Sudan at the moment, and whether it’s, you’re able to have a viable practice that can sustain the work that you want to do.
Muhammad Salah: I think my position at the moment kind of like changed really, yeah, greatly in the sense because when I started photography, I was lucky enough to take part in different workshops and master classes. So kind of like, you know, my foundation sort of like led me into different spaces. So, I would say to some extent, I’m not really—I’m engaged with the photographic kind of like landscape in Sudan, but not very much, but rather kind of like, you know, focusing on building something, you know, focusing on understanding how the public kind of like receives the camera, how they perceive photographs. And I think it’s, it’s really interesting as well, because we spoke about the colonial enterprise. So, I started, like noticing, even when I traveled to my hometown, and tried to take photos of my uncles, and they’d be like, boy, you’re trying to kill me, you know, as having a photographic document, after the person passes away. So I got really interested in the relationship between death and photography, you know, and as Roland Barthes said, you know, photographers are agents of death. So, I’d say, we’re kind of like trying to get more photographers to kind of, like, focus on this side of photography, that doesn’t really, you know, isn’t concerned with consumerism, and, you know, new imperialism in the sense of, like, production and, and so on, but rather, yeah, sort of, like thinking about the foundations of life, of photographs, of playing with light.
David Campbell: Do both of you see your primary photographic practice always being in Sudan? Or do you have an interest in documenting other places, and perhaps in documenting colonial power structures in other places? Or revolutions in other places, or whatever? What—how does location fit into how you think about photography and that sense? Is it primarily for your own location? Or are you interested in documenting other places, too?
Muhammad Salah: I’d say for me, it’s—yeah, I mean, we spoke earlier about political borders in the sense that, you know, it’s very recent. And I wouldn’t say, I’m limiting myself to, you know, a specific location in a sense, and I also really take, you know, life as a journey, you know, it’s a rhythm. So I don’t know where I’m going to be tomorrow, in a sense, you know. I might be here, you know, with you on this, I mean, lifetime on this dimension, I might be up somewhere else, you know, so I’m really, really, really flexible with that, and I can’t really tell, you know, how my practice will shift right now, it’s kind of like shifting more into, like, learning and kind of, like, creating also the public archive of the country, in a sense, so I’m collecting lots of documents and photographs and working with that. I’m also photographing, you know, the space in a sense, you know, beyond what, you know, beyond what we know, as Sudan as well. Because I honestly feel like you know, space stays still and time as well. And we kind of like move through them. So I’m just taking my own pace and enjoying my own process, even though it’s really painful sometimes. And yeah, I’m not limiting myself to a location or a time.
David Campbell: How about you, Saad?
Saad Eltinay: Um, yeah, I mean, it is to me the, it is all about the way I see photography, so I see it as this little friend that is always beside me to take care of my own emotions in whatever space I navigate. So, as long as this revolution is internalized then it is inside of me, and I’m taking it wherever I go. And I’m using this tool to either understand it or inspire people about it, or whatever I am actually doing. So photography is going with me wherever I am, and that the geographical place where I’m in is the change of circumstances. But at the end, I’m revolting.
David Campbell: So we’re coming towards the end of our time. So just a reminder to people in the audience if you want to drop a final question in now’s the time to do it. I’ve been drawing on some of those, the questions I’ve been posing to Saad and Muhammad, which is great. But Saad, Muhammad, I’d like you to reflect another one of those really big general questions. I mean, as we’ve been talking, I mean, photography is not a single thing—we talked about it—and it’s not a single industry, etc. It’s a very complex phenomenon itself. But what would be the thing that you would most like to change about photography in Sudan, and generally, if you had total and absolute power, what would be the thing that you would most like to change or to reform?
Muhammad Salah: I think, I’ll take it to a very basic level, in a sense. I do truly believe that children should be taught visual literacy and kind of like, you know, understanding semiotics and images as well since very young age. So when they grow up, you know, their understanding of the world—because images inform, they should be aware of what they consume and what they, you know, see as images. And I think this is what I would really, you know, kind of like love to change, to reclaim. To stand and sort of, like, inform young children about visual literacy. And, yeah, the consumption of photographs as well.
David Campbell: Yeah. Saad?
Saad Eltinay: Be honest, not so much to add. But the thing I hate the most is that the practice is taken into this bubble of consumption and production. So things are produced to be consumed for this or that reason. And it frustrates me to be honest that I am able to feel this value of using photography as a language or as a tool and the impact I can actually feel, and I would love to share this with everyone. I would love to see everyone makes sense of their own photos. And I think I tell this to friends a lot. I tell them that you’re a photographer. I’m not a photographer. I shouldn’t take photos. No, take photos. Do it as something that you would do for yourself. Are you eating? Are you cleaning your table after you’re eating? Are you washing your hair? It’s just a tool. And it is not defined by which agency is going to award you which prize and that makes you great and that makes this product you’re making in your own room, something valuable. Who—Take agency over who defines the value of the photograph you make in your own bathroom.
David Campbell: And I think that’s probably a good way to conclude. That’s actually a really important message. So Saad and Muhammad, thank you so much for your time and giving us insights. And we hope this conversation will continue later too. And that we can do some other things together. We have been recording this as we do with our events, so we post these online a few days after the event itself. And if you’re watching this online now, you’re benefiting from that because you will see this in the recording. But that means these events can have an afterlife beyond the live moment too. But once again, Saad, Muhammad, thank you very much. And thank you for the conversation.
Saad Eltinay: Thanks, David, for the invitation and thanks, Muhammad, for the insight.
David Campbell: Yeah, and also thanks to Duha, who could not be here, but it was also really important in getting the event together, and we look forward to doing something else soon.
Muhammad Salah: Thanks, everyone for watching. Thanks, David. Thanks, Saad. Thanks, Duha.
David Campbell: All right. Bye bye.