Palestinian photojournalist Fatima Al-Zahra’a Shbair depicts life in Gaza through her captivating photography. And now, she’s shining a light on the city’s female athletes living in a Covid-19 lockdown.
At 23 years old, Gaza-born Palestinian photojournalist Fatima Al-Zahra’a Shbair has had her work exhibited across the world: from Palestine to Jordan, the UK to France. Known for capturing the life and energy of her home city through her nuanced imagery, Shbair has many goals, and at the top of her list is to portray Gaza for what it is.
“I focus on the issues of my city,” she told Round City, “whether social or political. I try to let the whole world know that Gaza is not only a place for war and conflict – it is full of love and life.”
Interested in being a “camera carrier” since she was a child, Shbair’s work depicts daily life, filled with hidden details and inspiring stories. In her series We Will Never Forget, she introduces several individuals who witnessed the Nakba – the 1948 war that razed hundreds of Palestinian villages and forced more than 750,000 Palestinians to flee from their homeland.
Among those in the series is Khamis Redwan, a farmer from Hamama; Ibrahim Abu Ghanem, a teacher from Dimra; Sobheya Al-Tololi, also from Dimra; and many more. While now scattered across different refugee camps, those photographed in We Will Never Forget share their experiences with Shbair, who offers the narratives to the public along with images of her subjects in intimate moments, like chatting with friends, sitting in their living rooms, and cradling newborn grandchildren. Others are depicted next to city walls that display graffiti, or outside small alley shops.
“I hope to help people through my photos,” Shbair said. “Whatever their stories are, they deserve to be known to the world, to be the voice of this city that has faced so much, and which the world must know properly.”
Shbair uses a Fujifilm xt2 and three fixed lenses (23mm f/2, 16mm f/1.4, and 50mm f/2), and processes them through Adobe Lightroom. She then shares her photos on social media under her namesake handle (@fatimashbair), and on different platforms including Middle East Eye, Everyday Middle East and Middle East Images.
At the moment, Shbair is working on a new series that showcases Gaza’s female athletes living in Covid-19-caused quarantine, who have had to come up with innovative ways to train. One example is Palestinian karate player Nourhan Saqallah, who’s forced to train in her family home after specialised training centres in Gaza have closed due to the Coronavirus crises. From boxers to horseback riders, the series introduces several women and children who persist in the pursuit of their passions – despite the many challenges they face.
“I spend most of my time shooting, editing and searching for more stories,” Shbair said. “I hope to meet the people of the world, search for hidden stories and let people know how beautiful the world is with its differences. I also hope to be a voice for every needy and weak person, documenting their lives in times of conflict and crises, as well as in times of peace and security, so that everyone can know how bad war is.”