Born in 1936, Mansour witnessed Egypt going through different stages: the king, the revolution and the republic. After graduating from the Faculty of Law at Cairo University, he started working in cotton export in Alexandria. In 1969, he immigrated to the United States. “Many Egyptians started leaving their homeland by the end of the 50’s, which was a strange phenomenon in Egyptian history. The Egyptians had always been a sedentary people for the past 10,000 years, the reason behind this should be studied”, states Mansour. In the States he pursued a sales and marketing career. At the time of retirement, he decided to return to his roots.
Mansour’s interest in photography started during his high school years, when he became friends with the owner of Studio Garden City in Kasr El Eini Street. His friend used to let him watch and sometimes even work in the dark room, while processing films. Later on, Mansour built a dark room at the basement of his house in Garden City. This hobby captured him to the extent that he would stop his car anywhere at any time, even if he was on his way to work, to capture any beautiful scenery or action that caught his eye.
When he returned to Egypt, he learned through some friends about the Egyptian Salon of Photographers, one of the strongest affiliations in the art of photography. The Salon does not only engage in many exhibitions, but it also organizes photography trips to many places across the country, holds workshops and arranges slideshows. Realizing that the average age of the members is rather “old”, Mansour and other board members decided not to wait around for young talents to come. “We visit the exhibitions that take place in art schools and select the talented and invite them to become members of ‘The Salon’”, comments Mansour.
Mansour publishes his work on several photography websites on the Internet. Many Egyptian photographers post their work there for international exposure. Talents meeting the standards of ‘The Salon’ are granted full membership. If however, they still need to refine their work, people with promising talents are invited to become “Friends of The Salon”, where they can participate in almost all the activities, however their work does not get exhibited. Later on, if they qualify, they can become members.
The board of ‘The Salon’ always tries to get meaningful themes for each exhibition that would be challenging for photographers and at the same time educating to society by focusing on various elements of the Egyptian heritage. Themes evolve around the Nile, the desert, Pharaonic, Copitc and Islamic. Other exhibitions that were held had themes underlining the different photography techniques such as black and white, close-up and special effects.
Mansour complains that photography is not considered an art in Egypt, by pointing out that “Many people think anyone could just take a camera and click a picture and that is all what it takes, especially here in Egypt where photography does not get the encouragement from neither society nor the government. They do not realize that in order to take an artistic piece of photography, there are lots of rules to abide by to get a strong impact of your work, for example composition, light, colors, the different types of films, as well as the ability to use each lens. This is in addition to digital photography, which is becoming very popular these days. The photographer must also be aware of post-photography work like development, printing and computer work for digital photography.” Mansour explains that the difference between the photographer and the artist using brush and paint is that the latter can compose his painting the way he wants, like the position of each subject he is drawing on the canvas, the light, colors and tonalities, whereas the photographer does not have that luxury. The photographer has to deal with the available light and articles in front of him. He cannot move the trees or the buildings. He has to choose the composition, perspective and the time of the day to reach the desired impact. Thus, he usually has to face many challenges that the first does not have. “Some successful photographers go to the same place for more than a week to capture the desired scene in the ideal light”, says Mansour. This is an example of landscape photography. Like painting, photography has many forms, such as portraiture, still photography, abstract photography, reporting photography to name a few.
Not only is photography not appreciated as an art, but also as a profession. Photographers, who make a living from their work, have to go through a lot of red-tape and routine procedures in order to get permissions where they can photograph. “Despite the fact that satellites today can get pictures of anything, all what we get here is: Don’t come close. No photography permitted”, Adel Mansour points out. Furthermore, when working in historical sites, photographers do not just pay entrance fees, but they also have to buy tickets for the cameras and even additional tickets if they bring along a tri-pod. Mansour emphasizes that these sites are part of the Egyptian heritage. They are owned by the Egyptian people, not by the government. In addition and very importantly, the profession needs a syndicate of its own to defend the photographers’ rights and to fight for ending restrictions and resolving problems.
In spite of the lack of appreciation, Mansour strongly believes that photography in Egypt has a promising potential, because people can easily understand the meaning of any photography work, regardless of their background or education, whereas other forms of art, such as painting and sculpture, can often rely on symbolism or certain techniques that the average person might not understand. “I’d like to see the day that photography would become popular in Egypt, not only among photographers but also among the people. I’ve noticed that when people come to our exhibitions, they get something out of each photography work they look at, regardless of their standard of education”.