The locals call it Mountain Sickness. I knew it by the name Altitude Sickness. I thought it comprised of prolonged headache, nausea, insomnia, and loss of appetite. What I didn't know is that if you do not suffer from any, or all, of the above you might still suffer from lack of energy. In other words, you'd be drained from all power to lift one foot and place it on the ground again. What I also didn't know is that many days after your successful ascent and descent to and from the summit you might suffer from a sickness akin to homesickness.

You may call it mountain sickness.


I took my first film photo in 2013. It was summer I think. I bought my Canon AE-1 off of eBay thinking that somehow, film photography is, in many ways, better or more respectable than digital photography. The picture wasn’t special; the bougainvillea (مجنونة / جهنمية) tree in our yard. The edges of the photograph were burnt and the green was saturated (something I came to appreciate in some colour films). For some reason, that picture never left my mind. I still think about it. What drove me to have this specific tree as my first ever film photograph? I don’t really know. Throughout the years I would continue going back to that same tree, as a constant representative to how I started photography.

The idea of film elitism didn’t come up from thin air for me. The internet is littered with websites, blog posts, and forum discussions touting the inherent superiority of film. That somehow, digital censors would never recreate the same feel or warmth of film images. In a way, that is true. Film, as a medium, has this amazing power of nostalgia over people. A reminder to when they were children shooting a family vacation with a disposable camera. The results, too, were different from digital photographs. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or the chemical structure of film emulsions, but for some reason, these pictures did look better. The analogue feel of film gave them a sense of life; a physicality that elevated its quality. This piece is neither a condemnation or condoning of film; I still shoot film exclusively on my cameras (except for when I shoot with my iPhone). But the idea of why I shoot film has certainly changed throughout the years.

Going back to the idea of film elitism, I bought the idea of film being the inherently pure photographic medium. That, because I shoot film, my photography is automatically better than those who shot digital. That us vs them nature continued for a long while in me. Even tagging the photos I posted with#film, #filmisnotdead, or #(whatever camera I used to shoot that photo). This, being an open letter to my younger self, is why I can say that I was full of shit. Utterly. I was so convinced by my superiority as a photographer that I forgone any effort of improving my skills or developing as a photographer. I relied on my self made unicorn status, demanding appreciation from online followers because I shoot film. For a while, that concept of superiority defined my identity as a photographer. That identity was further perpetuated by constant pretentiousness. One of the most poisonous mantras in photography is Henri Cartier Bresson’s (the father of street photography and co-founder of Magnum) the decisive moment. The decisive moment is a concept that first appeared in his book by the same name. In the book, Bresson talks about that perfect split second where you press the shutter button at the perfect time and take the perfect photo. That split second would mean the difference between a good photo and a bad one.

Bresson surely showed that concept in his photos. For example, of the man jumping over a puddle or the picture of the man on a bicycle in Paris. As gorgeous as these photos are, they are not the decisive moment. There is no such thing as a decisive moment. Looking at Bresson’s contact sheets, he worked the scene (taking multiple photos of the same subject from different angles and times). Bresson was a genius not because he knew when that decisive moment was, but because he employed his training as an artist to help him work the scene and study the geometry of photography. But, Meshari from years ago didn’t know that. He was so full of himself that, more than once, proclaimed to only take one or two photos of a subject maximum as if it’s a matter of pride; vehemently believing in the decisive moment. Meshari misunderstood the decisive moment. It was not a stroke of luck or the right timing. More than anything, Bresson’s decisive moment was simply a truism explaining the spontaneous and unexpected beauty of street photography. You don’t wait for the decisive moment, you create it. If only Meshari, years ago, got his head out his ass and realised that.

The pretentiousness didn’t stop there. I remember reading Roland Barthes’ gorgeous book Camera Lucida. That book, without a shadow of a doubt, is one of my favourites when it comes to photography. I often find myself going back to it every few months. Thing is, that’s not what I took out the book years ago. I was convinced in rooting my very amateur photography with my embarrassingly lacking philosophical knowledge. Why? It made me seem smart on Twitter and Instagram. I started talking about photographing in black and white because it brought out the inherent feeling of loneliness and alienation within people, or, it showed the true nature of the world: a dichotomous purgatory of bodies floating past each other. Basically a whole bunch of rubbish I’m pulling out of my ass. A chronic ass pulling condition. I looked down upon colour photography because it was to mainstream, too “populist”. Again, refer to the medical case above. It wasn’t black and white photography alone. This pretentiousness also extended to me looking down upon my photographer friends and acquaintances who didn’t not follow my foot steps and *air quotes* photograph the human condition *air quotes*. Can you feel the rage at such pretentiousness build up in your heart? I know. Drink some water.

