BY HINA MIRZA
Perle Magazine had a rare opportunity to spend a morning with Bahraini Reuters photographer, Hamad Mohammed. Over a traditional Bahraini breakfast and karak chai at a roadside café, we talked about how picking up a camera changed his life.
A veteran photographer at Reuters for the last 17 years, Hamad has captured hundreds and thousands of images, from euphoria to devastation and wakes up every morning thankful for the opportunity he has been given, especially as he started his career path from more local and humble beginnings.
Beginning his career in news and media as a journalist at the Tribune, Hamad was told his English was not strong enough to sustain that career. The Editor in Chief at the time, the late PV Anand, took Hamad under his wing and became his mentor. Holding high regard for his mentor, Hamad recalls how the late PV Anand , taught him valuable life lessons and offered golden advice, which Hamad lives by to this day; “Don’t be greedy, never abuse your power, never ask for more than what you deserve, don’t lose your temper, don’t bring your work home; These are the keys to your success in your professional and personal life.”
It was perhaps the moment when Hamad was called into the Editor in Chief’s office one day and was told, “I’ve been reading your articles and your English is very basic, you will not last as a journalist for very long” that his career took a different turn. He gave Hamad two pieces of advice: go abroad and get international experience; pick up the camera, if you have an eye for photography then you have a chance to make a career for yourself in photography.
From the moment Hamad started using the office camera, it felt right and he knew straight away that this was his calling. Moving towards photography and photojournalism, Hamad took a leap of faith and moved to England, UK, to learn photography as well as taking photojournalism courses in 1999. Hamad says going to the UK gave him international exposure to photography, “it gave me the understanding of the field, the real journalism and the ethics of photo journalism, and I needed to leave Bahrain to find that exposure’. Hamad further adds, “my advise to other photographers who are looking to take up the career seriously, including those I train, no matter what you do, you need to go abroad, live there as a photographer and that will widen your horizon and unlock your brain to shoot outside the box”.
Don’t be greedy, never abuse your power, never ask for more than what you deserve, don’t lose your temper, don’t bring your work home; These are the keys to your success in your professional and personal life.
The late PV Anand, Former Editor & Chief at The Tribune and M.E Political Analyst
Upon his return to Bahrain, Hamad was fortunate to secure a job in Reuters as a Photo Journalist for Bahrain, which entails shooting images without any editing, touch ups, colour corrections, or lighting. “We add a caption and brief, and send the raw images and captions to sub editors & editors to review and launch on the wire to other newspapers & TV channels.”
Hamad recalls, “I didn’t know what I was getting into, I didn’t know what to expect, but within a few days, I saw my images were being published more than my articles and that was my inspiration and I embraced it. It was stroke of fortune from God and I am extremely grateful”.
Working at Reuters, one cannot predict the day ahead, and Hamad has learned to manage the un-predictability of the job. He says, “I ensure I’m ready to shoot at any given moment, I keep a change of clothes in the car, and make sure my equipment is always with me”. Initially, it was difficult for family and friends to understand the erratic hours of Hamad’s day, especially when it conflicted with his social commitments, “my social life takes a back seat and work is a priority. News events have to be covered. There is no weekend or day off for a journalist”.
I am very proud of the fact that out of the Gulf region, Bahrain has the most free press. The international observation about Bahrain not having freedom of press is wrong. We are free to cover any news event without any hindrance or restriction from the government.
Speaking of how people react when they hear Hamad works for Reuters, he says there used to be a ‘cool factor’ attached to working as a photojournalist, but now he gets mixed reactions. Sometimes receiving negative and hostile reactions, whereas other times he gets a more sympathetic reaction, “where people say ‘you have a really tough job’. Part of the society doesn’t approve of what my job entails and a part of the society understands the necessity of international media and freedom of press”. Hamad adds, “I am very proud of the fact that out of the Gulf region, Bahrain has the most free press. The international observation about Bahrain not having freedom of press is wrong. We are free to cover any news event without any hindrance or restriction from the government”.
Part of Hamad’s job entails meeting dignitaries, royalty and celebrities, and he adds one of the most interesting people and biggest personalities being the late Michael Jackson. As well as rubbing shoulders with the elite, Hamad covers major events such as Formula One, international-level major events and conferences. Hamad says this is the best part of his job, “it is very exciting, because people are waiting for your images”. One aspect of the job, which is not pleasant and weighs heavily on Hamad, is covering disasters and sudden tragedies. Hamad says, “it stays with me, how people are going about their normal daily routines and within a matter of seconds, life changes for them. The crying, grief and the despair, that stays with us. People are distraught, in shock and we have to cover the tragedy. Some people understand that we are there to cover the story for the news, some people don’t understand that and they can become hostile towards us”. However, Hamad doesn’t let the hostility affect him as he feels it is his obligation to cover any event, happy or sad.
When asked what advise he would give to budding Photo Journalists, he says “there is a trend towards post production editing, HDR, and CGI and I feel it is moving away from the core art of photography. I understand post-production for an advert or concept, I understand social media enhancing but I would advise to try to keep it raw as possible. Keep true to the art to of photography. Go back to the basics; your perspective, natural lighting, shadows, angles, that’s how you get a good image”.
Hamad speaks of the future of photography in Bahrain and says there is an exceptional level of talented people in Bahrain, “but because we lack a photography society or institute, the art and talent is being wasted, and overlooked. If there is a way to connect photographers, and organize more photography competitions, hold photography exhibitions, we will able to put ourselves on an international platform and give Bahrain the exposure it deserves.”
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