Sunday, 25 December 2016 16:43

Cairo through a loving lens

Hana Gamal, doing what she loves best Hana Gamal, doing what she loves best

It is on the back seat of a taxi in Cairo - that chaotic, noisy city I love so much, that I write down my notes. A true Cairean, Hana was born and raised there with 4 siblings. She studied Media and Art and also Psychology at the American University in Cairo.

She has always loved art; always having been a quiet person, she was fascinated by how powerful art can be in expressing emotions without words.  She discovered her love for photography in 2011 with the January 25 Revolution demanding the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 

She realized that this was a point in the history of her country that needed to be documented. Back then, all she had was her mobile phone; she took spontaneous shots with which she wanted to document the memory. “After that, photography quickly turned into a true passion and soon into an obsession,” the young woman explains.

Today, Hana photographs for a living and cannot imagine doing anything else. Still at university, in 2011, she started taking all the courses on photography that she could ‘get her brain on.’


A journey of self-discovery

She had always wanted to study abroad, but as her father was opposed to the idea, she went for an exchange semester at Berkley, California instead. “It was a period that was very much about self-development and broadening horizons,” she says today.

The few months in a new culture, around new people, gave her a lot of self-confidence, especially as those closest to her did not consider her photography to make for a worthy career. Hana does have an older sister who is very supportive of her work and continuously encourages her. “But it is hard being an artist in Egypt,” she admits.

Back in Cairo she worked in marketing in the corporate world for a while. This only made her realize how much she needed to do what she really loved - being outside, immersed in the world around her, taking in the mood of Cairo - her ‘abusive lover’ as she likes to call the 12-million megapolis.

As her ‘love affair’ was becoming more passionate, her work started getting more recognition. People started understanding her work and her audience grew. Today her work is featured online and offline and in various travel magazines.  


Capturing emotions, touching hearts

“It gives me assurance and immense pleasure to know that people can relate to my work and understand the emotions in the faces of my subjects I capture,” she explains. “I like photographing what I see in the streets, but don’t want to call myself a street photographer - I don’t like putting labels of definitions.” The soft-spoken woman sees her work as a way of connecting with people, a way of depicting everyday life - be it in the streets or elsewhere.

“I’m not very good at talking, but feel that my camera is a very powerful tool in expressing myself. I put all my emotions into photography which has helped me get through some very difficult situations in my life.”


Documenting people’s kindness and bygone eras

The young, attractive artist, with a quiet but open and very jovial demeanor, has a big online following. Yet, she does not want to use social media as a marketing tool. “I want to share my art for the love of art. It is when I’ve gone out and made people smile and if later looking at those smiles makes others happy too, that I have reached my objective.”

This sentiment and her admiration of the serenity and authenticity of old people and their rich life stories have led Hana to start compiling a photography book on Cairo’s traditional coffee houses. “They tell you so much about Egypt, every small detail, every face in them is part of a story. They are a big part of our culture and tell so much about Egypt back then and now. The old men there are so cheerful and open and natural! I love sitting with them, listening to their views and thoughts, the stories of their lives…”

Often she will sit in those small alleys of old Cairo, sipping coffee for hours with them, before she takes her first picture she explains. “I love being around them, having the opportunity to hear, almost feel, what life in these small streets used to be like.”


Stunning the alleys with laughter

Initially her photography walks took a lot of courage. It is very unusual for a young woman in the traditional parts of Cairo to be out on her own. In fact, in Hana’s case many think she is a foreigner with her light complexion and her long hair and are surprised when she starts talking in Arabic - but they usually see quickly that she is a true Cairean at heart. And because of her infectious laughter, they let her into theirs.

Her book documenting the history and today’s remaining culture of Cairo’s coffee houses is her most current project, to be finished in 2017. Asked about what else lies ahead, she laughs “I don’t know. But I will continue to learn, grow, change and enjoy putting a smile on people’s faces and into their hearts.”

Hana can be contacted via Facebook, Instagram @hanaperlas and email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

Email Me · Linked In · Twitter · Facebook