HRH Princess Reem Al Faisal Al Saud – Reem Al Faisal
I am a Fine art and social- documentary photographer, political journalist, gallery owner in Dubai, and I will be opening soon a new art&photography Museum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where I was born. I have always enjoyed photography, and with my parents support I left my studies in Arabic literature at King Abdul Aziz University Jeddah, to attend Spéos a photography school in Paris.
I am the granddaughter of the late King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, he also travelled to many places around the world to take pictures from a “stranger’s perspective”. Photography was a hobby and I was always taking pictures but never looked at the issue as something important in my life. Now, it is the most important thing in my life. My attachment to the camera goes back to 1992, when I held my first exhibition in Paris about Jeddah, the Saudi city in which I was raised. In a touring exhibition between 1996 and 1999, this series of black and white photographs of the Port of Jeddah was exhibited in France, China, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Unique as it was, this set of photographs set me apart from my generation of female photographers. Looking deeply into the architectural forms of the port and the people it challenged many people’s perspective of Saudi Arabia and female artists.
I was commissioned by my aunt, Princess Haifa, wife of then Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, to take pictures of Saudi Arabia for a calendar. I went to Jeddah Port and became not only the first photographer to enter the port, but also the first woman. The project was so successful that the calendar became a collector’s item.
I took a courageous decision to take pictures of Haj — the annual ritual by Muslims from around the world in Makkah. It took me three years to complete the project; before, after and during Haj seasons during the years 1999 and 2003. Haj is a world of its own. Even if you have some 100,000 photographers, who could take 1,000 years to take pictures, each one of them would come out with something different. Previous pictures of Haj were more limited and traditional. I tried to show the artistic side of Haj, and let it speak for itself as a human motion and not just an Islamic one.
These photographs of Haj are the platform to what I hold most dear, and it was during Haj pebbles were thrown at me by some people at a time pilgrims were heading from Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah and who actually told me that photography is haram (sinful). Thank God they were small stones, I have faced people who cursed me and I have faced people who wanted to hit me.
I have been taking pictures in Saudi Arabia for nearly 10 years so I know how to take care of myself. I always have an escort, who would at least block people and give me a chance to run away.
I have kept my palette to black and white as I feel it is the highest level of photography, and it gives you depth and symbolism that don’t exist with colour pictures. Also, I keep reminding people, it is not black and white. It is different degrees of grey. It has a deeper philosophy which is that life itself has degrees of grey.
I like to define myself as a Muslim artist, sprung from my native Saudi culture and history. In my art I am seeking to show signs of the Divine in nature and in Man. For me, light is one of the many manifestations of God. Which He casts in our path through life to remind us of His constant presence in ourselves and in every place. Every photograph is a pattern of light and shade. For me, my photography is a way to praise God’s glory in the universe.
I reconcile my identity and traditions with modernity in a new vision. In our modern culture, we have been trained to focus upon the physical we see through our mind, will and emotions, but there’s a spiritual dimension which is expressed through beauty and creativity and this is what I try to achieve myself and to show through my work I’m not a planned-career kind of person, I’m simply an art lover in general and photography in particular.