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Meet the Woman Behind the Everyday Middle East Movement

In the third part of our series on the Everyday Middle East projects, we meet founder Lindsay Mackenzie to discover the five shots that stand out in the eyes of this multi-faceted photographer who managed to gather 25 professionals to portray the extraordinary normality of a complex region.

In September 2012, as photojournalist Lindsay Mackenzie was covering post-revolutionary developments in Tunisia, a Newsweek article entitled Muslim Rage paired with an image showing infuriated bearded men sparked outrage across the world. Sensationalist and controversial, the magazine was accused of stirring anti-Islamophobia sentiment in a move to boost readership that compromised the company’s reputation.

“That summed up the problem," says Mackenzie. "That's when I realised that indeed, we in 'the west', have a problem with our representation of the Middle East which is, at best, unhelpful, and at worst, really damaging. I wanted to find some way to not be a part of that problem.”

Capturing glimpses of the moments that routine deems irrelevant, the Canadian photographer founded a project that is now followed by nearly 80,000 Instagram users and has toured world museums with exhibitions in New York, Dubai and Florence: Everyday Middle East. As we continue our series on the Everyday Projects across the Middle East, we speak to the mindmaster of the Instagram movement that is changing perceptions about and throughout the Arab world.

“Every society has an 'everyday' but Western media tends to edit that out when selecting which stories to tell about the MENA. While I was living in Tunisia, I found that in general the photographs that I managed to publish in mainstream media outlets were the most extreme, the most stereotypical, and the least representative of the majority experience - photos of yelling bearded men and women wearing niqabs,” she says.

"I think this photo by Dalia Khamissy is just stunning. It's simple but otherworldly. It's not what comes to mind when most people think of Beirut. The light is beautiful, and could only really have worked out that way with an iPhone." 

Now based between Erbil and Beirut, Mackenzie has been covering the Middle East since 2011, when she moved to Tunisia to delve into the political and social changes sweeping the region throughout. A photography teacher for National Geographic Student Expeditions and radio documentary maker for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mackenzie has worked for major news outlets and international organizations including The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, BBC, UNICEF and IOM.

“When I started I was mainly covering breaking news,” she recalls. “But I tried to go beyond that and work on stories that are more subtle and that humanize people and places.” While working in Tunisia, she put together a series of daily life images during the transition and, as whole region underwent transformation, she focused on the one place that stubbornly resisted change: Algeria. In Yemen, while most outlets focused on the political tumult as rebels attempted oust Saleh, she did a radio piece on foosball and gardening in a protest camp in Sanaa.

“Now I'm trying to balance taking news assignments with working on longer term projects, and running and growing Everyday Middle East. Sometimes when it makes sense for the story I switch to other forms of media --I love radio because you can literally let people speak for themselves and tell their own stories.”


"This image by Mohamed Somji also stops you as you scroll. Great colour, perspective, and another side of the story of low-income workers in the Gulf. I'm really grateful that the contributing photographers are so willing to share their work and their time." Somji is one of the 25 contributing photographers she gathered through Everyday Middle East. 

“I came across the first of the 'Everyday' projects, Everyday Africa, while living in Tunisia. I loved the concept and thought that the idea would work well in the Middle East and North Africa, so I sent a message to its founders Peter DiCampo and Austin Merril to ask for advice, and asked other photographers I knew living or working in the Middle East to join,” she recalls. The feed kicked off in 2014 and took on unexpected track, as they were featured in publications across the world, and showcased their work in exhibitions at Photoville in New York City, the Gulf Photo Plus Gallery in Dubai, and the Middle East Now Festival in Florence, Italy. 

"I like this photo by Ahmad Mousa in Baghdad because it's unexpected and fun - it makes me want to be there. I also like some of the comments people posted in reaction to the photo," she says. "Reactions have always been positive. I think people are tired of the same old stereotypes, tired of the negative, hungry for something different."

Startled by the unexpected, followers often find the feed’s pictures a source of discussion and debate, such as the photo of a gay Syrian couple on a bed in Beirut, or photos that show fathers with their children like Tamara Abdul Hadi's shot in Dubai. “They are always nice to see because they are the exact opposite of the Muslim Rage cover. Maybe one day media will find a way to cover ‘others’ more like we cover ourselves: as complicated beings, products of complicated circumstances, capable of a range of emotions.”

Be it their ability to spark surprise, their controversial focus, or the sheer beauty of their composition, each of the Everyday Middle East photos is a stance against mainstream stereotypes. “Some of these images also provoke a recognition of something universal, like the image we just reposted of kids in Iran getting out of school for the summer, for example. We've all had that feeling." 


"This image from Erbil is one of mine - I like it because it's an innocent moment for these kids who've been though so much," she concludes. 

Main image by: Elie Dardner