© Mohamed Hassan // Hiraeth
The Story behind the Portrait
Originally from Alexandria, I have been living and working in Pembrokeshire in Wales since 2007 which has been pivotal to my journey as an artist. When I first arrived, I felt as if I was in a dream, one where I found inspiration all around as I discovered and explored more of my adopted country.
My portrait work aims to challenge some of the stereotypes and judgements that people make about others. My personal experience as an Egyptian living in Wales for the last 10 years is that I am often judged or stereotyped by my appearance. During the last few years, as a result of events in the world, I have experienced less tolerance to my background. People sometimes behaving negatively towards me as a fear of Islam and Muslims has grown.
Increasingly in my work, I want to explore equality and tolerance in a wider way, photographing people of different ages, gender, race and sexual orientation. I try to have a consistent approach to photographing as I want to find a way to equalize each subject; strip away their personal appearance so that the impression the viewer gets is of a human, an individual, not a stereotype. Subjects are sometimes unclothed to represent the equality that we all have at birth and death, seeing beyond the outer appearance and presenting a calm inner presence. It is my hope that the viewer of my portraits asks: “Who is this person? What is their story? Is this person the person I think or believe they are?”
So this portrait has all the elements that have been important to me in my journey as a photographer. Wales, migration, photography and representing a person, an experience. Some say that a portrait can be as much about the photographer as the person in the image. That, for me, is what happened with my connection with Salih when I photographed him.
The Welsh have a word ‘hiraeth’ which doesn’t easily translate into any single word in English. ‘Hiraeth’ has depth – homesickness, longing, yearning, nostalgia, grief, sadness for a home you cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was – all of these and more.
This portrait was taken in Alexandria in Egypt. It had been a long, hot, dusty day, Salih and I had been travelling together. We sat at dusk talking about our families, memories, our homes, both here and there. Looking over at Salih, I felt and saw ‘hiraeth’ and took the moment to capture his yearning, remembrance and a little of the weariness of life. In that intimate and personal moment I am Salih, Salih is me.
‘Hiraeth’ has depth – homesickness, longing, yearning, nostalgia, grief, sadness for a home you cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was – all of these and more.
Mohamed Hassan’s journey with photography started at a young age, accompanying his photographer father to his studios, a wedding or a party in Alexandria, Egypt. As Mohamed got older, they continued working together creating a great foundation for his future.
In 2016, Mohamed graduated with a 1st class honours degree in Photography from Carmarthen School of Art. He has been shortlisted for several awards with work widely exhibited including at the Mission Gallery, the Waterfront National Museum, the Trajectory Showcase, London and Nova Cymru. In 2018, his portrait of Salih was included in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Mohamed is equally at home trekking up the Carmarthenshire Fans photographing the Welsh landscape or going into the studio for a portrait shoot. The joy of an interesting model, a cloudy day or an inspiring location is immense. Through the Arts Council of Wales International Opportunities Fund, he was involved in promoting the rugged beauty of Wales to a wider audience in Egypt.