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A huge, colorful mural of the men Egyptian youth activists know as “felool”—regime remnants—adorns a building’s wall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in downtown Cairo. Branching off of the now iconic Tahrir Square, Mohamed Mahmoud leads to the dreaded Interior Ministry. A number of bloody clashes between protesters and Egyptian security forces have taken place here in the year and a half since a popular uprising ended the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and launched the Arab world’s largest country into a tumultuous transition. To Egypt’s budding generation of revolutionary street artists, these walls are prime real estate for political expression.

Omar Fathi, the 26-year-old art student, who painted the mural with a set of cheap plastic paints last February, conceived of the idea after a deadly soccer riot had led to another series of clashes between police and protesters, leaving more than 80 people dead. Like much of his art, it was an image borne of frustration. Many of the youth protesters had blamed the ruling military and the police forces under its command for the deadly soccer riot and the ensuing violence as anger spread to the streets. To Fathi, it was further evidence of the state’s failure to govern and protect—something he had grown accustomed to under Mubarak, but that he and other youth activists and members of his “Revolution Artists’ Union” say has only continued under military rule. “Basically it represents the situation we are in, nothing has changed since the fall of the regime,” he says. “It’s the same leadership—the face has changed, but the rest is still the same.”

The mural depicts a split face—on the right, the scowling visage of ousted President Hosni Mubarak; and on the left, the man he once appointed to run his military, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. As the head of Egypt’s powerful military council, Tantawi has been Egypt’s de facto ruler since Mubarak stepped down in February 2011.

Shortly after Fathi painted his masterpiece, someone—he suspects from the military —painted over it. To spite them, he painted it again. When it was painted over a second time, he re-painted it a third, this time adding the faces of two presidential candidates, Amr Moussa, and Ahmed Shafik. Both men had served in Mubarak’s regime. And the run-off to the presidential election this month pit Ahmed Shafik against a candidate from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, in a tense face-off that some activists characterized as a battle between the old order and the new; the military regime versus the revolution. In the end, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy won. But Tantawi and his military council have ensured that Morsy only wields certain presidential powers; the military controls the rest. And Fathi says he’ll keep painting. “Our contribution [to the revolution] is to portray the demands of the revolution through art. This has been our role since the eighteen days [of the uprising],” he says. “We serve the revolution through art, and we will keep illustrating our demands.”

Sharaf al-Hourani is a news assistant for TIME Magazine in Cairo
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I’ve admired Missy Prince’s work since I first discovered her on Flickr a few years. There’s a certain unapologetic romanticism to her photographs of the Oregon landscape that I find refreshing. It was great to get a chance to learn more about what motives her to photograph.

From looking at your photographs I think it’s probably safe to say that you spend a good deal of time outdoors. Do you go out to specifically make photographs or are you just making them while out doing other things?

Both. When I started taking photos a few years ago I just took them wherever I happened to be. But after a while the desire to see more in my images led me to actively seek out things to photograph. One of the motivators to photograph outdoors was the handful of decent images I had from various backpacking and road trips. I wanted more like them. I started to go out a lot on my own, and it very quickly became a habit.

Do you think photographers are deliberately focusing on nature as a result of anxiety over environmental concerns and global warming? Over the years I’ve seen numerous projects that focus on how humans are impacting nature. Your work doesn’t really seem to focus on that, instead it’s more of a perhaps nostalgic or romantic view of nature. I guess the question would be, are you deliberately trying to say something by focusing so much of your work on nature?

I think nature is a common focus among photographers because it is an inherently worthy subject. The man vs. nature theme is certainly prevalent. I wouldn’t say that all nature photography is rooted in environmental concerns, though I’m sure most people who photograph nature have an interest in its conservation. I focus so much of my work on nature because it’s a great excuse to go for long drives. I’m not trying to say much more than “hey look at this.” There is no editorial message. I want to convey a sense of place, and maybe suggest something unknowable beyond the obvious content of the image. I like the thought that there are elements out there that I can never know and which have no regard for me. Perhaps that’s romantic in the classic sense, but it also seems pretty realistic. No matter how much of a beating we give nature it will persist, with or without us.

The film vs. digital debate isn’t really interesting. However, your aesthetic seems to be really rooted in film. How does shooting film affect your process? Do you develop your rolls right away or let them sit for awhile?

