Greetings. Overseas branch here, with a short(for me) post on the joys of photography in an ultra-conservative society. I brought the camera with me to Saudi Arabia, but knowing that the opportunities are going to be Spartan to use it. I will have some photography, mainly videography, at work to do and we are going to buy a camera and tripod for that. You do not see these things on open display and I mainly carry a compact on my belt, rather than the body and lenses though a couple of days ago I took it to take some departmental photographs. Not very exciting ones, but hey take what opportunities you can.
The list of things off the menu is long. There are obvious ones like Police and Security buildings, (which doesn’t help as myapartment overlooks the Jeddah Police depot which is huge and takes up most of the foreground from the 9th floor window) not so obvious ones such as pretty much all street photography, especially if that includes members of the above. Property in general appears a bit of a grey area, but people without their consent, doubly so for women and children, is generally considered a rights violation. There are hints of new laws to curb the growing use of mobile phones being used to film things on the street because they find their way on to social media and not in a good way. Camera phones were temporarily banned in 2004 because of the fear that men would take pictures of women and post them to the internet. Surely not?
- Sunset, Jeddah. Sony Alpha 65 SLT, Sigma 10-20mm lens, F7.1 1/60th ISO 100
Aside from the police there are the members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice who are street level arbiters of public behaviour and its compliance to the interpretation of Islam whose powers extend to shops, restaurants and hotels and even private homes in certain cases. They could formerly seize and search a camera for unIslamic images, and as the presumption in the law appears to be in their favour, they probably still could. I for one don’t want to put it to the test. They are not noted for their sense of humour. Jeddah, where I am based is relatively liberal but all of the above apply all of the time. Makkah, where I work (and that bingo joke you thought so original really isn’t, hence the change in spelling, which isn’t mine), actually outside the city as non-Muslims are not allowed in it (hence we have to take the bypass in the morning to get to work, though local traffic is reported to be very dense and it is probably just as quick) is more conservative. Ryadh, the capital, is reported very conservative. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is very tolerant ( I was there a couple of weekends ago), even though the local laws and traditions are similar.
But things are not nearly so simple. You will always get a passing streetlawyer shout “No photo”, but, generally, as long as the above are considered, hereabouts you are generally OK. This is relative. Last night I was the subject of debate surrounding my shorts and entry to a shopping mall. Normally not a problem as long as the knees (considered locally as part of the genitalia) are covered, which mine were. Yes gentlemen it does mean you can now legitimately boast, which is what you were thinking. I must have been in half a dozen shopping malls for various reasons as well as the local souks (markets) and never once previously been challenged. I only had the compact on my belt at the time which went unnoticed and I wouldn’t be using it on private property open to families for the reasons outlined above. The way to deal with this is to be patient, engaging, compliant, smile and play on being a foreigner. As one local said to me, you get more leeway (locally) for being a foreigner. A local brandishing a camera would be in serious trouble, but that might be as much a function of who take photos of whom as of any long standard of polite behaviour. We are approaching Hadj, where 2 to 3 million Muslims will enter the country, mainly through Jeddah airport to fulfil their religious duty to undertake the pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in a lifetime. This necessitates the mobilisation of, according to the Arab News newspaper, the deployment of 117,000 troops. You will understand from the news why this year the general security situation is heightened and there is to be zero tolerance of dissent. Then there is always zero tolerance of dissent here. Insisting on rights that don’t exist is only going to be futile and exacerbating - it is not going to end happily.
- View from my window. Sony A 65 SLT 8mm lens 20 Seconds at F8 ISO 100
That said there are possible trips to Ta’if (pronounce Tayfff) and possibly (and I very much hope so) Mada’in Saleh a.k.a. The Saudi Petra being talked about, but in the ways of these things it’s all just talk at the moment (just need to give it all a little impetus).
The important thing to remember when you go anywhere abroad is that which is permissible at home - and often under challenge even there- is no guide. Forewarned is forearmed and clues to what is and what isn’t “The done thing” can be picked up from looking at what travellers put up on sites like 500px and Flickr, more informatively what local people post. Do your homework, and be discrete. It is you who has to make the adjustment.
Stay happy and hope to see you all soon in the new premises.