(Photo: ABDALLA SABRY)
A few years ago, we started bringing together successful Egyptian women, under one roof as part of our #Hanefra7BikiEmta campaign and now we decided to extend this into a series of articles highlighting some of the most successful women across diverse fields.
Helping photo enthusiasts use their lens to follow their passion, Marwa AbouLeila and her photographer’s hub PHOTOPIA have successfully created a permanent destination to the rising photography community in Egypt.
It has been Marwa’s long-lived dream to create a hub for photography in Egypt that’s under served. Marwa and Karim El Khadem have proved through PHOTOPIA that professional photography has regained ground & have been expanding over the years until they reached a point where they now provide a wide range of services, be it: a studio, a gallery, courses, workshops, bookstore/Library, photography gear and a spot to socialize over a delicious cup of coffee.
What is the thing you are the most proud of in your career and with a successful photographer’s hub such as Photopia?
We have done a lot of important collaborations. Such as: national geographic Abu Dhabi, DMGX one of the most important photography schools in Europe. As well as great partnerships with Ismailia and downtown Cairo. We are so proud of our latest photo festival. It was the longest ever done in Cairo. It was in November 2018, 9 days, 90 speakers, 10 workshops, 40 portfolio reviews, 4 exhibitions, 1500 visitors. So, it was a great achievement featuring local, regional and international photographers. Aside from being successful over the last 7 years, what I’m most proud is when I see a very passionate rising young photographer looking up passionately to a more established one like they’re a celebrity and feeling inspired just by watching them. For me, this is the biggest success. So, bridging the gap ,talents and connecting rising photographers to more established ones is our biggest success. We have affected the personal careers of many photographers who are there ready to kick-start their own careers and we take so much pride in this.
“What I’m most proud is when I see a passionate young photographer looking up to a more established one like they’re a celebrity and feeling inspired just by watching them”
Can you tell us more about yourself and background, what did you study and why did decide to start Photopia?
I studied commerce and worked in a bank for eleven years in corporate banking. I quit in 2011 after our glorious revolution and it has inspired many of us to change on a national and personal level. This has inspired me to follow my long-lived dream, just to create a hub for photography in Egypt that’s under served. The revolution introduced many photographers to this hub. Many photographers learned during the revolution. Cameras were more affordable in 2011. My career was promising but I wasn’t happy. I decided to quit to establish photopia in order to cater for this rising wave of photographers.
What kind of challenges did you face when you first started setting up your business and how did you overcome these challenges?
The challenge is money. Me and my partner Karim El Khadem. I owe a lot to him in terms of support and patience. His patience has really affected my performance positively. The most challenging part is the money in sustaining ourselves. Now our business is growing. We had a very tough year the first year but we changed our strategy according to the environment we operate in. We didn’t focus on education at first. But then we created a rescue plan that entailed expanding our revenue streams and working hard on directions we weren’t considering. Now sponsors reach out to us like Sony and Cannon and more. So, I feel we’ve created a lot of credibility for ourselves.
Do you think female photographers have a different experience than men in this field?
A bit yes I would say. Female photographers struggle more in the commercial field. Commercially driven clients like some restaurants and big factories, don’t trust women as much as they trust male photographers. However, it is changing and the personal portfolio says more about the photographer so they are gaining more trust in this field. Women have another advantage, is that they shoot pre-wedding events or veiled brides so they have access to more private, female-driven events. I think female photographers are doing great and you can find girls and women shooting and they have big names now in every single field, documentary, fashion food, portrait, baby, new born, which is another great another interesting field to explore, it can be underserved. You can find brilliant female photographers now. Some female photographers claim they have easier experiences taking photos in public than men, because they are more acceptable by the public than men. The Public don’t feel as threatened. Police don’t stop them as often as male photographers regardless of their ages.
Women and girls are sometimes expected to prioritize getting married and having children and devote their lives only to this. Which is why being a successful woman, you may hear comments like “Hanefra7 Biki Emta” despite all the success. What are your thoughts on this?
This question is a very tricky question really. I think that women who decide to stay at home willingly are still successful. A woman who wants to work alone is also successful. And again, a woman who wants to work and have kids and a home is also successful. My thoughts on this are that when girls are young, they absorb the idea that marriage is the major milestone in their life and everything else comes next. If she doesn’t get married, in her mind, she feels unwanted. However, this is changing with the new generation. I would just say that some girls really prefer marriage over working and having a career, which is fine but I’d say we are all successful and the older generation needs to change this. Nobody should judge anyone. Women who don’t work should not judge women who do and vice versa. People should stop labeling women who did not get married as unsuccessful. Women should not feel like they’re sacrificing something when they choose their path. She should be aware and accepting of her decision and not build resentment towards anyone or anything. If she does not accept her decision, then she should not stay frustrated. Instead, she should go out and change what she wants. My message is to always revisit your choices.
What keeps you going and inspires you to continue succeeding when you feel demotivated?
What keeps me going is seeing happy photographers visiting our space, learning something new every time and leaving satisfied with great value added to their career, on the technical, artistic, ethical, or inspirational front. This is what keeps me going.