Yemeni women photographers strive to overcome barriers

Behind the lens as a woman: Yemen's female photographers strive to overcome barriers
5 min read
Feature: Several Yemeni women photographers have been sticking to their passion despite the formidable challenges in a male-dominated society and a war-ravaged country.
Yemeni photographer Amal Saeed hopes to show the charm of Yemen's nature [Khalid al-Karimi]
Photography is a demanding job in Yemen that is often fraught with risk and danger and embarking on this profession entails courage and passion, something many Yemeni women photographers know about.

Despite the formidable challenges in a male-dominated society and working in a war-ravaged country, these women continue their work with great zeal. The journey for many female photographers has been beset by difficulties, but they have managed to overcome the barriers in their own way. 

Yemeni photographer Eman Tuhamah began a media job in 2012 after majoring in Radio and TV at a college in Sanaa. Her passion for photography has always been overwhelming and since 2016 her prime focus has shifted to documenting life in Yemen with her camera.  

"I bought my own camera and used to photograph wedding ceremonies for women, as well as festivals and events. In the beginning, no one supported me and even my family rejected the idea. It was very tiring at the outset," Eman remembers.

However, she says she kept her "will strong" and did not surrender to the circumstances, adding that her love for the job has not depreciated irrespective of the obstacles.

"I used to be an active volunteer and took part in community initiatives. My contacts and acquaintances have helped me a lot and I have been able to prove myself in the photography field," said Eman.

Recalling the obstacles she has faced during her photography journey in Yemen, she narrated, "When I was picturing life on the streets of Yemen, I was harassed. I felt the extent of ignorance and backwardness of some people and this annoyed me a lot. I then turned to photograph festivals and weddings or parties as I prefer to avoid places I find unfit for me."

Over the past few years, Eman has survived attempts aimed at confiscating her camera as photographers and photojournalists struggle to persist in their tasks while the war drags on.

Eman recently moved to Egypt to continue her work in photography. She says she has high ambition and a clear vision.

"My ambition is to specialise in cinema photography and take part in shooting Arab and international films." 

Yemeni photographer Eman Tuhamah has been documenting life in Yemen with her camera [Khalid al-Karimi] 
When I was picturing life on the streets of Yemen, I was harassed. I felt the extent of ignorance and backwardness of some people and this annoyed me a lot

'Revealing Yemen's beauty'

Yemen has been at civil war since 2015. Over the past three years, tragic news stories such as poverty, deaths and epidemics keep coming from this country. Any good news or violence-free photos have been scarce.

However, Yemeni photographer Amal Saeed, wants to display the positive side of Yemen, hoping it will remind the world that Yemen is a beautiful country and that the war will not obliterate its entire goodness.

"Any Yemeni photographer should show the world the beauty, the meaning and the civilisation of Yemen," Amal says. 

Though she holds a university degree in public relations, she is extremely passionate about photography and hopes to "show the charm of Yemen's nature" through her work.

"My family supported me as a photographer for charity organisations and activities. I also picture life on the street. My camera shoots every eye-catching thing I encounter," Amal says. 

Nowadays, it is not always safe to carry a camera and take shots openly on the streets, markets or elsewhere in Yemen. Taking one shot could bring the photographers unexpected troubles.

"Due to the ongoing situation in Yemen, when you carry a camera and roam the streets, some people may consider you a source of annoyance," said Amal.

Any Yemeni photographer should show the world the beauty, the meaning and the civilisation of Yemen

A dangerous task

Fatima Al-Aghbari, a Yemeni journalist and activist, agrees with Amal, explaining that a photographer could be targeted in any place given the sensitive status quo the country is undergoing. 

"As a journalist, I suffer a lot when I take photos because the photographer or the photojournalist is being dealt with as an agent who seeks to provide information for a political or military authority. It is a dangerous task since photography uncovers facts which the warring sides do not want to disclose."

Fatima has first-hand experience on how photography could risk one's personal safety.

"I prepared a report months ago and I needed some photos for the story. When I went to take the photos, a man interfered, although it was not his business at all. Photography in Yemen is unsafe for men and women alike. Once a man was arrested after taking shots of the cloudy sky. He was accused of gathering intelligence reports," said Fatima. 

The Yemen war started after peaceful demonstrations calling for the downfall of the Saleh regime in 2011 were met with violent and brutal responses. Ali Abdullah Saleh was given immunity and removed from power but was replaced with Abdrabbo Mansour.

In September 2014, the Houthi rebels, a group which Saleh had previously fought when in power, aligned with the ousted leader to bring down the new transitional government. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign to help the internationally recognised government regain control of territory lost to the Houthi rebels. Figures suggest more than 10,000 people, half of whom are civilians, have died since this intervention, while three million more have been forced into displacement.​

Despite this ongoing war, these female photographers believe that perseverance is their sole principle, and one thing is very clear – their enthusiasm is powerful and unbreakable.

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper. Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205

Weam Abdulmalik is a Taiz-based Yemeni reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @weamabdulmalik