Apr 28, 2014

At Last, the Website.

www.natheerhalawani.com
I never would have imagined the day I called the owners of Al Baba Sweets offering them a free photosession a couple years ago that, one day coming really soon, I would be congratulated by friends and family for my own website, the website that held my name. I ask myself sometimes where is this path taking me to, what am I doing here. I am fully aware this is my sense of insecurity due to the absence of somebody to drag me and guide me somewhere – as it’s always been – that is talking at the moment. I wholeheartedly listened to my close friends’ advice and rode the wave, and boy I must say it took me somewhere unbelievable.

I’m officially a photographer now, I built a career identity that is available for the public and I can simply throw in my website to anybody wanting to see my work. I used to prepare collages and work for hours picking my photos and eliminating others, only to be able to send a sample or two of my work to a potential client. The website is there now to represent me digitally, to be the complement of all my social media accounts to finally crown them all with a mother venue that tells it all.



It all started a while ago, when people wanting to work with me would ask to see the shots I used to take, my answer would be intuitively to check my facebook account. Cheesy as it sounds, these people actually went there and I would get those freaky friend requests every now and then ever since. Some highlights of that would be that day I was selling my mom’s old polaroid camera to a total stranger photographer on Charles El Helou bus station where she mentioned having a Facebook page and the need for every good photographer to own/run one. Giving her my then-usual answer of “no, it’s still too early”, she used an angry tone to push me into creating something that would give me identity overall and show my work. Another highlight would be that famous facebook post several months ago, where I dared to ask my facebook friends to pick for me. Seemed eventually that a website and a facebook page were both welcome, as soon as possible, with a huge amount of cheering and encouragement.

The website cost me around 25$ to launch and almost 4 rough months to finally settle down on a platform to build my site on, pick my winning shots, prepare the texts, the logo, the covers, the concept, etc.. It was one darn huge errand and it wouldn’t have happened without the last-minute intervention of my dear old Najd, my graphic-design-specialist brother. It was him who created the facebook cover and helped me shape up the visuals of the site. It’s crucial to mention at the same time that my welcome page photo was taken right in front of my bathroom door by my flatmate Jaakko, I literally had to crop out the black holes stuck on the white paint right there.


Here we go peeps, a little tour around the website:
  1. Landing page: it’s the page you see right after clicking “work”. The page has no specific theme, in fact it’s a collection of the shots that were the most famous on social media, including the famous shot of SahawHana iftar, Father Sarouj of Al Saeh library, etc..
  2. Portfolio: that’s nothing but a label, where if clicked would drop down a menu with access to the four basic categories for the moment. Other categories will be added with time.
    1. On Stage: concerts and artists taking the stage. Featuring names such as Nightwish, Mashrou Leila, Ahmad Qaabour, Scorpions, Lana Del Ray, Cirque De Soleil, Wanton Bishops, Majida Roumi, Magic Malik, Mazen El Sayed, Mike Massy, etc..
    2. Gourmet: Another name for food photography, most of the shots were taken at private celebrations and during shoots for clients. List includes Al Baba Sweets, L’Hote Libanais, etc..
    3. Soulful Portraits: I remember one of my photographer friends pointing out the unnecessity of describing my portraits with Soulful, this is – she said – to be decided by my viewers. Portraits and faces are the main reason I got into photography. Growing up, and probably till this moment now, I always had this urge to look at people’s faces with them noticing it. This is exactly how I work now, especially when a group of people is involved “please ignore me” I say. Portraits speak, and that’s what I love about them.
    4. Photojournalism: I don’t consider myself a photojournalist, it’s just the fact that I had the chance to be in several occasions where security was an issue, a protest was rising up or a news was being made. The fact that I got used to publishing my pictures in a flash put me on the journalism track really fast, without even noticing it. As a result, many of my shots were used in national and international newspapers, especially when the Al Saeh Library was burnt down and when the Salam and Taqwa car bomb incident took place, all with the help of dear friends and journalists such as none else but my friend Souhaib Ayoub, who gave me a huge push in that matter.
  3. Extras: Everything that is not photography and pictures all over.
    1. Tear Sheets: source of my pride. As the title says, it’s tear sheets and screenshots of some/most of the websites and papers that published my photos. Featuring CNN, Annahar, Assafir, Montreal Gazette, MTV Iggy, The Huffington Post, etc..
    2. Blog – The Dusty Wyndow: a simple link to my mighty old blog, the Dusty Wyndow :)
  4. Info:
    1. About: a little bio about me. I so believe this is going to reshape a lot before being complete.
    2. Contact: Throwing in a quote here and there has become a habit of mine: “One day, there will be happiness and there will be sunshine.” Your messages will be more than welcome :)
  5. Share:
    1. Social Media Buttons: Each and every button is connected to my account at each service respectively. These buttons are not for sharing the website, they're only for checking my social media accounts.
    2. Share: the key to sharing the website :)
The website has huge plans for the future and will host many other categories and extraordinary sections as promised on my home page. It is quite important also to write about the amount of support I got from friends and distant ones too, it was as if it were their own work and their newborn baby. I saw everybody congratulating me for the website at least, some were thoughtful enough to get a bit more into details and suggested a couple fixes, a handful more were courteous enough to point out a grammar mistake here or there. Blah! The energy was, and still is fantastic.

