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Mysterious tide
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 03 - 2019

What would be the connection between Siwa and Paraty, southeast Brazil's spectacular island? I murmured on my way to the Zamalek Art Gallery, which is hosting a distinguished photography exhibition by Brazilian photographer Prince Joao de Orleans e Bragança.
Entitled “Siwa and Paraty: Sand and Sea”, the exhibition – previously held in Rio de Janeiro and Paris, in 2006 and 2007 respectively – includes 20 large prints showcasing the two marvellous places. It opened last week. Paraty appears in abstract colour pictures of such subjects as boats reflected on water, while the Siwa oasis's endless sand is depicted in black and white.
Mysterious tide
Proud of being half Egyptian, Dom Joao spoke with enthusiasm about his great great grandfather Emperor Pedro II of Brazil's long visits to Egypt in 1871 and 1876. Like Egypt, he said, Brazil is a huge country with diverse ethnicities: “Our people are equally very friendly and hospitable.” The arist visited Siwa only once, in 2005: “It was a family journey, I accompanied my children, sister, and some cousins from Cairo there. We went by car. It was a great adventure.”
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1954, Dom Joao is the son of Prince Joao Maria de Orleans e Bragança and the Egyptian Princess Fatima Chirine Tousson. This unusual combination yielded an intellectual with many interests: an entrepreneur, lecturer and political activist as well as a photographer. He has published 12 books of documentary photography, the last of which he showed me at the gallery, laying out his unique vision of the culture and identity of Brazil. He photographs not only landscapes and people but also objects: umbrellas, drops of water, matchsticks. But he characterises himself as an anthropological photographer.
Mysterious tide
“In all my travels, I focus on everything I see; colours, costumes, people, culture and religion. In Siwa I was amazed by that huge panorama of endless desert, the dispersed dunes and lights. In Latin photography means the writing of light.”
Subtle connections abound. In one powerful image that makes use of light and shade, waves of sand appear like a crescent touching the sky, echoing the water in Paraty. “The sandy desert for me is very mysterious,” he says. “We have green spaces in Brazil, jungle everywhere. I thought it would be interesting to put two different worlds together.“ The colours of the boats are so bright it's hard to believe they are reflections, and they combine with the water to create stunning abstractions.
Mysterious tide
“In addition to my passion for documentary photography,” Dom Joao explains, “I like graphic photography; lines and shapes haunt me. I haven't used any computer applications to edit the pictures. They were simply pictured in the mid-day hours when the sun was shinning, at certain times of year, namely in the season of autumn in May or June when the light is very clear. When the boat is beautifully colored, the water becomes a mirror.”
Mysterious tide
The artist's next exhibition will feature the life and traditions of isolated native tribes in Brazil, another captivating anthropological field of interest. “My love of photography stems from my passion for studying human beings, identities and behaviours.” As our meeting drew to a close Dom Joao explained, “I need to get ready for tomorrow's excursion to Siwa. I hope I can get different shots this time.”


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