‘Chasing pavements’ from the series Shameless by Lina Geoushy
A powerful insight into Egyptian patriarchy earned Lina Geoushy the prestigious title of RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year 2019. The UK-based documentary and portrait photographer, who describes herself as a “visual advocate”, won the biannual competition with her project Breadwinners, a record of female housekeepers relegated to the fringes of society.
As photographers from across the globe are invited to follow in Geoushy’s footsteps and enter the 2021 competition, she explains how winning the title helped shape her work during challenging times.
Where have you been based during lockdown?
I was in London first, then Amsterdam and finally Cairo.
How has the pandemic affected your photography?
It forced me, and everyone else, to look around and look inwards. I had never previously made work about myself as it is a completely terrifying prospect to turn the lens on yourself. However, I started photographing myself and exploring how I felt about being an Egyptian stuck in London. The pandemic definitely made me ask myself a lot of existential questions.
As part of your prize for winning RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year 2019 you spent a day with artist and documentary photographer Simon Roberts HonFRPS. How was that?
I was lucky because the event happened on 20 March 2020, right before the lockdown kicked in. It was really nice to see his studio and get to know him. We went over his work and my work, and I was particularly inspired by the level of dedication he had put into his Homeland series, one of his earliest projects.
Simon’s focus on long-term projects gave me a sort of grounding. It showed me how [a project] shapes itself when you work in a slower way and give the project the focus and attention it deserves, instead of jumping from one thing to the next. This is something I have started applying, especially with the pandemic, which has slowed everyone down.
‘Badreya’ from the series Breadwinners by Lina Geoushy
Why was your winning series Breadwinners important to you?
There are so many parallels. I grew up in Egypt and it’s a very patriarchal society. I have two older brothers, and although I am not comparing [myself] with these women – because there is definitely a class difference – I could empathise with what they go through. It just didn’t feel fair, the amount of work they do, and in the end their effort and money are controlled by the men in their families. They and their profession are looked down upon.
Gender inequality is so ingrained and normalised in lots of spheres in Egypt. I am not claiming to be changing the world, but I felt like I needed to do something about it.
What projects are you working on now?
I am currently working on Shameless, which focuses on the taboo around speaking up and reporting the assaults which happen to women on the streets, at work and in their own homes. This project is important to me. It is not just images, but [also] includes text, sound and video. It is quite exciting and multi-layered.
Another project I started working on during the pandemic was one of self-portraiture – questioning my identity as an Egyptian – as well as a body of work about park life and how people in the various different cities I was living in took to the parks as an outlet.
Which themes would you like to explore in the future?
Most of the things which intrigue me are related to gender inequality, women’s rights, and how that impacts both genders. Patriarchy is not just harmful for women, it does harm men as well. When men are conditioned to meet certain gender expectations, that feeds into their inability to have healthy outlets to express themselves and leads to violence and aggression.
I am interested in how these issues manifest themselves in different places, not just Egypt or the Middle East. A lot of these issues still exist in the UK, Europe and the US. It is just like a spectrum and obviously we have a long way to go in Egypt, but these problems persist in lots of societies.
Submissions are invited to the Documentary Photographer of the Year 2021 competition between 6 May and 5 August. Entry is open to all and free for RPS members.
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