Entertainment

Meet the photographers challenging stereotypes of the Middle East

Posted December 4, 2017 9:30 a.m. EST

— News bulletins from the Middle East often depict a litany of tragic events. But one woman, backed by a phalanx of talented photographers, is on a mission to broaden perceptions of the Arab world.

Lindsay Mackenzie is a Canadian photojournalist and communications specialist at the World Health Organization (WHO). After spending two years working in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, Mackenzie felt frustrated by how she saw those nations being portrayed in the international media.

"Disregarding the complexity, diversity, vibrancy, and humanity of people in the region leads to this 'othering' of the Middle East that is really damaging," Mackenzie told CNN.

Taking inspiration from the Everyday Projects movement, which uses photography to challenge stereotypes, in 2014 she started the Everyday Middle East project. Using Instagram as her platform, Mackenzie posted images she felt better reflected the reality of the region: Palestinians enjoying yoga classes in the West Bank and breakdancers performing on rooftops in Bahrain.

The Everyday Middle East account now has over 156,000 followers and features 23 photographers. CNN spoke with four contributors about what they hope to show the outside world.

Shaima Al-Tamimi: Yemeni photographer based in Qatar.

"There's something very special about taking everyday photos. It gives a very human perspective to what may be considered mundane. Most importantly, such photos serve as a real depiction of life in our part of the world, which tends to get overlooked by the media.

"(We are not) one big homogenous spot on the map with the same identity, food and language. At the end of the day, we are all human and want the same things. Love, shelter, happiness and most of all peace."

Ali Al Sharji: Omani conceptual photographer

"Photography (can have) a great impact on world views. I witnessed it when the artist Alicia Keys reposted one of my photographs (of a model in a burqa revealing her leg). It raised a huge (debate) on Instagram and Twitter about (modesty and the meaning of the picture).

"Most of my work speaks about situations that are actually happening in this region but we decide to stay quiet for cultural and religious reasons. This is the beauty of photography, the power that it has on a viewer's eye can change perspectives."

Kiana Hayeri: Iranian-Canadian photographer based in Tehran and Kabul

"I think specifically for Americans, the biggest misconception is they see Middle East as a different planet with very different people.

"When it comes to daily lives, these people are very much like Americans. They are mothers, fathers, youth and children with a lot of similarities. Despite all the conflicts on this end of the world, life goes on."

"As with anywhere in the world, there are challenges (associated with) being a woman but in the Middle East (as a photographer) it is more beneficial for me to be a woman than a man. I have access to most things that men do but I also have access to places, behind closed doors, that any man (would not be able to photograph)."

Tasneem Alsultan: Saudi based photographer covering stories from all over the Middle East

"I use photography and my experience as a Saudi woman, (being) raised between the US and UK, to question what I view as blatant contradictions in Arab and Western culture. I feel my photographs act as a mediator between these two hemispheres; exploring and questioning accepted behaviors.

"Additionally, I am a single mother of two, so a huge part of my life involves frustrations in fighting against limiting stereotypes.

"Photography is a great tool to provoke thoughts and questions to a much wider audience than text."

Click or swipe through the gallery atop the page to view a selection of photographs from the Everyday Middle East project.