All these things I did back then were annoying, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this to talk about the effect all this had on me. The belief in film superiority, the pretentiousness, the pseudo-intellectualism, whatever you might want to call it, made me dislike photography. I was toxic towards my own passion. I put these invisible limitations on myself — limitations perpetuated by my own desire for ego and affirmation — to the point where I started disliking going out and taking photographs because I expected my work to embody a certain philosophical or artistic criteria. Showing off and pretending to be someone I’m not just for a couple of likes on Instagram or Twitter retweets jaded me from the one thing that mattered to me the most in photography: having fun.

I had a conversation with this person sometime back (that person is me. I talk to myself a lot. Making up an anecdote just makes for better writing. And makes me seem less alone. Okay, okay continue reading), and that person asked me: why do you prefer shooting in black and white? Two years back I would’ve went on this speech regarding the artistic merits of monochromatic photography. But I just thought to myself for a second and said, because I know how it works, and more often than not I just feel like it. I’ve shot so much black and white film that I now, more or less, gotten used to how it works and how to shoot it well. That doesn’t mean I don’t love colour films. Sometimes I feel like shooting colour, or sometimes I’m going to a beautiful colourful place that shooting black and white would just be unfair. That was my answer (again, to myself. Just wanna make the point of me having long conversations with myself clear). This is what I realised mattered to me the most in photography: having fun. Of course I won’t act holier than thou and pretend that I don’t care about my ego. I do. Big time. It feels amazing for your work to be loved by people and being appreciated and having exposure. But that ego balances out with simply enjoying the act of photography. To not be limited by self imposed limitations and setting bars so high that they’re impossible to reach, disheartening you from working at all.

Looking back, I don’t even understand why I felt so elitist towards film. For God’s sake, I sometimes take better photos with my iPhone than my Leica camera. Funny story, I saved up for a Leica for about a year and a half. At first I was so convinced that having a Leica camera would make me a better photographer. That I would use the same camera as my photographic idol used: Josef Koudelka, Bruce Gilden, Abbas, Winograd, etc. Half way through the saving up process I realised how utterly childish of me thinking that was. I was halfway through being able to afford the Leica so I thought why not just continue saving up for it. I’d buy it as a way to treat myself (since, before that, I haven’t really bought something that expensive to treat myself before) and just enjoy using it.

I made the decision to switch to mainly digital once I move back to Kuwait since it won’t be feasible to shoot exclusively on film if I’m living there. It’s never about the gear, it’s about the result. Cameras are just tools like a screwdriver or a phone. They are a means to an end, not the end itself. A Leica is a gorgeous piece of engineering, but it’s no better than my Nikon F3 or the camera on my phone.

I might be pontificating (I’m just looking for an excuse to write that word) in this post, but I am an amateur photographer. Nothing more than that; a reminder I keep telling myself. I realised that if I’m not enjoying photography, there is no point in doing it at all. Not for fame or groundbreaking artistic endeavour, but enjoyment; self fulfilment. Photography is a catharsis to me. Suffering from depression and anxiety, it is a hobby I can lose myself into and focus on the simple joys it brings me, focus on the many friendships it nurtured for me. I no longer take a certain photo or focus on a certain subject because of a deep intellectual reason, but because I like the way it looks, the colours, faces, framing, etc. It all boils down to this one simple fact. I burned many photos and ruined many rolls in my time doing photography and will do so for years to come. The beauty of it is that it is a continuous learning process; an ongoing exploration of the craft. Last winter, I went back to that tree in our yard and photographed it. Somehow automatically like a religious rite. It was the same. Never changing. Only I did, and I’ll continue doing so.

So here’s what I want to say to my fellow photographers or people who want to get into photography: there are no rules, there are no manifestos. Just go out there and enjoy it. That’s all that matters.

Oh, and for pretentious past Meshari: bitch you ain’t Bresson.

Note: Most of the photographers mentioned in this post can be found in Magnum Photographers' archive.


Assalam waleikum,

It has officially been a week now, I’m so happy because I can tell I’m home now, people see me as one of theirs. I fit in! 

Guess what? Today we took baba-ji & maa-ji to the house close to the deserted land, we’re gonna ride horses. I’m kind of scared to fall or get hurt, but it excites me at the same time. 

Riding horses in the desert was one of my biggest dream, can you believe it?

I hope all is going swell, omri, I’ll take you to the bad girls land, I promise.



It must be heartbreaking,
To see your mother
Give up her youth
To make enough
Just to feed everyone
But her children.


My mother is
The only woman I know
Who has been raped
And is still standing.

So forgive her,
if she is
Hunchbacked now,
Sore on the Eyes
With a Raspy voice
She is trying, her best.


