Amid Egypt’s ‘January Revolution’ of 2011, former banker and photography enthusiast Marwa Abu Leila abandoned her eleven-year corporate career to venture off into the world of Image making.
Out of shared interest, friends and co-founders, Abu Leila and Karim El Khadem entered the world of photography with a neutral and raw approach. Without any preconceived notions, they were able to immerse themselves in a field that is very rich, and diverse.
In May 2012, both Marwa and Karim founded Photopia, an educational institution that seeks to bridge the gap between emerging and established photographers.
Located in Heliopolis, on the outskirts of Cairo, Photopia is a more comprehensive space that offers a broad range of photography-related courses, master classes, talks, and workshops. A true hub for photographers’, It focuses on the educational, technical, artistic, and business aspects of photography.
A foundation that believes in the power of collaboration and visual exchange, over the years Photopia was able to partner up with national, and international institutions such as The Photographers’ Gallery in London, Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) in Dubai, 500px, Arts -Mart, AFAQ Fund, to name a few.
In 2018, Photopia’s managing partner Abu Leila was the resident judge on season two of ‘I Am A Nat Geo Photographer’ a reality tv photography contest. Airing on National Geographic Abu Dhabi in March and April of that year, the show placed the organization on the regional map.
Capitalizing on the big network that they built, Photopia decided to create Cairo Photo Week, a Festival that brings together a community of photographers from all backgrounds. In November 2018, With the support of Al Ismaelia, a real estate investment company renovating and reviving downtown Cairo, Photopia launched their latest initiative, inspired by photography festivals around the world, Cairo Photo Week: ‘Tell Your Visual Story,’ is the first edition of its kind in Egypt.
A week of photography education, networking, and exposure, Cairo Photo Week was created to promote and give a voice to Cairo’s developing photography and image-making scene.
Diverse, and tackling a wide variety of photography and image making genres, the festival covered topics related to Documentary, Fine Arts, Commercial, Fashion, Art Direction, archiving, food photography and styling amongst other themes.
Influential, local, and regional photographers making up eighty percent of instructors and speakers offered Cairo Photo Week’s program.
Eighty local and international speakers were invited to give talks and share their expertise and advice with photographers, visual storytellers & researchers, and other image making amateurs and professionals.
The nine-day festival introduced fifteen different workshops such as “Intensive Newborn Posing” and “Introduction to Black & White Darkroom”, to four panels, and portfolio reviews offered by sixteen prominent photographers who focused on giving feedback towards commercial, fashion, and food photography, also including other genres from the medium.
Partnering up with Cannon Central and North Africa as well as regional, and international educational institutions such as Gulf Photo Plus (Dubai), The Danish School of Media and Photojournalism (Denmark) and Canon School. Photopia is becoming the photography foundation that many search for.
Though photography’s popularity is limited to elitist cultural communities, Abu Leila believes that “the medium is becoming popular in the digital era, where many individuals discover a photographer in themselves, due to the use of digital cameras and mobile phones.” The non-intimidating form of art is becoming a part of not just the Egyptian but also the Middle Eastern culture, says Marwa. “With more collaborative initiatives, a festival such as this one can be sought out by individuals from around the world.”
Seeking to raise awareness around photography in all its forms, and educating individuals about the many facets of the medium, Photopia blurs the lines between amateur and professional photography. “We need to change the mindset,” says Abu Leila who believes that “ the era of the poor artist has to end! There is no shame in making money out of photography or art, and we need to know how to put a price on our work.”
Photopia is continually working on building a strong foundation for practically anyone interested to know more about photography. With monthly programs, that run alongside talks, workshops, and photography related event, Egypt’s leading photography institution intends to “bring the world to Cairo, and MENA region.”