It triggers me the fact that I have to still be looking for an *engineering* job, to have interviews and to manage my way into getting a job offer. The website has done a great effort ever since its launch, getting in only two days half the views this blog has accumulated over last year, and my blog has some decent exposure. I must say I'm humbled by these people's heed to help me lift that website to a higher level by fetching out grammatical mistakes to fix and giving in their opinion of what could be altered in the design: Maja, Jost, Nina, Muslema, Souha, Mutaz, Foutoun, Fatima, Krystelle, Patrick, Rana, Randa, Mahmoud and pretty much everybody who threw in a word of advice.


Apr 16, 2014

Naji

Well, I got this pretty darn bad habit of not doing the birthday dues on time, and I've been lately avoiding birthdays all in all. Yet, for one of my brothers, I’m willing to make an exception. On April 15th 1998, I was bending over my grandma’s balcony waving goodbye to my teary mom who was waiting in front of the open door of that car, while everybody else was already inside. For a moment, and regardless of my young age at the time, it hit me. My mom was utterly sad. She felt so bad for having that baby and now that it’s about to deliver, she never felt worse. My smile for a split second turned into a frown and somehow I managed to get it all. This pregnancy was totally unexpected.



Flash backward in time, there was that home in Azmi street with a mom and two boys who lived their life day by day, and felt supreme joy around each other and most importantly whenever they were visited by their aunts, mom’s side’s aunts. Ever since we, the boys, knew we’ll be having an addition to our team, I remember feeling happy to be honest, and I believe I can say the same about my younger brother, Najd. Yet mom wasn't as happy at all. Something was missing, and at the time I was way younger than being able to understand what was going on. Here’s a hint, there was no such thing as love among my parents. Mom was always fearful, frail, with a dimming character, managing a family by herself, and that third child coming our way was just another burden she desperately didn't need.

Ever since delivery time started getting close, I found us moving up to my grandma’s house, in order for my mom to be well taken care of by her mother and sisters, and also being closely monitored by a handful of childbirth experts :) I do still remember that dark blue “sabot” (a special pregnancy pair of shoes) my mom used to wear, saying it was making her feel better.  I also still remember the strolls we used to have somewhere around our house looking for clothes for the newcomer and watching my parents fighting over the silliest stuff, like my dad not wanting to buy most of the stuff my mom wanted, and they had their reasons. All of this had piled up eventually into a growing repulsion in mom’s heart in terms of wishing the baby hadn’t come. Yet, and 16 years later, boy oh boy how mistaken mom was.



My aunt brought us burgers then, we went together me and Najd with her to a close restaurant where we bought our snacks and devoured them in the hospital's waiting room. I managed at a certain point to step inside mom’s room and check on her. I came close and kissed her, not realizing she went under the knife and was still anesthetized then. Her smile faded rather quickly and was calling out to see the new baby, whose name turned out to be Naji. I ran out to see him throughout the windshield of newborn’s incubator room, and without any help from any nurse nor any indication on his basket, I instantly spotted my brother. My brother was an angel laying down there so peacefully among all the other horrible weaning newborns. I instantly knew we’re gonna have a gorgeous time together :) I will never forget how we were dazzled by his somewhat darker skin tone and I was quite baffled by the hole he had in his yet-to-be-developped skull, the reason why he - probably - became my protégé for years to come.

