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Cairo Photo Marathon winners on display at CIC

It's a good thing that the first place prize for the Cairo Photo Marathon is a brand new digital camera, as winner Ahmed Mahfouz did not own one when he shot the winning image.

"I used a Nikon D80 for the competition," he said, laughing. "But it wasn't mine. I borrowed it from a friend."

Mahfouz is one of many contestants who took part in the Cairo Photo Marathon held on 15 January. Organized by the Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) and sponsored by the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI), participants in the contest raced to take pictures depicting certain sub-themes and phrases that relate to the overarching theme of gender.

The competition was divided into two categories, with photographers choosing to participate in either a six-hour or 12-hour marathon. Mahfouz, who came in first place for the six-hour category, recalled how challenging – but ultimately rewarding – the shorter marathon was.

“I thought it would be easier than it actually turned out to be,” said Mahfouz, 36. “But it was incredibly challenging.”

Contestants had six hours to take six photos – a feat that was "far more difficult than it sounds," Mahfouz said, especially when bound to the marathon's themes. Many of the themes were colloquial expressions and innuendos, which he said were tricky to convey in an image. 

Of the six themes assigned to his division, one in particular proved especially challenging for Mahfouz. 

“I had a really hard time capturing an image I was pleased with or felt would be appropriate to go with the expression ‘a bean split in two,'” he said.

The saying, which serves to emphasize the similarities between two different subjects, eventually manifested itself in an image that the amateur photographer was quick to capture. And having won first place, he can now look back on the resulting photograph – depicting a street vendor alongside his display cart – with pride.

“The themes were frustrating in a way because they restricted what we could do and the work we presented,” said Mahfouz. “This is not the best photography that I am capable of, but it was the best I could do under these particular circumstances.”

Either way, the competition has left Mahfouz confident and enthusiastic.

“I would definitely participate in this marathon again if they chose to hold it next year,” he said.

Some interesting images, including storefront mannequins, corniche couples, and someone giving the finger to pop singer Tamer Hosny, could also be found in Amro Thabit’s set, earning him third place in the 12-hour category of the marathon – a position Thabit didn't expect to achieve because he was using a "small, 7-megapixel digital camera that wasn't working very well."

"There were a lot of people in this competition, many of them professional photographers with advanced cameras," Thabit explained.

Besides being up against professional photographers, Thabit also found the length of the marathon grueling.

“Twelve hours is a long time,” he said. “At first, you’re enthusiastic and energetic, but toward the end, it gets incredibly exhausting.”

Like Mahfouz and the rest of the competitors, Thabit also found the themes challenging. With 12 themes, all of which were different from those in the six-hour category, Thabit recalls struggling to find an appropriate image for the call-and-response expression, “Do you see the moon, you who are moon-like/No, do you see the Nile, you who are Nile-like” – a cheesy come-on met by a witty putdown.

Ultimately, Thabit’s images were good enough to put him among the top three photographers in his category.

Besides the six winners (three from each of the marathon’s divisions), some of the other contestants’ work is included in the marathon’s exhibition, which will be on display until 21 May at CIC.

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