Whenever I’m abroad I like to get away from the tourist areas for a while and spend some time meeting the locals. That was my original plan for our second week in Hurghada, Egypt, last week, following on from Photo Training Overseas the week before. That was before the politics got in the way! With all the troubles in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, the general advice was to stay in the hotel, The Sunrise Mamlouk Palace. No real hardship – with warm sunshine, swimming pools, all-inclusive facilities and the Red Sea on our doorstep for snorkelling there are worse places to be holed up for a week. But, as a photographer there is only so much relaxing I can do before my shutter finger gets itchy.
So, with initial media reports that the local people were about to turn nasty seeming to be greatly exaggerated, Janet and I jumped into a local taxi one morning and headed to ‘Downtown’ El Dahar. Just to be on the safe side we kept our cameras tucked away for a while as we wandered around a local fruit market : we had heard recent reports of anyone looking like a journalist or photographer being treated with great suspicion. In fact, the previous week a couple from our group had been jostled for taking photographs in town and we certainly didn’t want a repeat of that incident.
We needn’t have worried. By carrying just a small compact camera, my Lumix TZ-10, and a Nikon D300s with only a small and discrete Sigma 30mm f1.4, we attracted very little attention. More importantly, by engaging with our subjects, chatting with them and asking permission to take photographs rather than shooting from a distance with a long lens, we were welcomed with friendliness, even amusement. You could see the puzzlement in their faces….why would tourists want to be in a scruffy old fruit market?!
It’s difficult to capture the atmospheric sounds and smells (not all of them pleasant) in stills but the downtown areas and interesting characters, for me, make for a compelling visual spectacle that’s difficult to resist. Personally, I could have spent several days there – there were potential pictures everywhere I looked – but after a couple of interesting hours we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and headed back to the luxury and safety of our hotel.
Interestingly, as we waited to catch our plane a couple of days later, it was announced that President Mubarak had finally left and a new power struggle was about to begin. I wonder what the future holds for the ordinary people who trade and shop every day in the fruit market of El Dahar…?