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Toufic Araman: A Pioneering Force in Photography

The man who has captured some of the most mesmerising images in the Middle East, Toufic Araman, is set to host a two-day Fashion Photography Workshop at Photopia this weekend. Ahead of the event, we sit down with the Lebanese photographer to find out more about the man behind the lens...

Award-winning Egyptian/Lebanese photographer Toufic Araman is a pioneer in lifestyle and fashion photography, who in just over a decade of work behind the lens has managed to leave his mark throughout the Middle East. He spends his time between New York and Dubai, with client work spanning the region. His work is daring to say the least; he promotes breaking boundaries and does so with different experiments in every piece.

One of Egypt's foremost photography hubs, Photopia, is hosting a Fashion Photography Workshop by the master image capturer on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th of February. Ahead of his workshop, we caught up with Araman for a one-on-one interview to get a sense of what makes him tick...Complete the sentence: photography is…

A point of view. 

When did you realise you were into visual arts and how did you get into photography to begin with?

When I was 18 I wanted to become a fashion designer. I was fascinated by women, beauty, form, and the effect of clothes on them. My attempt to go to a fashion design school was shot down by my family, so I started looking at furniture and design in general. I love design in any shape or form, and I always wanted to do something creative. At the time I wasn't sure what it was - not that I'm sure now! I'm always trying to experiment with other mediums in creative and visual arts.

In my secondary school I met my best friend Omar Backry who challenged my creativity and gave it a new dimension. In my second year in university I met my Art Teacher Julie Coach who encouraged me, pushed it even further and gave me confidence to pursue it. Still I was not sure which medium I would use to express myself creatively. In 2005, I got a camera as a Christmas gift from Lama Al Khaldi and that was a beginning of an 11-year career in photography. It had everything that I needed in fashion, design, furniture, and interior. Photography for me is the beginning and is not an end. It is my current medium of expression. It is where I can have fun the most.   How would you describe your own work?

I would leave this to the viewer. In general, I am not ecstatic about my work except when I push boundaries and reach new breakthroughs. 

What do you think of the photography scene in the Middle East, especially Egypt? How do you think the scene here compares to that in the US or Europe?

You can not compare it. It is still at the beginning although we were pioneers at one time; it needs a lot of work and development. The digital revolution and social medium has made it accessible to everyone yet it is hard to judge on where this is going to go. At the same time, it is becoming harder to have a style and uniqueness. The Middle East's photographers do not have a style that we can call Middle Eastern, specially for instance in fashion photography - there is no significant fashion business/industry yet in the Middle East that fashion photographers can strive in. There are a lot of taboos that need to be broken. Conservatism has to take a back seat in order for art to flourish properly. Education is key to making this happen.  You have worked with a plethora of names and brands, and your photography spans numerous genres. Would you consider fashion photography to be your favourite genre - if so, why? And is there a particular shoot in your career which truly stands out to you?

I approach photography from a fashion point of view. Even if it is an advertising job, I would generally infuse it with fashion. Call me fashion photographer if you like, but I do not want to be labelled. The Football shoot was a debut. The Egypt Tourism Shoot was a big hit and Damas campaigns were high points in my career. I am grateful for Steve Poeple from Agency Fish in London who has been a client of mine since 2009 and we shoot together every single month.  

What do you think goes into creating a beautiful photo or shoot?

A great vision and impeccable execution. Team work and a great finish.  What inspired you to start teaching workshops like the one you'll be holding with Photopia?

Education is key for society to advance. I am passionate about human development and giving an opportunity for talented people to learn and develop themselves. From another angle, when you teach you develop yourself at the same time. It is an opportunity for me to meet young people who feed my creativity and open my mind. At the same time, I am influencing a generation to come which is incredibly rewarding.    

What do you see Photopia adding to the local market?

The market needs people like Photopia and their initiatives, no question about it. They are opening a window to an otherwise unattainable world of information and learning.A significant spike in the number of people working in artistic fields in the Middle East, but especially Egypt, has been noted in the past couple of years, whether it be photography, performance art, music, etc. Why do you think that is?

The revolution in Egypt has opened minds and gave hope for, not all, but many youth. It was a great platform and infrastructure for art to flourish and I hope it lasts. 

You can find out more about the Fashion Photography Workshop on Photopia's Facebook here, or follow them on Instagram @photopiacairo.

Check out Toufic's Facebook here, Araman Studio's Facebook here and their Instagram @aramanstudio.