If my mother saw me with shoes on the rugs that fill every room of our house that day would have been the end of me. I never questioned why she’d make me take of my shoes before entering the house and I just did what I was told because I would run around the house too busy deciding which rug will give me my next adventure. See the azure rug in the corridor leading to my brother’s room was where my toys and I crashed with waves, fought with pirates, and swam with sharks to reach the shore of an island at its tethered ends. The beige one in the living under the coffee table, that I had to move every time to play on the fabrics underneath, was where I trekked the desert dunes with my action figures to reach the crystal blue oasis in the middle. Then there was my favorite rug, a solid burgundy leading up to my parent’s bedroom that sprawled the whole walkway to their door filled with perfect symmetry of all kinds and colors of flowers. This was the rug where my action figures went on the best adventure, where we created Disney influenced storylines for each flower from its colors and texture giving it heroic magical powers or poisonous evil ones that attracted my toys. This adventure never ended and I would find myself dipping and waking up from naps on this rug for years to come.

These carpets continue to hold a special place in my heart where I managed to tell my first stories through their fabrics and when I asked my mother why she tends to these carpets, even to this day, she replied with ‘they tell the stories of those that made them and, if you look closely, our story too since we have walked over them for the past twenty years.’ This is what Faig Ahmed an Azerbaijani artist is doing with carpets. He takes traditional Azerbaijani carpets un-weaves them and reconstructs them using digital patterns filled with optical illusions, glitches, and morphings to create bold sculptural art forms. In an interview he said that he is interested “in the past because it’s the most stable conception of our lives” and “Another thing that interests me is pattern,” says Ahmed. “Patterns and ornaments can be found in all cultures, sometimes similar, sometimes very different. I consider them words and phrases that can be read and translated to a language we understand.” His carpets are interplay between traditions, the stories that come with cultures and the stories we create in the present. By using fabrics, objects that have been present throughout most of mankind’s history until this very day, he draws patterns between the old and the new and more importantly connects them just as he weaves in new patterns into the traditional carpets he uses as his medium. This literal and figurative connectivity stems to a creation of great art that explores Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote ‘Culture does not make people. People make culture’ and the ways we think about culture, its upkeeping, and its relationship to the past.


عن المجانين الشجعان الذين نستحق أن نكونهم 

إنه خيطٌ رفيعٌ جداً ذاك الذي يربطنا باللحظات الاستثنائية التي تشبهنا، حين نرفع رؤوسنا إلى السماء و نواجه رغباتنا العميقة بشجاعة و نقرر أن نعيش كما نريد، و هذا الخيط على استعداد تام للانفلات و الذوبان بعد مدة من استسلامنا للتيار.

أنت تعلم في داخلك أنّ كلّ يومٍ يمرُّ عليك و أنت مثقلٌ بأولويات الآخرين و آرائهم هو مضيعةٌ غبيةٌ للوقت، هو قرار آخر سيّء يتكدس بجانب القرارات الأخرى التي اتخذتها لتكون الشخص الذي يوافق عليه الآخرون، و يفخر به الآخرون، و يأبه له الآخرون، كأنك تدور في دائرة مغلقة من جلد الذات، كأنك تمضي حياتك كطفلٍ معاقب بجانب الحائط، يقف مواجهاً للجدار، و يعطي ظهره للنافذة الكبيرة التي تحمل خلفها كل الأطفال السعداء في ساحة اللعب.

أنت معاقب و مسحوق، لأنك تعاقب نفسك بالدرجة الأولى وتظن أن أحداً ما سيأبه بك، و سيصنع من تضحياتك العلنية كتاباً يوزعه على الأصدقاء و الأهل و المعارف ليخبرهم كم أنت مستقيم و شهم و رائع و ملتزم بكل الأشياء التي قررها عنك المجتمع.

لا أحد سيأبه، و الأخطر أنك بعد مدة أيضاً لن تأبه.

الحياة يا عزيزي أقصر من ذلك بكثير.

الحياة أقصر من الوقت الذي تنفقه في التغلب على خجلك لتبدأ حواراً مع شخص يثير اهتمامك، الحياة أقصر بكثير من أن تنفقها في عملٍ لا يثير فضولك تجاه المزيد منه، و لا يرضي جوعك للدهشة، الحياة أقصر بكثير من الوقت الذي تقضيه في تملق السيئين و مصاحبة الأشخاص الملائمين لطبقتك.

أنت لا تريد هذا لنفسك، أنت في الحقيقة أفضل من ذلك بكثير، ما الذي يجعلك مخلصاً لهذا التبلّد الإنساني الذي يصنع منك نسخة رديئة من آخر لا يعجبك أصلاً! ما الذي يجعلك مخلصاً لتعاستك، ما الذي يجعلك مستسلماً لهذه الطريقة البطيئة و السخيفة للموت خِدْراً.

الحياة قصيرة جداً يا عزيزي.. و نحن لا نملك في النهايات إلا القصص السعيدة التي سنخبرها بفخر لأحفادنا عن المجانين الشجعان الذين كنّاهم في يومٍ ما.