Oct 23 2009

wanna buy a camel?

Update: The Birqash camel market is running into hard times. The cost for the camels is rising and the selling price is falling. An LA Times feature today highlights the squeeze on the market I visited in 2006. It also confirms my suspicion that the camels were being sold for their meat instead as a working animal.

“It’s just like judging a beautiful girl,” said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh. “You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck, maybe 39 or 40 inches.”

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A very cute young camel

Camels have been in the news lately and I understand why. I fell in love with camels on a recent trip to Egypt. Not in love enough as the Dubai prince that paid $2.7 million for a camel today. But as a tourist sight outside of Cairo I can highly recommend the Birquash Camel Market (Souq al-Gamaal) that is 35 KM Northwest of Cairo. I had the chance to travel to Egypt with my wife and equally brilliant doctors on an American Diabetes Association organized trip. On the days that the others were busy attending their serious conference I get to go out and do some serious photography.

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Spotting a brief mention in a travel guide about a camel market I decided that this was the place to visit. Since it was off the normal tourist beat neither my driver or guide knew exactly how to find the place. There are many mysteries to driving in Cairo, but one of the best parts is that is always acceptable to stop and ask any stranger at the side of the road for directions. That is what we did. Every two kilometers the guide would roll down the window and inquire “Souq al-Gamaal”, “Souq al-Gamaal” and arms would point in one direction or another.

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An experienced camel trainer

The market outside of Cairo is more of a working class market where buyers are looking for working animals or perhaps ones that will end up on a dinner table somewhere.This was not the beauty pageant style of market in Saudi Arabia that was featured in the New York Times recently. (The opening quote is from the story written by Katherine Zoefh.) But the next time you are in Cairo roll down your window and shout “Souq al-Gamaal” for a sight that rivals the Giza Pyramids with none of the tourists.

Mark Harmel



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Mar 16 2009

what am i going to do with this stuff?

Published by under healthcare,portraits,process

If indeed I’m not just writing to myself and any clients or potential clients are reading this you may be wondering what am I going to do a with all of these wandering desert photos?

There is a point. When I’m running around taking pictures that please my own eye there is less of a need to be a temperamental artist when I’m shooting for you. At times a project requires me to be a craftsman instead of an artist. That is fine with me. I respect craftsmanship and and can go off wandering in the desert to make my own art next weekend. I’m here to do your job.

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Feeding my artistic soul at the Met

There are also times that my experimental shooting ends up as a solution in an assignment. This happened recently from a visit to the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met and the British Museum do a much better job of displaying the wonders of Egypt than I actually saw when I was in Egypt.

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Shaded window exploration leads to solution

I bounced from the ancient Egyptian collection to the modern Calder jewelry and along the way I discovered the solar window shades in a stairway looking out into Central Park. This didn’t result in a great photo, but the idea led me to an interesting solution when I returned to my normal beat of making portraits of doctors.

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The same solar shades covered the windows of a doctor

A couple of days later back in Los Angeles I walked into the office of the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai and see the same shades. After some finessing of my lights I was able to show Dr. Glenn Braunstein in front of a subdued courtyard setting that is partially obscured by the window shade.

Mark Harmel

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