KT: How did you get into photography? When/what was your first encounter with photography?
MM: I started photography in an Art-high-school. We had a small dark-room, I think it was an optional class. I remember I loved being in outside and among people and then in the darkroom looking back at what I did. I took photo’s before with my fathers camera but developing made me fall in love with photography.
KT: Your work is a distinguished mix of empathy and hard-hitting photos, ranging from searching the female fighters after the outbreak of the Arab spring to identity, refugee crisis and migration issues. On what basis do you select your subjects? How do you decide to get so close to your subject?
MM: In many ways, my subjects are always connected to my own experiences, things I can personally relate to. Migration, adjusting to new identities, as well as stories that come forth from revolution and uprisings, have all been part of my own life. I don’t think it’s possible to tell photographic stories without getting close to your subject. Being close unlocks encounters that are unexpected, hence going beyond what one can imagine without being there. I like discovering new insights and learning from my subjects, they have helped me grow in many ways.
KT: Your powerful book ‘Lipstick and Gas masks’ is an artistic approach to the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia from the position of female activists. What do you like about the medium of photography in book format? Being a rationalist photojournalist yourself, why do you think that the photobook world is mostly dominated by art based photography?
MM: I am not sure about art books dominating but I do think that the book as a medium is more interesting when you have the freedom of form. Meaning free from the documentary photography guidelines of photo + text. When I was doing documentary stories, the magazine was a better medium to tell the stories that needed to be heard now, by a wide audience, the work I did in Lipstick and Gas Masks was more reflective, a series that can be viewed at any time without urgency.
KT: In one of your interviews, you quoted – “There are often stereotypes at work with regard to women in the Arab world, including their role in the recent revolutions. In the West, Arab women are either portrayed as submissive and hidden or as westernised and thus ‘rebellious’, because that is considered sexy by the media.” How do you wish to counter this stereotype? What are the difficulties you faced while digging deeper on the visual representation of Arab women and their political struggle?
MM: Countering this stereotypes is a very big challenge, something I am continuously working on and become aware of. There are certain symbols that keep being used to make a point, for example, the representation of a Muslim woman is always a woman that is at least veiled, wears a burka, or some kind of head covering. Meanwhile, there are many Muslim women who chose not to wear any head covering. At the time of the uprisings, the media seemed surprised and excited that women participated, while this was nothing new.
KT: In one of our interviews with an acclaimed photojournalist, Kaveh Kazemi from Iran, when asked about the outburst of images on social media, quoted, “These cameras as far as I am concerned to have ruined the real joy of photography and have also destroyed the market for real photographers. We lived and worked in golden days of photojournalism. What we see today is a market flooded with mass production and citizen journalist photos. Majority of which has no real photographic value.” What are your views on it considering social media played a vital role during the Arab spring?
MM: I think when we talk about images that come of events like uprisings or other “spontaneous” issues photography becomes a tool, a record, prove that certain things took place. I do not think that citizen journalism is capable of taking over the role of professional photography but it has become another tool to record reality in an everyday kind of way. I am convinced that the Arab spring would have happened without social media, social media contributed to the distribution to the outside world. It also made certain vocal people stand out more.
KT: With your sincere photojournalistic approach with strong social commitment, what do you do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?
MM: I think in the end, I hope to contribute to the understanding or empathy that we often lack. By being able to understand my own world through the eyes and stories of others, perhaps some of it will spread out to others as well.