Asharq Al-Awsat, Jeddah – Joining the ranks of photographers affiliated to a prestigious establishment such as ‘Reuters’ was the payoff after a long journey that spanned over 25 years in which Saudi photographer, Susan Baaqil, seldom put down her camera.
As an amateur, Baaqil used to collect photographs and cut others out of newspapers and magazines, which was one of the first indicators of her fascination and attachment to photography. This paved way for her to hone her skills taking wedding pictures in various cities around Saudi Arabia. The reserved nature of the community was among the reasons she was able to achieve acclaim among the ladies’ circles, thus attaining fast renown among her female subjects.
Baaqil’s first collection of photographs was titled ‘The Shadow of a Palm Tree’, which she created using her Canon camera and which chartered the beginning of her exploration of light and shadow. Although superficially they were images of palm trees, Baaqil’s eye was able to translate the beauty of the photographed subject whilst conveying the subtle nuances of the language of black and white photography. The subject of her photographs may have been conventional; however the innovation of the eye behind the lens was clear from the start. This original approach led her to set up a photography studio in 1983 in which she only photographed female subjects.
The ambitious photographer’s transformation from amateur to professional came through an academic gateway when she went to the US to study photography. “My relationship with the camera surpasses the moment of the click of the button. This is what prompted me to study the fine art of photography with all its diverse approaches, methods and principles,” she said.
Since photography can only be a relationship between two parties; subject and object, Baaqil was adamant to study the psychological dimension in the photographic process. This only confirmed Susan’s skill as a photographer and is moreover a dimension that is continuously present in her photographs.
“The image is the product of the communication process and a relationship between the photographer and his/her subject. This is why I am very keen on living every moment with the subject I am photographing,” explained Baaqil.
However Baaqil’s passion for photography was not simply limited to portraits of people, she was also interested in conveying the spirit of various locations, some of which were distinguished by their holiness. One of her challenging subjects was the Hiraa Cave [location in which the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed] in Mecca, which she photographed in a session that lasted three hours. On another occasion, Baaqil took aerial shots from a helicopter of Muslims congregating in prayer in the Kaaba. She acknowledged that it was no easy feat and that it required a great amount of patience.
Susan Baaqil’s ingenious eye in capturing moments and details compelled many public figures to agree to stand before her camera and consent to being photographed. She is proud to be the first Saudi female photographer to have had the privilege of photographing the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Additionally, she was the only woman among the press photographers attending the Islamic Summit Conference recently held in Riyadh. Her portfolio includes images of kings and heads of Islamic states.
However, away from the somber atmosphere of conferences and political meetings, Baaqil’s journey as a photographer takes her all over the world from the historic ancient city in Jeddah on the west coast of Saudi Arabia to Rome, Pisa and the United States. She held her first exhibition in collaboration with the White Community College in Miami. Since then, Baaqil has had approximately 120 exhibitions worldwide.
However, the decision to make Baaqil a part of the team of photographers at ‘Reuters’ did not happen overnight. Her appointment caused a commotion and was mentioned on a number of Internet forums and whispered among the local community, but Baaqil paid no attention to it. She stated that her choice of profession was one in which responsibility and seriousness remain to be the decisive factors.
Regarding her experience working with ‘Reuters’, Baaqil said: “Despite the novelty of the experience and its ostensible simplicity, based on my long experience in the field I can say that press photography is not an easy job. In this field, the picture should answer three questions concerning time, place and technique, as well as the speed of capturing the event and the angle from which it is photographed. All these are elements upon which photographers are assessed.”