Meet the photographers challenging stereotypes of the Middle East

Story highlights

Photographers are looking to alter perceptions of the Middle East

The project aims to reflect the human side of region

The Everyday Middle East account has thousands of followers

CNN  — 

News bulletins from the Middle East often depict a litany of tragic events. But one woman, backed by a phalanx of talented photographers, is on a mission to broaden perceptions of the Arab world.

Lindsay Mackenzie is a Canadian photojournalist and communications specialist. After spending two years living and working in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, Mackenzie felt frustrated by how she saw those nations being portrayed in the international media.

“Disregarding the complexity, diversity, vibrancy, and humanity of people in the region leads to this ‘othering’ of the Middle East that is really damaging,” Mackenzie told CNN.

Taking inspiration from the Everyday Projects movement, which uses photography to challenge stereotypes, she started the Everyday Middle East project in 2014. Using Instagram as her platform, Mackenzie coordinated a group of photographers to post images they felt better reflected the reality of the region: Palestinians enjoying yoga classes in the West Bank and breakdancers performing on rooftops in Bahrain.

The Everyday Middle East account now has over 156,000 followers and features 23 photographers. CNN spoke with four contributors about what they hope to show the outside world.

Shaima Al-Tamimi: Yemeni photographer based in Qatar.

“There’s something very special about taking everyday photos. It gives a very human perspective to what may be considered mundane. Most importantly, such photos serve as a real depiction of life in our part of the world, which tends to get overlooked by the media.

Al-Tamimi's favorite picture on the Everyday Middle East account. "I love it because it truly captures the essence of Millenial kids in one shot."

“(We are not) one big homogenous spot on the map with the same identity, food and language. At the end of the day, we are all human and want the same things. Love, shelter, happiness and most of all peace.”

A man jumps on the rooftops of Souq Waqif in Qatar.

Ali Al Sharji: Omani conceptual photographer

“Photography (can have) a great impact on world views. I witnessed it when the artist Alicia Keys reposted one of my photographs (of a model in a burqa revealing her leg). It raised a huge (debate) on Instagram and Twitter about (modesty and the meaning of the picture).

When singer Alicia Keys reposted this photo on her Twitter account  Al Sharji experienced a backlash from Muslim conservatives about the pose of the woman. Al Sharji says he took the picture to make the statement that women should have the freedom to choose their passions, regardless of the restrictions placed upon them.

“Most of my work speaks about situations that are actually happening in this region but we decide to stay quiet for cultural and religious reasons. This is the beauty of photography, the power that it has on a viewer’s eye can change perspectives.”

Young men travel on their motorbikes in Nizwa, Oman

Kiana Hayeri: Iranian-Canadian photographer based in Tehran and Kabul

“I think specifically for Americans, the biggest misconception is they see Middle East as a different planet with very different people.

“When it comes to daily lives, these people are very much like Americans. They are mothers, fathers, youth and children with a lot of similarities. Despite all the conflicts on this end of the world, life goes on.”

woman reflection Iran

“As with anywhere in the world, there are challenges (associated with) being a woman but in the Middle East (as a photographer) it is more beneficial for me to be a woman than a man. I have access to most things that men do but I also have access to places, behind closed doors, that any man (would not be able to photograph).”

Tasneem Alsultan: Saudi based photographer covering stories from all over the Middle East

“I use photography and my experience as a Saudi woman, (being) raised between the US and UK, to question what I view as blatant contradictions in Arab and Western culture. I feel my photographs act as a mediator between these two hemispheres; exploring and questioning accepted behaviors.

Saudi saleswomen dance after hearing the news of that women will be able to drive in the Kingdom.

“Additionally, I am a single mother of two, so a huge part of my life involves frustrations in fighting against limiting stereotypes.

“Photography is a great tool to provoke thoughts and questions to a much wider audience than text.”

Click or swipe through the gallery atop the page to view a selection of photographs from the Everyday Middle East project.