Half-Korean, half-Egyptian, born in Queens, New York now based in Alexandria, Egypt, Abdel Rahman Gabr is a filmmaker and photographer. He captures inspiring, engaging stories, working across a broad range of media and generating original creative executions for TV ads, photography and advertising. Founder of Qube Productions & Koree Films, he grew up in a fascinating cultural melting pot, consisting primarily of Korean and Egyptian families, so he was certainly no stranger to the joys and challenges of cultural diversity. After 13 years in the U.S. his family moved to Alexandria, Egypt, another city noted for accommodating diverse nationalities and religions but with a distinctly Mediterranean flavor. After finishing high school, he went on to study computer engineering but never went into the field.
Abdel Rahman Gabr documents the people and places of Egypt with a profound lens, purveying a certain magic in every shot, inspiring wide-eyed patriotism for this chaotic, ancient civilization. He captures the spirit of specific Egyptian cities through an incredibly cinematic visual rhetoric. His portfolio acts as a beautiful time capsule that blends historic culture with modern day living, almost becoming the ultimate tourism propaganda for Egypt.
You’ve lived in very diverse cities and neighborhoods, including Queens in NY and Alexandria in Egypt. How do these cities inspire your work and photography?
I think in my case having a multicultural background with both the Far East, the West and the Middle East in your upbringing makes you look at the world from a different angle, accepting everything and everyone which is different. Also growing up somewhere and just hearing stories about your homeland is a totally different experience than being born there. Once you arrive you see things totally differently to people who live there and take day-to-day life for granted. I think this is what set me apart from other Egyptians I know as it made me more perceptive to how special Egypt is and how unique its people are and same thing goes for my photography.
You mention the influence of films on your work, hence the cinematic feel your images have. What type of process do you follow when creating these images?
There is not much a process, as trying to get everything right from a photographic perspective, such as lighting the subject perfectly, All these photos come directly from the camera, with only very slight adjustments in post production, the same thing goes for my videos.
Can you tell us more about the Leica S, its performance and versatility when compared to other similar camera bodies.
As you can see I am traveling to many remote locations around Egypt, where there will be tough roads, hiking and taking pictures in the middle of the desert. So the Leica S is a perfect medium format camera for my travels. It’s robust, compact, and weather sealed, you can move anywhere with it easily and, of course, not to mention its astonishing image quality.
Why did you select the Leica S for your work?
It’s a camera that you can really trust, and that’s something really important as a photographer or a filmmaker. Looking through my pictures after shooting, seeing the details of the skin of the subjects on my screen is just beautiful. The Leica S also has amazing color tones and clarity, which makes you more excited to go out there and take photos. I could not ask for more.
What characteristics do you find most compelling in the Egyptian culture you document? For instance, the image of the man holding the alligator – is this common?
The common characteristics I found in the people, who I have photographed, are that they have indomitable strength, intensity, and kindness. They go through really tough situations just to earn a decent living, and when you meet them, they are the most generous people you can meet.
The interesting part to Egypt is its diversity of tribes and cultures. The picture with the alligator is actually astonishingly natural. All I told him was to hold the alligator for the camera and I was amazed at how he just stood up naturally posing for the camera in such a manner as if he has been doing it his entire life. I believe anyone who sees this image can sense the companionship between the man and his dangerous pet.
What type of lighting did you use when shooting these images?
My equipment is pretty outdated. Well, I am using a Profoto Pro B3 1200 AirS power pack and that’s the main and only light source with a ProHead plus. And I’m using 2 modifiers: the Elinchrom 39” Rotalux Deep Octabank and the Rotalux Softbox Elinchrom Octabank 75”.
What do you want to convey through these images for viewers to understand or learn about Egypt?
I want to cover all the traditions of Egypt. All I want to accomplish with this work is to show people the Egypt I love and its amazing people, so they will fall in love with it the way I have. Having something online that reaches millions of people is the main idea of the project; however, I still believe in the authenticity of holding a book in your hand and owning a piece of history.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like our readers to know? Are there any other projects you might be working on?
Well this photo series is, in fact, a book project. Hopefully it will get published by early next year, and if it goes well I will be going to do a “Faces of Morocco” and a “Faces of Lebanon” series. I also just got back from Norway using the SL mirrorless camera and I got some amazing images out of it. I am planning to go back again in the summer.
To see more of Abdel Rahman’s work, please visit his official website.