Hidden Camera: A female photographer visiting Saudi Arabia

 

When I mention going on my vacation, most people focus on the stop-overs (London, Paris, Dubai) rather than the final destination: Saudi Arabia. Why Saudi, you ask? Well, to visit my in-laws....Saudi Arabia is not a "hot" vacation locale. However, there are many amazing photo opportunities, while exciting to me as a photographer, pose a challenge to me as a woman.

Some of the challenges faced are simple ones: weather and the dress code. The heat is bad enough for people of either gender who come from a northern climate, but add to that the traditional female garb of an abaya and hijab (a long robe and head scarf, my "mystery suit" if you will), and what is like being in a sauna becomes more like being in an oven! Needless to say, keeping your camera cool and out of the sun as much as you can becomes a priority.

Another challenge is having to be accompanied everywhere you go outside. Women aren't allowed outdoors without a spouse or male relative with her. Fortunately I get along with my husband's family! We usually went outside at night when it was cooler, so taking photos in low light levels when normally you're a day person was a little annoying. During the day when we did go out, we went around in cars, so a high shutter and/or film speed was necessary.

One of my biggest challenges while photographing Saudi Arabia was to be inconspicuous while doing so. As a woman and an obvious foreigner, while I was never harassed in any way, I got the distinct feeling of being watched whenever I had my camera out. I tried to hide the camera under my scarf and use a long zoom so it would look like I wasn't taking a picture of something I was focusing on, or that the photo was really wide-angle with a broad focus. I didn't want to offend anyone by being all up in their face with my camera!

Now, I'm going back to Saudi, with more experience than last time, but also a much bigger camera! This time I'll be able to focus more on certain subjects instead of shooting randomly on the fly, and now I know people's comfort zones. One good (if stereotypical) thing about being a woman is that no one assumes I'm up to trouble!

Have you ever travelled to a place where you felt it difficult or uncomfortable to take photographs?