Every time I look at his photos I recall the first post I saw on instagram in his profile: a portrait of an old man, wearing yellow uniform standing at the highway holding two iron or metal sticks, with one look in his eyes; perhaps surprised someone is taking a photo of him, maybe happy but surely not upset. The caption of this instagram photo of a random street cleaner was #AnaEnsan (I Am Human). I clicked on the hashtag and found many images before this particular one, scrolled down until I reached the first, written under it: “This is an attempt to remind us all they are Humans”.
The young Kuwaiti photographer who started to grab people’s attention to not only on vulnerable street cleaners, but also random workers’ accommodation & lifestyle, deserted buildings & furniture, amateur street art and the homeless in Kuwait is Faisal Al Fouzan. I knew Faisal from art events & happenings in Kuwait, the first time I saw his photography was in 2012 at CAP 2 days photography workshops in Mubarkiya – old market in Kuwait – where all photographers were asked to create a storyboard from their pictures & later exhibit them in group show. My impression on Faisal’s work was it is simple, brightness of colors makes you feel good but you can’t pass without it leaving a trace… The only fear I had was he’d shift into commercial or typical photography of Kuwait’s architecture and scene of: beach, flying birds on seashore, ships & of course The Towers… Well he got me wrong & I am glad he did!
Faisal, a self taught photographer, first surprised me with “Friday’s Gathering” series; where he drove every Friday afternoon to famous accommodations of foreign workers also known in Kuwait as (Single Men Accommodation) and took portraits of people leaving there. Basically he was documenting conditions of a forgotten community which is a major part of the country; crafters, tailors, taxi drivers, banay, 9abagh… etc. In other words, they work in jobs you’ll never see locals do. Maintaining simplicity & bright colors, Faisal took pictures of them smiling, eating, sleeping, striking a pose… You smile when you look at the images because they are full of life & vibrant yet you can’t not be shocked of this fact: how come they live in such conditions?!
“My lens capture the houses of foreigner workers in Kuwait. The accommodation is either an old house or a four floor building built in 1960s – 1980s, varied from one to six rooms maximum where 4 to 10 men sleep in each, if they are lucky they have beds! They share the one toilet, kitchen and pay 25 – 30 KD monthly (approx. 70 – 100 USD) for accommodation and one meal a day, when salary of some is 40 – 70 KD or less. These men who came from different countries to have a job and guarantee a decent life to their families, work in different modest jobs. The set up of ‘Single Men Accommodation’ is random and could be found in residential or commercial areas in Kuwait, usually it is a block of old houses next to each other, most are surrounded with urban towers or houses some of these men built”.
When I asked him about Friday’s Gathering purpose & expectations behind it he said “This project pays tribute to a community media and society don’t see, a community of ghosts, who some consumed their energy in building infrastructure, high towers, skyline, luxurious houses… Behind creating a contemporary high end cities but never have the chance to enjoy it the way we do. I am not pointing fingers, I just want people to open their eyes and think twice before some mistreat any worker”.
I Am Human… I Am Not Yellow
Friday’s Gathering quickly shifted into a bigger documentary project and switched Faisal’s attention to Street Cleaners, a more forgotten community we all interact with differently on daily bases. Have you ever asked yourself how do you look at street cleaners? If you yell or say something rude to one, do you feel guilty? Or does the incident even cross your mind?! Looking at some of Faisal’s pictures in I Am Human… I Am Not Yellow portraying cleaners with there yellow uniform on field, their face expression & look in their eyes made me realize they don’t want us to think of their lifestyle, but to at least consider them beings of flesh, blood, brain & feelings… A definition of Human.
My favorite one Faisal took was an image of Street Cleaner (above) who is standing with his broom in front of funny amature street art on a wall and smiling to the camera, a big smile actually. Guess he was happy a random guy took a picture of him for nothing in return. Faisal expanded the project to include any random worker he mets daily, not only street cleaners, and not in their comfort zones (home) he took photos of them in the field.
“Inspired by their modesty and happiness of someone paying a slight attention to them and treat them with respect, the photos are not gloomy at all. I don’t want to show their misery, it is there, but I want to portray the human side in each. It doesn’t make them less human than us because they work & live in bad conditions!”
Both projects started in 2012 and still continuing with approximate 2000 photos – or maybe more! Where or how will it develop?! Only the young ambitious photographer knows, what I am certain about is it will turn big and if the media or officials didn’t pay attention to this documentary, it is creating awareness among the mass who are already acknowledging Faisal’s cause, hard work and of course artistic talent. Follow up his work on instagram. For more information visit: faisalthef.com