In April 2013, photographer Heather Finnecy decided to leave her known world of California to find the reality behind the hype about the Middle East. Now that her quest has led her through Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Kuwait, the UAE, and Afghanistan, she catches us up on what she’s learned along the way.
What surprised you the most?
The answer shames me a bit: I completely related to the women here. It’s weird to say that because I have so many lifelong friends in the Middle East now. But in the beginning, it did surprise me.
I know not everyone in the region is Muslim, but I had this fear instilled in me that Muslim women wouldn’t talk to me or let me photograph them, and that they hated Americans. Part of why I wanted to come in the first place was because of my country’s involvement here. All we see back home are images from the news: bombings, terrorism, oppression of women.
That’s exactly why I wanted to meet the women here, because I knew there was more to the story. I wanted to create imagery that was different from what we were seeing. The unsensational stuff that allows us to understand one another as human beings, because there are a lot of basic things that we all do.
What are your biggest “lessons learned”?
To just ask. To take a photo, ask a person a question about themselves, engage with the humans around you. Every time you do this, the world feels smaller and you feel more part of humanity, and it makes you proud.
The other is what I call the “smile test.” If I make eye contact with a woman with a hardened face, I feel intimidated. I start thinking, “she hates me because I’m a blonde white girl.” Then I realize I’m playing into the stereotypes by assuming she’s thinking this.
So I smile at her.
Nine times out of ten she smiles back, and in that moment, those stereotypes are shattered. We’ve overcome our societies’ negative biases and decided to stand in solidarity with each other. Connecting with people you think you have nothing in common with–that can cause change.
And your core message?
We’re more alike than we are different.
For more info – http://fromwhaticansee.com/