The suspense and risk that are involved in using film make the process more exciting to me. I like not knowing how a photo is going to turn out. The difference between what you see and what you get is a big part of the thrill, and waiting for the results makes that difference more clear. I also consider shots more carefully with film. I try to take only one and move on. It’s psychologically economical. No kidding yourself about the potential of a subject and no having to choose which image is better later. Either you nail it or you don’t. Another great thing about shooting film is making prints in the darkroom. I won’t go into the film vs. digital debate other than to say there is no comparison in the print department.

Suspense is not a factor once I get home with a finished roll. I get it developed as soon as humanly possible.

You’re pretty active on Flickr. How much photography do you look at and study? Have you studied the history of the medium? Who are some of your influences?

I didn’t really look at other photography or know anything about its history when I first got into taking photos. At some point a few years ago I started devouring photobooks, blogs, and such. I haven’t studied the medium’s history in any formal manner but I think I have a fair grasp of it. My intake is haphazard, I go through phases of not looking.

Many of my influences are film makers. David Lynch’s take on The Pacific Northwest in Twin Peaks occupies some prime real estate in my brain. The photography of Tarkovsky and Wim Wenders have stayed with me over time. Road movies and westerns. Two Lane Blacktop, The Passenger, The Hired Hand. As far as photographers go I have to name Eggleston for many reasons. His were the first photobooks I ever saw and they had a big impact. The matter-of-fact quality of his images made the practice of photography seem very accessible and exciting. That many of them were made in The South boosted their appeal. When I found his work I had been living in Oregon for many years and was just beginning to appreciate having grown up in Mississippi. His photos contain familiarities that have deepened my affection for the place. As ubiquitous as they are, I never tire of looking at them. Sternfeld’s Oxbow Archive has been on my mind a lot. Friends influence me. To name a couple, I always learn from the work of Allie Mount and Anna Shelton.

Flickr is a great place to share work and get feedback. I like the constant activity and informality. I am much more compelled to post images there than to create a relatively static website. There is a strong sense of the active pursuit of images, which I find inspiring.

Yeah, I find it interesting that you don’t have a static portfolio website. I like the idea of “a strong sense of the active pursuit of images.” Do you ever try to organize your work into projects? Or make edits where sequencing adds context to the work? I think there’s something to the ‘streaming’ idea of consuming images online that we haven’t fully figured out yet. It’s like we’re subconsciously aware but haven’t really figured out the best way to go about it.

I organize work into projects after the fact. I don’t want to limit myself to an idea or censor my looking. Photography is a means of exploration and I want to be surprised by what I find. What the world hands me is usually better than anything I could imagine. Themes make themselves apparent later, narratives emerge from choices made while roaming. That’s the fun of editing. When images are combined you see something in the work you didn’t see before. It’s an open-ended game of revelation that never gets old. I spend more time than I care to mention arranging and rearranging photos.

I’m happy you mentioned editing because it’s one of those parts of photography that many photographers fear. When did you first realize how important it was to the process? And what tips would you give people who might find it challenging or avoid it all together?

I’ve always enjoyed making groups of images and moving them around. It’s like working on a puzzle. I think I realized its value when I started sharing my work with others. Presentation requires you to impose some kind of order, which is pretty much a discretionary process. I think it’s important to be able to look at your own work honestly and identify what is good and what is not so good about it. It’s easier to organize solid material into a coherent edit. If each photo can stand on its own the burden is not so great. I think looking at your photos in various contexts also helps you see them in a fresh way and get a handle on your own sensibility. I’m not sure what to suggest in the way of tips for reluctant editors. It depends on the source of anxiety. I guess my general advice would be to satisfy your own eye. Don’t pander. If you are happy with what you put out there, you are more likely to remain so as it takes on its own life in the hands of others.

You’ve made some darkroom prints and put them up for sale. How did that go? Are you planning on doing that regularly? Or do you have plans for a book in the future?

It went better than I expected. I sold around fifty, most of them in the first month and most of them through Flickr. I’d like to do it regularly. The site is still up and I’ve made some new prints and will surely make more. But I’m not much of a promoter, so we’ll see how that goes. The important thing is I am getting in the habit of making my own prints. I have no definite plan for a book but the ideas are always spinning. I made a Blurb book a couple of years ago, which was a good exercise in follow-through. It’s hard to commit to a final edit. So I guess the answer is yes, I have many plans for a book in the future.

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Venice

LPV Magazine Issue 2: Venice

Featuring work from Katie Shapiro, Mark King and Missy Prince, plus a group show with work from 15 photographers from around the globe. Published in print three times yearly, you can purchase a subscription which gets you all three issues plus exclusive conten…

Find out more on MagCloud

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