This is to my brother Naji, my big man, who was a young toddler at the time and was the light our house needed then. This is to my friend and mentor, for all the times he taught me lessons I couldn't find in older people. This is to the newborn I used to hold in my hands and changed his diapers all by myself and took care of for quite a long while. This is to the bliss that was sent from heaven up above to our little tiny house. I remember kissing his cheek every time he fell asleep in his cradle, and used to enjoy every single moment we spent together. I will never be able to forget the nights we spent alone watching Disney movies to help you sleep, and eventually I'd fall asleep way before you, while you sit there laughing at me. I’m sorry for the time I put citric acid instead of sugar in your baby bottle :p and I do am sorry for the time I held you out the balcony, which still prevents me from sleeping from time to time and haunts in my dreams.

Naji’s become a full grown man now, ready to see the world, to love and be loved, to appreciate and be appreciated, to be wise and sprinkle some of his wisdom onto all of us and his surroundings. It’s quite sad I’m physically far from him at the time, but I just want you to know Naji, that the best times I spend in Trablos are when we’re together.

My heart grows every time I see him growing and blooming into the man he has become, and I trust the universe enough to know that his future is going to be the brightest of us all. Sixteen years have passed and boy they were gorgeous, can't wait to see what's gonna happen next!

Ladies and gentlemen, my brother Naji.










Apr 9, 2014

Gibberish, Barber Shop.

I just had another anger crisis yesterday, described by not wanting to contact any person anymore, and has developed into becoming furious in front of most people who reach out for me. It’s kind of disappointing since I don’t intend to do that, and the person on the other side wouldn't understand a bit, except for what they are receiving – the frustration. I became an adult at a very little age, I was responsible for a fatherless family at the age of 9. I still remember not being able to cross the street until my mom, bending over our balcony – 5 floors up, would signal me to cross. I still remember the amount of times I hesitated before entering a barber shop only for the fact that I wouldn't know what to say.


What's behind the mask? - Taken at the Clown Walk 2014
I got used to not speaking out for myself. In fact, I was praised for that. I was the all-the-time silent kid who usually is overly-accepting. I used to wait for my older aunt to come over because she took me out to Qalamoun, a 20KM away town by the sea, for ice cream on the beach at sunset. It was like a prayer to me, the thing that my parents hadn't done at that time, and I was only 2. I was constantly praised for abiding by the law, I was even given credit, lots of it, for the ability to withstand the system, go with the flow, get the highest grades and be on top of my class.

I was an older brother, a father, a husband and an adult at the age of 12, yet I was never myself. I was always boxed in a way that my outcome would absolutely be predictable. Therefore, a numerous amount of insecurities and issues have developed so complicated I can only wait for my next crisis, hide away for a couple days and then be able to mingle in all over again.

A note on the side, this post was inspired by Renno’s latest blogpost, a mighty character in the making and probably one of this life’s unknown soldiers.

I never received any professional help, guidance, the thing I need the most at the time, yet I know I wouldn’t be as cooperative as I should be. Knowing that, I began working constantly on myself, defining my character, monitoring my deeds and mistakes, being the supervisor I always needed, ever since I went to college. I’m proud to say I have taken a HUGE leap into hiding away the sides that I hated about me. I can now easily enter a barber shop and ask to cut my hair the way I feel comfortable.
- Have you ever gone to the moon and gazed upon yourself?
- I do it all the time.
- Weren’t you shocked?
- Yes, the first time. Yet afterwards, I started feeling disappointed, the kind that has yielded into a newer, better, and sharper Natheer.
Things started getting serious the moment I had become whole, or so I thought. Just recently I escaped the system for once in my life, I proudly left my job having the decision being made a long time ago, and started working on my own niche – photography. I never felt as happy, and to add to the fuzzy feeling, happiness meter would jump sky-high whenever I see any of my friends complaining about a Monday or suffering from a short weekend. There were no more Sundays ever since all days have become whatever I wanted them to be. I controlled my income and money was of value ever since. I felt, and still do feel, like an emperor.
- I would burst in laugh only on the inside, no sound would come out though, I wonder why.
- Same here, a long time ago I had no clue how to laugh, until that day I taught myself several ways of laughter. I stayed with the one I liked the most, my current one. But between us? It’s fake, all laughs are fake. It makes me sad to know I was way wiser than I am now, but I didn’t like it and insisted on becoming like everybody else, to fit in most probably.
I get a client every now and then, some are quite decent and respectable, they let me do my work properly, they appreciate how I work and allow me to feel comfortable enough to reveal my happy side, and hence, a wonderful outcome. They pay on time with no delays and are outrageously fantastic people. Some, on the other hand, are quite the nagger type of people, especially when it comes to women.

