Ahmad Sabra, Shaheed Loving Photographer


Earlier this year, an Arab Australian by the name of Ahmad Sabra was one of 53 finalists for the National Portrait Gallery’s national photographic portrait prize.

The photo he entered for the competition was that of a child who “has lived in an orphanage since his father was killed in Gaza after an Israeli air strike in 2008.”

An interview with Sabra is found on the National Portrait Gallery website (hat tip: James).

ahmad sabraHow do you define your practice?
Portrait photographer

Do you have a website or are you represented on a website?
My personal website issabraimagery.com.au and lahza.com.au

How would you describe your relationship to the subject/s?
I would describe myself as an observer or visitor. Growing up in the Middle East I remember the Palestinian refugee camps and I’m sympathetic to their hardship.

Was the photograph a result of a constructed, fabricated or candid encounter? Please describe.
We were in Gaza shooting a documentary and we had heard about the orphanages and wanted to visit and document some of the children who had lost parents during the wars in Gaza. Nearly all orphanages in the Gaza strip rely on foreign donors and we wanted to try and raise some awareness or money. We were taken on a tour of the orphanage and introduced to a few of the children. We were shown their room and given background stories of some of the boys. Each room contained four beds and the window caught my eye and I’m OCD about lines in symmetry. I asked Mohammed to stand at the foot of his bed and took his photo.

What are the ideas or themes underpinning your portrait?
Mohammed is a son of a martyr (shaheed). His father died fighting for his country. The word shaheed gives me goose bumps when I hear it. We’re brought up believing that one of the most honourable ways to die is to die as a shaheed. In general the family of the shaheed will get congratulated for the martyrs sacrifice and conceal their grief and only show pride. ‘Think not of those who are slain in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive finding their sustenance from their Lord.’ (Quran 3:169)

Please describe the technical aspects of your photograph?
I used a Rolleiflex SL66 medium format camera for this portrait. I used some natural light and an LED light panel to light up Mohammed.

How was the final print made? Is this print one of an edition?
Silver gelatin print on Ilford FB warm tone paper. I have only made two prints.

Describe your consideration of scale, mounting and framing in the presentation of your portrait?
I usually like to print 10 inch by 10 inch prints but for this portrait I wanted the viewer to see the details in Mohammed’s face so I chose to make the print larger.

Who would you nominate as your influences?
Larry Fink

Do you have any advice for young photographers (eg. students)?
Shoot film, shoot lots and stress less about your gear.

Notice how Sabra’s disturbing support and glorification of terrorism is printed alongside mundane things like the technical aspects of his photography.

Nothing to see here, move along.

According to this article, Sabra was also one of 13 finalists for the Qantas spirit of youth awards. His entrant page can be seen here. And while he did not win, it is troubling someone who so openly supports terrorism would be considered for the award at all (as an aside, the photography category of the award contains the following blurb: “This is the first category for SOYA 2013 and it went off like a rocket.” Appropriate wording, considering Sabra’s inclusion).

Update: According to this post on Sabra’s Facebook page, he does some work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

And in this post, Sabara displays some humor.


Kind of not funny, considering his admiration for shaheeds.

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