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Redefining Light with Egyptian Photographer Abdullah Sabry

Photo Credits: Nour Elsaqa
“The brighter the light, the darker the shadow” Carl Yung

This interplay of shadow and light has been an obsession of humanity for about as long as we huddled around fires to ward of the terror of the unseen night. The conflict, struggle, and coexistence of these two primordial forces determine human perception and awareness, from when we determined that the earth is round from their movement, and forms the foundations of physics. The light and the shadow also form the basis of the conflict within ourselves, typified by religion but expanded on by psychology. This human obsession with the two great forces is eternal, it’s inside our archetypal minds, very few photographers exemplifies this yin yang relationship in photography like Abdullah Sabry.

Abdullah is a self-taught artist, the founder of “BLACK CREATIVE STUDIOS”, no need for elaboration there, black is his brand and shadows are his specialty. In the age of self-help doctrines and diametrically opposing views, Abdullah embraces it all reflecting on his photography in the deep swirling shadows around his subject faces, some of his pictures look like the psychological Rorschach test meant to illicit and understand the subject’s true-self in the deep unconscious.

Cairo Photo Week

There’s no wonder here why he is our “Comprehensive Studio Lighting” workshop instructor, and has given talks in Cairo Photo Week on, “Psychology Behind the Camera”.

Abdullah gives us insights into how mind body and soul are interconnected in achieving success, focus and mastery.

For the people who don’t know you can you tell us briefly who you are and what you do?

I started with drawing and painting since really early, it was always that I was sure I was going to work in art. By high-school I started photographing and in college I started to take it a little more seriously, I started getting jobs. After 10 years now, I can call myself a fashion /portrait photographer. I still do painting and drawing but as a personal hobby.

How old are you?


When did you start photography?


Do you think that painting helped you become a good photographer?

When I drew as a kid I already had a sense of light and shadows, grading and colors. So when I started doing photography in high school, I was already taking pictures with good lighting and good angle. With drawing you create the lighting and the shadow direction so you have to create a certain kind of simulation in your head of where the light exists in the room.

How would you describe your work?

It’s leaning towards the dramatic side, enhancing the shadows more than the light, the more dynamic the relationship is between them the richer the image. Simple and minimal yet has restrictions in it

Do you think maybe your interest in shadows comes from a deeper place inside you?

Executing art is a reflection of who you are and what you see. The way I see it is that in order for goodness or light to exist it needs darkness and shadows and without the shadow you’re not going to see the light. The shadow is what makes details, what makes things interesting. The same in life situations without the goodness and the bad you’ll not be able to see the situation as a whole. So shadows are as good as light.

What project speaks your personal message the most?

Mostly the projects that I do are portrait personal shoots that happen between me and the person am shooting alone and that’s what I was talking about in the talk I gave at Cairo Photo Week -Psychology Behind The Camera - that it’s not actually about just the photography but rather the experience for the subject and me, in creating this space for the subject to actually allow them to open up and show you something really genuine and real, to show vulnerability.

You’ve managed to connect two different mediums of life is one, psychology and photography, how did you find this connection?

Not just psychology, philosophy as well, my style in shooting has changed a lot in the past couple of months. I look at it now and I feel like this is not me, not my angle not my colors. This is all an echo of whatever I was reading the past year. If I stayed where I was I’d have been the same. People say get out of your comfort zone but I say stay in your comfort zone but make it bigger, expand it because it’s your safe space. If you have a lot of resources inside you then you can create something out of nothing

Who are some of the artists that influenced you?

Carl Jung in psychology, Salvador Dali in painting, Pink Floyd in music, Peter Lindbergh and Richard Avedon in photography. They were super artists.

What gives you a sense of hope?

This overall awareness that exists now, that an 8-year-old kid understands a lot more than what we used to when we were 8 years old. There’s more understanding not just in art. People know now, before they didn’t have access to what was happening globally.

Don’t you think maybe somehow we’re not ready to be faced with all those at once, it might be overwhelming for our generation?

The most impressive thing about the human race and the thing that makes us stand out is our ability to survive and adapt. Let’s say the temperature goes to- 10 degrees everywhere we’re going to struggle for a number of years but somehow our bodies and DNA are going to adapt. Again negatives have to exist inorder for positives to exist to keep the flow going. If there's no current in the water, it stagnates and life dies. Anything that stops renewing dies. It’s not the thing itself, it’s how we use it and react to it.

Do you have a child inside you?

It’s always important to remember who you are, what you really want to do and what you’re passionate about in life. This comes from this child inside. Because when you do what you love, what you were supposed to be, you fall in love with the process but what’s happening now unfortunately is that people start having jobs for security because of society, parents, school or whatever and that makes them miserable because they’re disconnected from their inner child.

What are you interested in photographing?

I am interested in anyone trying to find this divine part inside of him/her, finding God in people. This divine part is present inside everyone of us despite our differences

How do you manage to stay calm?

If you know yourself too well and you’re in touch with your soul then there’s nothing that happened, happening to you now or will happen in the future that is bigger than this because the soul is the source of life. It created time and space. If you're in touch with your soul then you're out of time and space. There is control over it. Then you know that no matter what the situation is you can handle it. We only lose ourselves when we get angry, tempered, sad or upset that’s when we can’t handle the challenge but if you have this wild card always in your hand while you’re playing poker, you know then that even if you have bad set of cards, you're a winner. You're not going to be angry or disturbed, because you have a winning card. Everybody has this wild card you just have to find it.

How do you see the future?

I focus on staying present. Trying to make the most out of every present moment. This way I don't worry about the future because if am making the best decision for this moment then the future will be amazing. following the best Decision for every present moment will lead you to reach your full potentials.

Comprehensive Studio Lighting workshop at Photopia

You work with us at Photopia as an instructor for our famous “Studio Lighting” workshop, how did you find this connection between you and aspiring young photographers beneficial?

I find it very useful. Every time I walk into the classroom and somebody questions what I am saying it either makes me more confident in it or more doubtful. If the latter then I go back and find the truth of it. That way I'm growing and they're growing. I wouldn't have been confident to share my theories if I hadn't been working in the studio for 10 years constantly testing them. I work more on people's perspectives than technicalities. I do give them technicalities but how they see is my main focus.



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