Sometimes it takes a long time for things to start suddenly. I've been passionate about Middle Eastern music and dance for almost a decade and have worked as a drummer with a number of bands and orchestras in Toronto. I also work as a full-time photographer and although I have photographed a number of belly dancers, I never really considered combining my passion for creative portraiture with Middle Eastern themes. A couple of years ago I did a creative shoot with dancer Iana Komarnytska and we came up with images like the one above.
My friend Dr. George Sawa, a musician and historian of Arabic music, said this photograph reminded him of 19th century 'Orientalist' paintings. I was vaguely familiar with some of those works, but decided to look more into them. I fell in love instantly, and spent a lot of time studying them and imagining what would be a photographic 'incarnation' of that aesthetic. I did a few sketches of scenes and themes but what propelled me to start the project as a series was another shoot with Iana, this time in May 2015.
We were shooting at the Persian Palace restaurant and the decoration and mood of the place served as the trigger to create a vision for the whole project. This vision included musicians and dancers in interconnected scenes that would ultimately turn into a series. It just had to be done. I was looking for a new project that would push my technical and creative abilities, and that was it. I started compiling a list of possible talent to be a part of the project, locations to shoot, props to incorporate and suddenly I was visualizing scenes and thinking why I haven't done this project sooner.
Since then, I have created five images in the series, which I will talk about in future posts, and I felt compelled to write about the process of coming up with ideas an executing them. In a way, it's a vulnerable position to be in, because many things can go wrong and I usually like to deliver finished products. But, in the spirit of the Orientalist painters of centuries ago, who travelled to fascinating lands to visually explore their wonders, I decided to share with you my own journey through the creative process. So I invite you to join me and share the making of The Orientalist. Much more to come.