26 October 2016

Sinai Park: Where Ambiguity Finds Reality

26 October 2016 - Written by Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

What started as a holiday trip ended up becoming a personal project where heritage, politics and safety are questioned.

© Andrea and Magda, from the series Sinai ParkScenery of the sound and light show of the "One Thousand and One Night". Weekly performance in English and Russian language. Sharm el Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.

Andrea and Magda are a photographic duo from France and Italy. They have lived and worked mostly in the Middle East since 2008. Their work focuses on the effects of globalization on society, the economy, and territory in the Middle East. Their first project, Palestinian Dream pictures the transformations of Palestine modeled by an ideal of modernity, and the illusions of an economical development under occupation. In Sinai Park, they explore the consequences of mass tourism on the territory of Sinai, Egypt. They are currently working on a new chapter in Lebanon that reflects upon society through Televisual imagery. 

Their work has been published in such international magazines as, Newsweek Japan, Courrier International, the Sunday Times Spectrum magazine, Internazionale, Vrij Nederland, and Mare, among many others.

© Andrea and Magda, from the series Sinai ParkForeground, tourist village left unfinished. The site has been abandoned since the revolution in 2011. Dahab, Sinai, Egypt.

As you mention in your statement, Egypt has gone through several political tensions since 2011, such as the revolution and the bombing of a plane that killed 224 people. So, why did you decide to focus on tourism in Egypt, specifically the location of Sinai? How did the Sinai Park project begin?

Actually this project was not born from the decision of working on tourism: we were going to Sinai on a holiday ourselves, to renew our visa when we were living in Palestine. As we were going around Sinai, we were impressed by the gigantic empty resorts, where you could still find traces of the presence of Israeli tourists that are no longer coming. It was a strange impression; quite surreal, like being in a video game. So we just thought that we could do something interesting here. We came back with the intention of doing a photo project, but without a clear idea in mind: we started scouting, photographing, and editing for several months, and little by little the idea became clearer. 

Before, in 2011, when the revolution happened, we had hesitated to go, but from then, each time we had the opportunity to work on events for news jobs we felt that we prefered working on long-term projects.

Across your project you seem to be highlighting the ambiguous sense of reality and fantasy. What are your thoughts on that?

It is a strange feeling that is often the starting point of our works: for us, this ambiguity finds its roots in the disconnection of our globalized world with the reality. On one hand, we chose to use the sense of ambiguity in our images to give a political message. On the other hand, we feel a sort of fascination for this feeling of strangeness, which is as close to amusement as it is to horror. It is probably the sense that we can feel with in surrealism.

© Andrea and Magda, from the series Sinai Park. Wardens of the Sharm el Sheikh Botanical Garden.

For how long did you work on the project?

We stayed in Sinai about 9 months. In total, the project took about a year and half.

How did you gain access to the locations in Sinai?

As we started the project on the day of the election of General Sisi, it was very difficult to know what was possible to do as a photographer under the new regime. We tried to find answers, but nobody could tell us yet. 

For most locations, we would just camouflage ourselves as normal tourists, with colored hats and flip-flops. For other places that would require permission, we would present ourselves as photographers, but then it was very difficult to obtain the permission. We often found ourselves in delicate situations: the police and the army were really tense and aggressive, and we were prevented from photographing a lot of the time, or forced to delete photos.

Everything is pretty much forbidden in Sinai except going to the beach and consuming the tourist facilities. We were also followed by “secret agents,” or private security services; we don't know exactly why, but they were not very discrete... 

So we also used google earth to find some views that would be difficult to access just by scouting.

© Andrea and Magda, from the series Sinai ParkA group of Russian tourists are taking a break during a quad bike excursion at the Wadi Gunaim Oasis.

Clearly Egypt is welcoming tourists, but what was it like to be a photographer today in Egypt?

After the assassination of Giulio Regeni, we understood that the situation got worst than we thought. Giulio Regeni was working for workers rights; a very delicate topic. We thought that our work was inoffensive enough so that it was not too risky, but since, we have heard many stories that confirm that freedom of expression in Egypt has been severely affected. There is a level of violence and paranoia amongst the authority that makes the simple fact of taking a photo in the street a dangerous act. 

As a consequence, the population is also very tense and scared: there is even propaganda that shares the idea that any foreigner can be a secret agent, and therefore, even simple citizens sometimes interfered and prevented us doing our work.

Has the project been shown in Egypt? If so, what has the response?

No, we have not shown the project in Egypt.

Do you intend to continue working in Egypt?

Maybe for our new project, but we will carefully evaluate the risk before going. 

To learn more about this project, visit Andrea & Magda's PHmuseum profile.

Written by

Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

Reading time

6 minutes

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