Why Street Photography Is Easy for Norah Alamri in Saudi Arabia

All images by Norah Alamri. Used with permission.

“The reality is every country has beauty hidden everywhere,” says Norah Alamri. “But the media always focuses on representing the bad and sometimes inaccurate news about my country.” Speak to most people in the west, and if you mention Saudi Arabia, it will be met with a comment like “it’s dangerous, sexist, and totalitarian.” There’s truth to it, but this truth can also be found in many other countries around the world. And we seldom read or hear about Saudi’s beauty and its positives. That is why the work of Alamri is so important: it helps people see her country in a different light. Let’s take a look.

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When we first laid our eyes on the work of Alamri, we were immediately impressed. It’s clean, candid, street photography that gives a look into life in the middle east. But soon after we had taken a moment to absorb her work, we asked ourselves, “What must her experience be like in a country known for its restrictions, especially relating to women?”

We thought the best person to answer that question, and discuss her work in more detail, would be Alamri herself.

“Photography opens my mind on how we live in a world that is so big and has a lot of interesting places and people we haven’t seen or met yet!”

— Norah Alamri

Phoblographer: Hey Norah! Can you please tell us how you got started with street photography?

Norah Alamri: I started in 2010, I was interested in photographing literally everything. But for the last three years, I’ve been attracted to documentary photography. I discovered the work of legendary international photographers and realized how important it is to history, especially in Saudia Arabia, where there are no resources or references for current changes and waves my country is going through.

Phoblographer: You focus on the cultural and human differences. What have you learned by studying them through your camera?

Norah Alamri: Yes, I truly believe in the power of documenting and photographing the special moments whether it’s a story about someone, an important political event, and of course people of Saudi Arabia.

I have learned that my country is so diverse in every aspect and there are many beautiful stories around us that need to be photographed and shared! Photography opens my mind on how we live in a world that is so big and has a lot of interesting places and people we haven’t seen or met yet!

Phoblographer: What gear do you use for street photography, and why does this work for you?

Norah Alamri: I actually use my iPhone for like 90% of my photos and 10% using different kinds of compact digital cameras. I think the iPhone helps me to get close to people easily and as I photograph humans so it makes them feel more comfortable.

Phoblographer: To the west, the thought of a woman freely roaming the streets with her camera in Saudi Arabia sounds impossible. What’s the reality like for you?

Norah Alamri: I think being a female photographer in my country is way easier than being a male photographer because people trust women somehow – it’s funny but true. Especially when the subject is around women so I think it’s a bliss for me.

Phoblographer: Tell us more about your shooting style. What kind of scene are you attracted to, what do you like to achieve from a day of shooting street photography?

Norah Alamri: I like shooting everyday life and how people are living their day, from taking photos of a bakery in the early morning or two ladies eating food in a traditional cafe. Sometimes, I like to capture the beauty of architecture and places too.

I get attracted to everything that touches my soul and feelings, especially in moments that represent humanity and mercy .

“But the reality is every country has beauty hidden everywhere but the media always focuses on representing the bad and sometimes wrong news about my country.”

— Norah Alamri

Phoblographer: Let’s talk feelings: how does getting “the shot” make you feel?

Norah Alamri: It’s my favorite feeling ever, especially when I see the results as I imagined it to be. But what I love the most is when I get surprised by the results, like sometimes it exceeds my expectations. It can easily make my day.

“I think being a female photographer in my country is way easier than being a male photographer because people trust women somehow – it’s funny but true.”

— Norah Alamri

Phoblographer: How does missing “the shot” make you feel? How do you respond to that to keep going?

Norah Alamri: Good question, because it happens all the time. To be honest it makes me think of how beautiful it would be and I get a bit angry at myself haha! But then I remind myself that I can take other good photos in the future, and I try to stop overthinking it.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about your street portraits. In your words, what makes a subject interesting?

Norah Alamri: For me street portraits are very important. I like to photograph people in a way that reflects their background or the work they do, focusing on things like the way they dress, for example.
Sometimes I want to capture the situation that person is in and I make sure to support that portrait with the whole intent behind the shot, like their places or their neighborhoods – that means we end up having interesting portraits.

Phoblographer: We feel your work shows Saudi Arabia in a very beautiful, positive light. Is this your intention? Do you want people to see the good rather than zone in on the bad?

Norah Alamri: Glad you see it that way. I really want to capture every moment that represents people’s life in my country, with real moments and it’s not my intention at all. My country has beautiful geography and is traditionally diverse from our traditional costumes as every city has its own style, cultural traditions, and also food!

Phoblographer: To critique yourself, what area of street photography would like to improve on or give more attention?

Norah Alamri: I really want to learn how to make real and well-studied projects, because all my previous projects were by consonance. Like I see the story and then I create the project out of it without planning or studying the subject before photographing it.

Phoblographer: For the projects you have done, what tends to be your inspiration?

Norah Alamri: The story behind the project is what inspires and motivates me to work on it.

Phoblographer: What are you currently working on?

Norah Alamri: I’m not working in anything, because of the situation we’re all in. I launched my website last year, so I’m currently working in collecting all my work and showcasing it there. I’m selling prints through it too.

Phoblographer: Finally, in a sentence or two, tell us what street photography means to you.

Norah Alamri: For me, street photography is a kind of art. It’s a way to see the world, cultures, and life in the world without even traveling to it. I think it’s the language that everyone understands and enjoys by simply seeing it. Lastly, it means creating sources for history.

You can see more of Norah’s work by visiting her website and Instagram.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host of professional photographers within the industry.