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Once There Was a Tram
A Photograph by Fatma Fahmy
What does it mean to look at him? He has chosen to sit on a chair that affords him use of a pole, against which he rests the bulk of his palm, which then serves as a prop for his forehead. While his face is angled straight, his body inclines outwards, away from the chair, with a solid, slumberous poise. Bits of paper are strewn on the floor behind him, beneath a raised red chair. Yet that detail—and the wear or tear or grime on every surface in view—can scarcely distract from the serenity of his person. At a moment’s notice, and in plain sight, he withdrew into an unencumbered world.
— Emmanuel Iduma
“As the tram moves through the city, life unfolds.”
The photograph was taken on the Alexandria tram, a historic and iconic mode of public transportation in Egypt. This tramline was established in 1860, during the era of Muhammad Said Pasha. It connects the city center with the west, traversing some of the oldest and most vibrant neighborhoods in Alexandria, such as "Muharram Bey," "Mina Al-Basal," "Ras al-Teen" (next to the Royal Palace), and the Egyptian Hall.
My decision to capture this photograph was not merely a momentary choice; it was part of a deeply personal project. This project represented my first venture into the realm of personal photography and storytelling. Over the course of a month, I made it a daily routine to ride the tram at the same time, capturing the essence of this remarkable mode of transportation.
The reason this photo and story hold immense significance for me is that I share a strong sense of nostalgia for this place. It was a place where I spent time with my family during my childhood, particularly during my holidays in Egypt. Riding the tram became a cherished memory of those times.
In this photo, I aimed to capture the vibrancy and intensity of daily life on the tram. Each passenger stepping on or off, each interaction, and each passing moment tells a unique story. As the tram moves through the city, life unfolds, and with each click of the camera, I sought to document those moments.
I chose this photograph because I was inside the old tram, and I saw this man with his wife carrying a lot of belongings with them. We were the only passengers in the tram at the time, and his face caught my attention. I took several pictures of him and then struck up a conversation. I asked him about where he was from and showed him the pictures I had taken. I was interested in learning more about his story and the significance of the tram in his life. This encounter was a part of my ongoing interest in capturing the unique and compelling stories of people I come across during my photography journey.
My approach to photography is rooted in storytelling and capturing the authenticity of the human experience. Photography, for me, is not just about taking pictures; it's about creating visual narratives that resonate with viewers on an emotional and intellectual level.
Photography is impactful because it has the power to freeze moments in time and provide a window into different worlds, cultures, and emotions. It can be a tool for social commentary, an instrument for documenting history, and a means of connecting people from diverse backgrounds. Through photography, we can evoke empathy, inspire change, and ignite important conversations.
In essence, I view photography as a powerful medium for storytelling and a way to share unique perspectives with the world. It allows us to capture the beauty, complexity, and diversity of the human experience in a single frame. This, in my opinion, is the true impact of photography.
— Fatma Fahmy
About Fatma Fahmy
Fatma Fahmy is an Independent Visual Storyteller based in Cairo, Egypt. She earned her BA in Chemical Engineering from Cairo University in 2013. She is also a contributor to Reuters. Her work has been exhibited at the Cite International des Arts in Paris and Festival della Fotografia Etica in Lodi, Italy. She was one of the top ten finalists for the Everyday Projects grant for her current long-term series “The Lost Lake.” Learn more about her work on her website, Instagram, and through features on Photographers Without Borders, Reuters, and The Eye of Photography.
— “The Act of Recovery,” by Dawit L. Petros
It was almost sunset – the cinematic hour. The sky was warm and the scene was just so inviting. But I knew this golden moment was transitory, as I had been coming to the wreck again and again at different times, noticing how the light changed with each visit, and how many other people were visiting it. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with it.
— “Alma Mater,” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, in KINDRED
Somewhere under the almond trees in that car park, a dear friend gave me feedback on a story I wanted to submit for a competition. Months later, I received a letter informing me that my story had been highly commended by the judges. Years after, I married that friend.
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This is the 91st edition of this publication, which also read on web (best for viewing images), and via the Substack iOS/Android apps.
Every Wednesday I feature one photograph and the photographer who took it: you’d read a short caption from me, and a statement from the photographer. Every Friday, I publish a series of commentaries in response to photographs previously featured on the newsletter. The ongoing series is KINDRED. My hope is to engage with early to mid-career African photographers, and to create a platform in which photographers lead the cataloguing and criticism of their work.
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