Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar is an annual photography festival that brings together photographic communities in Qatar and the SWANA region with their global counterparts, with concentrated support for the personal and professional creative growth of these communities.
Analog Film Club is a community initiative of analog photography enthusiasts who were involved in creating programs for the 2021 iteration of the festival. The community started off as an Instagram page in 2020 announcing weekly “photo walks,” and has now exceeded more than 1,000 organic followers.
The group partnered with Tasweer to conduct a series of programs including photo walks, workshops, and exhibitions, offering a fine example of what can be achieved when grassroots movements and institutions come together in the spirit of collaboration.
In this interview, founder Khalid Al-Ghanim and photographer Abdulrahman Al Baker reflect on their journeys, the growth of the analog photography community in Qatar, and future aspirations.
Marysa Abdulghani: How did the club start?
Khalid Al-Ghanim: I've always toyed with the idea of analog photography, but never really went out and did it. When COVID-19 hit last year, it felt like now or never. I bought this camera from eBay, a Pentax K 1000, and I started an Instagram page. People started following and Abdulrahman was one of them. A week later, I was like, okay, there are 20 followers, what can I do? I was at a traffic light and on my left I saw Gulf Cinema. And I thought, okay, neat, this place has lots of memories for many people. Let me go in and check it out, see if we can come here next week. Then I sent texts to everyone, and that's how it basically started.
Abdulrahman Al Baker: He asked me to walk around and take pictures together at Gulf Cinema and I thought it was just me and him. When I showed up, there were like 10 people!
MA: What do you think are the factors behind the success of the club so far?
AA: We’re very welcoming to newcomers. We try to talk to everyone who comes out on our photo walks, we try to understand who they are, where they come from, and what they're into. Whoever has any questions about analog can just ask us and we would answer. I think consistent communication with our members is important and we try to keep a dialogue going.
KA: I think a lot of the time people are frightened by the idea of trying out a new thing. Our role is to encourage them to come the first time and then keep coming back.
MA: Speaking of success, what does the word mean to you as Analog Film Club?
KA: What we do requires a lot of trust. Think about it, a random stranger just texts you and says "Hey, do you wanna meet up in an abandoned cinema?" *laughs* But seriously, I believe that the trust that has been given to us by our members is a success. Another success is getting people to get together and practice this craft on a regular basis.
AA: An instance that makes me feel like we’ve made it is when we manage to access an exclusive space such as the FIFA World Cup stadiums. Another is when people and institutions start approaching us, such was the case with Tasweer and Qatar Museums.
KA: I’m also very proud of our hashtag, #analogqatar. It’s kind of an online archive. There are around 1500 images on there that have never been compromised, hijacked, or anything. It's literally a catalog of street photography, beautiful landscape, and portraits from our very own members.
MA: What are some pressing challenges that a community initiative like Analog Film Club faces and how have you gone about addressing those?
KA: When we’re out on photo walks, we’re always wary of any clash with the public and authorities. There are unspoken rules, permits that we are not aware of. For some reason, film cameras come off as threatening to some people, I guess because they can look like professional cameras. But it’s still ironic since everyone has a camera on them at all times these days.
AA: There needs to be more respect for photographers in our culture, as well as an understanding for the value of what we do. Another challenge is expense. I think it goes without saying that photography is an expensive hobby, and we're not a commercial enterprise nor an institution. We're just a club of enthusiasts and people who want to make the jump from novice to enthusiast. The way that we’ve been going about this challenge so far is to have everyone responsible for their own spending, and we encourage everyone to start small. You don’t have to start with 35mm or 120mm films. Plus, we always advise getting a disposable camera before investing in something more costly.
MA: What about the Analog Film Club’s plans and hopes for the future?
KA: I hope the Analog Film Club family keeps growing with its different age groups, nationalities, ethnicities and expertise levels. I hope it remains diverse and united under its passion for analog photography. I also hope we can start raising funds by selling prints, which would go into organizing larger projects such as the founding of a publication and perhaps having our own exhibition. Creating more accessible trips for our members, too.
AA: It would also be nice to start working with creative agencies.
KA: As for the near future, we are looking into 2022 and creating a strategy of what we want to do throughout the year, especially given the fact that there's a World Cup happening which I believe is going to be a major part of our projects. Hopefully having planned what we want to do ahead of time will help us secure some type of funding.
MA: What about your role in the 2021 Tasweer Festival? Can you expand on your role and the program that you offered?
KA: Our program had four photo-walks, four developing workshops specifically for beginners, and ended with exhibitions. Our last cycle was in Al Wakra gallery. As mentioned earlier, photography is expensive, and so these programs were a window of opportunity for people to enter the scene without spending much. They simply signed up, were given free disposables, and attended special workshops taught by our club members. We had a workshop with our member Jonathan Miseroy for color photography, and we have a black and white one coming up with another member, Hemanth M.
MA: What advice do you have for someone thinking of launching a similar initiative?
KA: Just do it. Just go ahead. Don't worry too much about whether you’re doing things right or wrong. Be open to criticism and make sure your initiative is inclusive. Don’t give in to your doubts, give your idea a try and see.
AA: Start a hashtag. If for any reason your account disappears, at least the hashtag would show ongoing activity from other members.
KA: Run-down and hidden areas are much more accepting of photographers than other spaces. They can also disappear very quickly [through demolition]. Make good use of them.
To learn more about Analog Film Club Qatar, you can check out their Instagram here.
To learn more about Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar, check out the site here, and Instagram here.
Words by Marsya Abdulghani
Images by Analog Film Club Qatar