Jeddah Diary is the first book published by British photographer, Olivia Arthur, and is an exploration into the complicated and contradictory world of Saudi Arabian women as they balance between modernity and tradition.
Arthur has been photographing in the complicated region of Saudi Arabia since 2009; her first visit arising from an opportunity to exhibit a previous project exploring the boundaries of East and West, particularly women in Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran. During her stay, Arthur taught a photographic workshop for women only, and it was through these friendships that Arthur was granted unusual access to a world kept hidden from most.
Using a discreet digital camera, the same format used by the women themselves to photograph each other, Arthur slowly explored the many challenges of being a young Saudi woman in a society notorious for strict social conduct. Photographing mostly in female-only environments, which often still required careful negotiations, Arthur depicts the girls at home, enjoying each other’s company, at the beach and at family occasions.
Occasionally the girls are shrouded in their ubiquitous abayas, but as Arthur formed closer relationships this armor was reduced and some girls allowed her to photograph them uncovered. Arthur also developed a unique way of obscuring the girl’s faces after she’d photographed them; by photographing prints using a very strong flash to create a bleached effect. The consequences were to be a poignant reminder of the inconsistencies Arthur had experienced throughout the project; “One woman looked at a picture of her friend and said, “That’s great, but can you just show a bit more of her eyes, so people can see how beautiful she is?”
In 2003 she moved to Delhi to work as a freelance photographer covering assignments around the Indian Subcontinent. In 2006 she was invited for a one year residency with Fabrica in Italy, where she began work on ‘the middle-distance’, a project about the lives of young women along the border between Europe and Asia. This work was exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris as part of a Fabrica group show and later travelled to the Milan Triennial, the Shanghai Art Museum and the Shiodomeitalia Creative Center in Tokyo.
For the past two years she has continued to work on a long-term project about women and the east-west cultural divide. This work has been supported by the Inge Morath Award from Magnum, a Bursary from the National Media Museum and the OjodePez-PhotoEspana Award for Human Values. She became a nominee member of Magnum Photos in 2008.
The featured photographer for May 2012 was Olivia Arthur