Rebecca Anne Proctor speaks with Zein Khalfia and Heba Farid, founders of Tintera, a photography consultancy based in Cairo

Rebecca Anne Proctor [RAP]: How did you meet each other?

Zein Khalifa [ZK]: Heba and I initially met each other through the photography scene in Cairo around 15 years ago. Then in 2011, when I was researching Egyptian photographers for my dissertation, Heba was my main contact for finding archival materials. At the time she was Project Coordinator for the Photographic Memory of Egypt at CultNat.

RAP: What led you to establish Tintera in 2019?

Heba Farid [HF]: We started talking together in early 2016; we had many ideas that needed to be explored. With similar experiences in the art world, we found that curators and collectors attempting to acquire works by local artists became frustrated by the lack of information available. On various on-line platforms and occasional temporary exhibitions mostly outside of Egypt, some photographic works were being seen within specific contexts but works from the larger field were still obscured.

In Cairo, photography has not garnered enough importance as a serious art form and current commercial art galleries showcase mostly the other arts, like painting and sculpture, with none focused solely on photography as a fine art and that give it the space and consideration it deserves.

So in early 2019, as we began developing our current space, hanging works, showing portfolios and inviting people to come, the gallery began to take shape. Quite organically, a dedicated physical space for photography began to draw a growing audience, a new collectors base and artists stepped forward to show us works that had never been shown before.

Zein Khalifa and Heba Farid ©Barry Iverson, 2019
Zein Khalifa and Heba Farid ©Barry Iverson, 2019

RAP: There’s no other gallery dedicated to photography quite like Tintera. What is your vision and mission for the space?

ZK: At TINTERA we want our audience to not only easily find these works but to be able to understand how and why they were made, to get to know the artists behind the photographs and to explore other works by them.

Even though TINTERA is primarily an art venue, we are also keen on promoting the preservation of historic photographs and collections and an understanding of who, why, how, where and when these images were produced. We are committed to elevating the status and value of fine art photography in and of Egypt. Through our program of curated exhibitions, talks and publications, we hope to encourage a more informed appreciation of the medium by engaging with both specialised and general audiences alike.

Portfolio room at TINTERA, © Xenia Nikolskaya, 2020
Portfolio room at TINTERA, © Xenia Nikolskaya, 2020

RAP: Your photographers are both from the Middle East and abroad but all focus on portraying aspects of Egypt, both its contemporary history and its past. How do you select the photographers that you work with?

HF: We showcase the work of Egyptian photographers but also photography that has been produced in or inspired by Egypt. We currently show and represent over a dozen photographers and artists; what they all have in common is their commitment to photography as part of their practice. We constantly receive artists with bodies of work that have rarely been seen locally. Many of these artists have established practices we are familiar with while others are from a new generation of practitioners just starting their careers.

Installation view of ‘The Tour’ by Barry Iverson at TINTERA, © Faouzi Massrali, 2019
Installation view of ‘The Tour’ by Barry Iverson at TINTERA, © Faouzi Massrali, 2019

RAP: When I visited you recently in Cairo I marveled at the variety of photography on offer—from fine art photography to photojournalism. How would you describe the various genres of photography that you offer at Tintera?

ZK: Photography, as a medium, has many uses and many genres. Some of the images we show may have started out as ethnographic studies, social documentary, fashion editorials or picked from a family album, but with time the ‘genre’ that they fall in changes as the context for their showing or use does. In the end, the works we select to show are conceptually strong, coming from well-developed practices and show our audience varied approaches, techniques and materials that artists employ in the creation of these works.

RAP: How do the works that you show explore the challenges facing Egyptian contemporary history amidst the country’s challenging socio-political backdrop? 

ZK: What our audience might find revealing in our artists’ work is perhaps the unexpected relevance to contemporary issues through well thought out and executed projects, in a variety of genre-bending techniques.

For example, in the work of Sara Sallam, themes of absence, loss, longing and mourning are explored. Growing up in Egypt, a country shaped by its history as a necropolis of an ancient civilisation, sparked Sallam’s interest in the complex relationship Egyptians have with their ancestors. In The Fourth Pyramid Belongs to Her, an on-going photographic body of work, Sallam investigates the historical, archaeological, and touristic attitudes towards the Ancient Egyptians and the apathy towards their ancient remains. She draws analogies with the experience of losing her grandmother and the many conflicting yet coexisting perceptions of death that surrounded her. By portraying her grandmother as a pharaoh, Sallam projects her grief for her onto her ancestors. In doing so, the series of collage portraits become an invitation to re-acknowledge the Ancient Egyptian’s forgotten humanity and to see them through the eyes of a girl mourning her grandmother.

Sara Sallam, Plate 1, The Fourth Pyramid Belongs to Her, 2016, archival pigment print, Courtesy of TINTERA
Sara Sallam, Plate 1, The Fourth Pyramid Belongs to Her, 2016, archival pigment print, Courtesy of TINTERA

Barry Iverson is a former TIME Magazine correspondent and long-time resident of Egypt. He played a critical role in preserving the archive of the pioneering photographer Van Leo. Through reviving Van Leo’s trademark hand colouring technique, Iverson’s photographs of Cairo made in the mid-90s take on a new currency. As the city centre prepares to move 40km east to the New Capital currently being built, iconic landmarks such as Soliman Pacha Square in downtown Cairo and the colourful houseboats on the Nile, now all under threat of abandonment or redevelopment, are presented in the palette of old Egyptian cinema as relics of an almost already by-gone era.

These are all subtle approaches yet powerful examinations of contemporary reflexive attitudes that artists take in creating their work.

Barry Iverson, Gomhuria Street, 1996, handcoloured silver gelatin, Courtesy of TINTERA
Barry Iverson, Gomhuria Street, 1996, handcoloured silver gelatin, Courtesy of TINTERA

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