Doha: When Shaima Al Tamimi was laid off from her job in Abu Dhabi’s real estate sector in 2008, little did she know it would open up a new chapter in her life.
“I tried to look for ways to turn the negative energy into positive energy,” the now Doha-based photographer told Gulf News.
“I started taking on different jobs and it somehow led me to the culture scene,” she said.
She got a job with the Abu Dhabi Film festival followed by a stint with a culture consultancy company.
In 2011, she started working with the Doha Film Institute (DFI) on a project-based job, but later decided on moving to Qatar and working full time at the institute.
Six-years after she lost her real estate job, Shaima, now 32, finds herself roaming the streets of Doha with her trusty camera and soaking in the sights and sounds of the city.
Her family, orginally from Yemen, raised Shaima and her siblings in Abu Dhabi and always encouraged them to explore the arts.
Her father was an amateur photographer, who also tried to push his eldest of three daughters and two sons towards his own passion.
“My dad enrolled me in some photography classes when I was a kid but back then I never really took it so seriously,” she said.
But she said she began taking a serious interest in photography when she started her own food blog.
“I wanted to find a portal where my recipes could be shared and I realised I needed good photographs to go with my writing.”
It took her some time to develop her photography skills and portfolio, but once she got the hang of it she was hooked.
“I had an interest in discovering and showing my readers how the food ends up on your plate, and explain the story and the cultural connotations behind the dish,” she said, adding that travelling and experiencing other cultures helped her perfect her craft.
“When you take up a hobby like photography you always want to see new things, or see things from a different perspective and have an eagerness to travel.”
Over the years, she posted her pictures of food, travel and culture on Instagram and steadily grew a fan base. She now has over 10,000 followers.
Her sizeable following led her to further opportunities and organisations began to approach her for collaboration projects.
She recently participated in the Rove Around Deira photography exhibition. It was her first time showcase her work.
The exhibition featured work from artists and photographers capturing older areas of Dubai.
Her work has taken her across the Middle East and exposed her senses and camera lens to different cultures.
“Some countries, such as Morocco or Jordan, are very particular about maintaining a close bond with their culture in terms of their cuisines or social gatherings,” she said.
“Photography helps you dig further,” she says, explaining how she approaches her subjects.
“I don’t necessarily go out with a camera saying today I’m going to do something different but when I go with friends and explore the area, I am open to what I may find. For instance, we walk into a workers accommodation and say hello and they invite us for tea — a bond is formed.”
As of late, some of her photographs of everyday life in the region have stirred conversations or have been turned into viral memes, which doesn’t seem to mind.
“I took a photo of an African worker smoking shisha during a break at the docks in Dubai,” she said.
The photo started a heated debate on the origin of the photo and the ethnicity of the subject.
“People were trying to tell me that the photo was taken in Iran and not in Dubai as there’s Farsi text in the background. They said he was an Afro-Persian,” she said.
She didn’t expect such a strong reaction from people but she says she has embraced it.
“It was fiery debate which led me to researching the topic more. I ended up learning so much about Afro-Persians and Africans that settled in Iran that I previously had no clue about.”
The controversy that the picture stirred up also brought Shaima more followers, as people would repost, comment and share the picture.
Shaima says she feels lucky to be doing something she is so passionate about and can learn from daily.
“Photography is proof there is more than one way to tell a story,” she said.
“It can be told in a single frame,” she said smiling, while reviewing pictures on her camera.