GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Young Palestinian photographer Shoroq Jaber began photographing social events and outdoor celebrations in 2016. She had to convince her first clients in Gaza’s conservative society that photos for their special occasions could be taken outside of the closed studios she is used to.
Photographing special occasions such as outdoor weddings has recently gained popularity in Gaza, changing the notions of traditional photography. Unemployed university graduates are leading the movement amid rising unemployment and job shortages in Gaza.
Jaber has struggled to convince citizens that photos on the beach or in farmland are attractive on their own and that there is no need for extensive editing. She told Al-Monitor: “The challenge was great and I was making huge efforts to convince people who held the opportunities to have their photos taken in open spaces. But people were convinced when they saw the dazzling results.
Jaber, who earned a bachelor’s degree in television program creation and presentation at the Gaza University College of Applied Sciences, lives in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Since most beauty salons and event halls are located in Gaza City, she had to travel there to work. “I had to tolerate criticism for coming home late every day to Khan Yunis,” she said.
Recently, some photos that Jaber posted on Instagram caused quite a stir in Gaza. She posted the wedding photos of an already married man whose first wife allegedly only learned about his second marriage from the photos. Jaber said: ‘I got permission from the couple as usual to post their photos. I was surprised by the wave of criticism and mockery claiming that I had denounced the man.
After the last fighting with Israel ended on May 21, Mohammad Hajjaj, 22, and his partner Mohammed Nassar had to repair their project, Hollywood Beach, which also offers photography for social occasions.
Seven Israeli rockets hit Hollywood Beach, which was due to open on Eid al-Fitr (May 10), when Israeli airstrikes began.
A year and a half ago, Hajjaj came up with the idea for a project that would find no competition in the market. He rented three empty acres in the Sheikh Ajlin area, west of Gaza City, but struggled to get building permits and build.
At first, engineers consulted by Hajjaj told him it would be too difficult to build, but he was undeterred.
He hired landscapers to create a water feature, a palace and a Cinderella carriage because “Gaza residents are looking for something special and new”, he told Al-Monitor.
He brought most of the raw materials from outside the Gaza Strip. “I bought most of the glass, decorative iron and plants abroad because you can’t find them here. You have to put in quality products that are resistant to the humidity of the sea, which corrodes many types of materials,” explained Hajjaj.
Naseem Abu Jamea, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University, said high unemployment rates are pushing young people in Gaza to pursue unique business ventures. The 19-29 age group is the hardest hit, with an unemployment rate of 67%.
Abu Jamea told Al-Monitor, “Some unemployed but ambitious young people are trying to create employment opportunities to find a source of income for themselves and their families in light of the suffocating crisis in public sector institutions and private by creating projects with new and creative ideas for society.
Abu Jamea added that the great distress in Gaza and factors such as overcrowding have prompted people to seek natural settings for recreation. He said, “The location of these studios in natural surroundings is a natural result of people’s quest for modernity and keeping up with new trends around the world.”
Arafat Helles, a professor of sociology at Al-Quds Open University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that while Gazan society is conservative, global cultures and their influence have led to new trends and projects in Gaza.
Helles clarified that as long as there is no conflict with the cultural and religious values of the society, people can be persuaded to deviate from tradition. He said young Gazans interact on social media and are exposed to global cultures and ideas through Western TV dramas.
He noted, “We find bold people among young people who have creative business and marketing ideas in Gaza. They present creative and stimulating projects. The presence of a receptive market for their ideas encourages them to move forward.