Samar Hazboun (SH): “Palestinian Women” was my first documentary project, which I shot at the end of 2009. I was finishing my degree in international relations and was writing my thesis on Palestinian women. As a result of my research, I had a decent background on the lives of Palestinian women, their struggles, and the class divisions that continue to exist in Palestinian society.
Through my research, I stumbled upon shortcomings in common understandings about the status of Palestinian women. I realized that writing an article would have limited impact as many articles had been written on this matter. The issue had not, however, received enough visual exposure. I decided, therefore, to take a different approach to generate more attention and reach a bigger audience with the ‘real’ message.
At the time, I was an avid photographer but had focused my energies mostly on art photography and work reflecting my own feelings and experiences. I decided to take a different approach, and began interviewing and taking pictures of various Palestinian women to personalize and put a face to their struggles. In pursuing this project, my goal was to challenge Western stereotypes about women in Palestine. I realized that, in order to get a complete and accurate story about Palestinian women, we had to speak and represent ourselves. As with any other society, Palestinian women are housewives, doctors, mothers, lawyers, students, Christian, Muslim etc. Very often the media tends to forget this reality and focuses only on one group marginalizing the rest.
Q: How did you decide which women to photograph and how did these women respond to being the subject of your project?
SH: It was a difficult mission at first. I began trying to determine the best candidates, but soon realized there were no “appropriate” and “inappropriate” candidates. Palestinian society is incredibly diverse and it was only natural to include all sorts of women in the project. In the process, I met some really inspiring and wonderful women. In most cases, the women I approached responded very positively and were happy to be involved, although surprisingly one well-known Palestinian singer declined to participate in the project. In some instances, I was unable to interview some women because of logistical restrictions created by the Occupation.
Q: You have a number of photographic series on Palestine. Can you tell us a bit about these other projects?
SH: My projects are usually intimate endeavours that really come to life only after I have spent some time with the people I am interviewing. I focus on areas and topics that generally receive little attention from the media or that are considered taboo in Palestinian society.
After working on the Palestinian Women project, I moved in a completely different direction and started documenting the lives of Palestinian women who lived in a shelter in Palestine and were victims of sexual abuse. The project, which is titled “Hush,” has been the target of criticism. Although some argue it is unfair to focus on this problem while we are dealing with the occupation and other political issues, I believe it is important to talk about gender-based violence as its existence goes hand in hand with the Occupation. The oppression meted out to Palestinian males by the Israeli occupying forces is one of the major reasons for these violent incidents.
“Detained” is another project I worked on recently, focusing on Palestinian children detained by Israel. These and other projects I have done will soon be available on my website www.samarhazboun.com, which is set to re-launch in the next few weeks.
Q: In light of your complete body of work, what do you think drives you as a photographer. What sorts of stories and images to do you endeavour to capture?
SH: I think that in today’s digital world visual language is exceptionally important. Half of the information we receive comes through visual media, and so I will continue to share my work through this medium.
The main issue that drives me and motivates my work is human rights. I want to deliver a message through my art, to create more than just a two-dimensional image, to tell the story behind the photo and shed light on important topics. Art should be more than just a beautiful product. Many photographers nowadays forget the importance of using tools and skills for something a bit deeper and more socially resonant.
Through my work, I hope to inspire a discussion on certain topics and broaden people’s knowledge regarding certain issues. I am currently working on a short documentary film also related to Palestinian women that is meant to accomplish this “bigger” goal.
Q: What role do you think art and photography can play in political activism and social transformation?
SH: The visual is very important. It is a language all its own. While photography has always been an important medium for communication, as people spend less and less time reading long texts, photography has become an important tool to grab popular attention and bring powerful, interesting stories to life. People like to put a face to a story and so I doubt any of the revolutions in the Arab world would have been possible without the use of photography and video.
Photography is also an important tool for documenting important moments, stories, cultural events, and legal violations, and archiving them for future reference. Especially for those people who face ethnic cleansing, such as the Palestinians, film and photography are two major tools that need to be used.
Q: What impact do you hope your photographs will have on viewers and their understanding of the Palestinian cause?
SH: I hope my projects are able to raise awareness, document human rights violations, and spread the word about issues that matter in order to motivate people to fight for change. If I were to sum it all up in one word, ‘change’ would be it.