“Nah, I wished you had took the other side of my nose”

I pity this kind of people, for the amount of curses they would hear from me, in a parallel universe. There’s also the type of clients that have their own way of finalizing the work, they either become experts in photography or feel like not wanting to pay the full amount for some reason, or ever worse, both. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

In order to spread my name around, a couple of my clients/friends are receiving my photos completely for free, for the sake of promoting my name here and there and I have to be honest here, it’s quite good. I’m getting what other people are begging for. But the last incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt a huge portion of frustration and disappointment kicking-in, it seemed to me as if I was thrown all the way back to square one. A client so demanding can end up becoming – unknowingly – a burden, all while not noticing and not even being careful for I hadn’t spoken a word.

All at the same time, my prominently bad history with mom and family, the kind of history that remains unspoken mostly, is taking its toll on me. A close friend of mine had once driven me to a secluded place and suggested I scream. “But why would I”, my answer was. She realized way more than I did how much anger I was repressing at the time, after a certain incident.

At times like these, I would usually feel like staying at home doing nothing at all except for curling up to my pillow and reflect on stuff. Yet this time was different, my anger has got to a point where I can’t control it anymore. Yesterday was the first time I yell at mom in the street, no matter how awful that may sound, it was totally explicable at the moment. Yet, It felt horrible afterwards, the feeling that had led to even more anger the moment I went back to my place. Not knowing what to do, I saw myself going physical. For a split second I slapped my soul and told myself this shit needs to stop, somehow.

I can’t honestly tell if there were another way (that I know of, at least) to help me along the way other than writing about them, for talking to other people have come to be irrelevant. I wouldn't stand both people’s endless requests to explain and me hurting them at the same time. It’s a no at the moment, I just want to stay alone.

However, I've come to realize one thing during the course of all this. I totally didn't see coming the fact that some of friends were surprised to see me confessing about my anger, thinking that I (most probably) was an all-time happy positive kind of guy, who has all the reasons to be satisfied, and they were right. Just as I came across a lot of people who seem to me well-off and happy to their guts, yet it is becoming clear the cost they had to pay in order to come to that. I can’t but respect people’s pains and scars, for they were the bridge they chose to cross in order to draw that charming smile and tell a numerous amount of jokes here and there. Those who seem happy to us, are most probably the most desperate of all, if not at present then could be somewhere in their past. Let’s all respect that.

I come to look back at what I had written here, I admit it belongs mostly to my diary rather than a public post on my blog. But it doesn't change the fact all this could be of use to others, hopefully.

As a friend of mine had suggested, “I feel happy, oh so happy”. Fuck no :p here’s a clip to help you smile, just like it helped me.





Apr 4, 2014

An Ongoing Funeral: Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus, killed today in Afghanistan in their car. Source

I always thought they were invincible, reporters- whether writer, photographers, videographers, you name it - I thought they were the untouchables, the proteges.. "Never kill the messenger", a quality the ancient ethics of peace and war used to abide by, yet apparently not anymore. A 48yr-old world renowned German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was shot today and was killed instantly, all while her companion, Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon was wounded and is stable condition at the moment.


Kathy Gannon, AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan, wounded at the same incident. Source

AP had stated the following:
A veteran Associated Press photographer was killed and an AP reporter was wounded on Friday when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan.
The author's emotionlessness is nothing but an image of the grave traumatic news that shook AP personnel this morning around the world.
"Sad day. no more needed to be said", as one of my foreign journalist friends had expressed in her Facebook status today, the latter that had led me to this gruesome news.

AP author continues:
As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled "Allahu Akbar" — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47. He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested. - Full article here
Here's some of what Wikipedia had to say about the renowned photographer, before adding that fresh line at the bottom stating she was killed on April 4th while covering the presidential elections:
She was the only woman on a team of 11 AP photographers that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of the Iraq War. That same year she was awarded the International Women's Media Foundation's Courage in Journalism prize.
Even though I had never met any of Anja or Kathy, well neither Laurent or any of the other deceased journalists and photographers around the globe, yet I can't but feel my heart cringing whenever a reporter is killed. Their lives are taken away only for doing what they love the best, their way of contributing to this life and paying back to humanity.

Here's some of Anja's work that I had given myself the permission to showcase a handful of here.
Check all her work on both her Website and her Facebook page.

A young girl in her colorful dress reaches out to greet a Pakistani policeman - Anja Niedringhaus
Afghan boys study in a makeshift school in the village of Budyali -  Anja Niedringhaus
"German soldier sits next to candles lit to celebrate his 34th birthday during a long term patrol in Yaftal El Sofia" - Anja Niedringhaus