Photographer sees ‘gems’ waiting to be captured in Saudi Arabia

Saudi photographer Faisal Almalki said the spots that deserve to be forever celebrated in photography in Saudi Arabia are “way over what one can imagine.”
Sunday 19/05/2019
Power of the eyes.  An untitled photograph by Faisal Almalki.  (Al Arab)
Power of the eyes. An untitled photograph by Faisal Almalki. (Al Arab)

RIYADH - Saudi photographer Faisal Almalki has participated in more than 15 exhibitions outside and inside Saudi Arabia. Three years ago, he had his first solo exhibition in Jeddah and is now preparing for a new exhibition.

Almalki won the most prestigious award at the 2009 Masters Cup Colour Awards in Los Angeles, competing with a select group of top photographers from around the world.

Almalki’s victory was among a series of achievements at the international level. He was the first Arab photographer to win the award for Fine Art Photographer of The Year, IPA, New York (2008), PDN’s World in Focus Prize (2008, 2009, 2011, 2013), and Best Portrait Photographer Award at PX3 international competition in Paris (2008).

A graduate of the Department of Marketing at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Almalki has been working in advertising and marketing for ten years and that’s where he developed his love for photography.

He said any picture taken by anyone can become “the best” if they tweak a few technical details, such as location, angle or timing. “Sometimes a small change can lead to a much better result,” Almalki said.

A few years ago, a British magazine asked Almalki for a cover photo for its special issue about Ramadan. An important event in the lives of Muslims, like all other major and repetitive occasions, can be turned into an artistic product. So it was a challenge for Almalki to come up with an angle that hasn’t been tried before but the Saudi photographer was in no hurry to find the right image.

“Although the final picture was simple at first glance and it took less than an hour to shoot, finding the idea for the picture requested by the British magazine took me three weeks of thinking and preparations,” Almalki said. “Photography is not an easy task. It’s not just a faint flash coming out of an easy-to-use tool.”

Asked whether living in large cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah deprived him of nature and its beauty, Almalki said: “With the exception of the wilderness of the desert outside Riyadh and of the sea in Jeddah, the opportunities for diversity in nature in the two cities are very limited. Both cities, however, offer plenty of other themes for photography, like architectural and urban features, street life and much more.”

Almalki said he likes to visit and document many sites. He’s particularly fond of photographing the Great Mosque of Mecca, the historic sites of Madain Saleh and the old section of Jeddah, Al-Balad.

He documented the expansion of al-Madinah al-Munawara and participated in producing a photography book about architecture in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh. Internationally, Almalki has focused on the United States, where two of his upcoming exhibitions are scheduled.

Almalki said the historic section of Jeddah needs more attention. “It got some attention lately but it needs more investments to transform it from just a beloved old space to a real internationally known heritage and touristic treasure,” he said.

The spots that deserve to be forever celebrated in photography in Saudi Arabia are “way over what one can imagine,” he said.

“There are gems of artefacts, heritage and natural wonders everywhere in Saudi Arabia that have never been heard of, before being discovered and documented by Saudi photographers and, yet, much is still waiting there to be photographed,” Almalki said.

“We have an advantage over the rest of the countries of the world since we don’t have a very developed tourism industry in Saudi Arabia. Many sites are still unknown and pristine, a golden opportunity for any photographer.”

Almalki described the successful photographer as someone who can take an interesting picture anywhere, especially in his immediate environment.

“There are plenty of themes and places around us. We live in a beautiful mix of cities and nature, of the old and the new, heritage and development, all of which create opportunities for creative ideas for new and outstanding photos,” he said.

Almalki, whose works have been published in major magazines and photography books has become in demand in England, France, Austria, Luxembourg, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.