Photopia brings photography to Cairo’s Heliopolis

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A new space for photography launched in June, aspiring to be a new hub in Cairo for photographers and appreciation of the image. Originally published in Ahram Online.

A stronger appreciation for photography and imagery emerged with the January 25 Revolution. People started to look at photography beyond its commercial side epitomised in the thousands of advertisements Cairenes are exposed to on a daily basis. More and more people started picking up cameras, whether on phones, point and shoot hand-helds, or professional equivalents and clicking their way into the world pf photography.

Opened last June, Photopia, a hub for photographers in Heliopolis, attempts to take advantage of this new trend, offering a space to nurture this new interest in the city. Located in the heart of Korba, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Cairo, and architecturally one of the most aesthetic, the founders aim to help amateur and professional photographers with their needs.

“The idea came two years ago when I was working in banking and I had a lot of photographer friends, and realised that these people need a permanent place to hang out and talk,” Marwa Abu Leila, one of Photopia’s founders, told Ahram Online. “I quit my job after the start of the revolution, in May 2011, and we started looking for a space.”

Abu Leila teamed up with professional photographer Abeer El-Maadawi, who is one of the instructors at Photopia, along with Kareem El-Khadem, who acts as a silent partner.

“We chose Heliopolis as it is my residential area and it lacks these kinds of art spaces,” Abu Leila stated, explaining that Korba was chosen due to its central location and the fact that most people outside of Heliopolis know the area.

Cairo, one of the biggest cities in the world, has a centralisation issue when it comes to art centres. Most of the cultural spaces are concerntrated in the centre of the city, leaving the rest of the capital with few choices when it comes to participating in the culture movement.

Photopia, is located on the ground floor, taking over an appartment, backyard and garage area, which the owners turned into a professional photography studio available for rent. The studio was previously rented for a clothing store, Wild, to shoot their new collection, along with Al-Dostor Party who shot a video for one of their campaigns at the location.

“We are trying to be a one stop shop for photographers, not photography,” Abu Leila said, explaining that Photopia’s team merely create a space that hosts photographers, whether professionals or amateurs.

The outside area of the space hosts constantly changing exhibitions. Lying around are about bean-bag chairs and glass tables for people to come, sit and enjoy the free wifi service and grab a drink or homemade brownies from the Photopia Café. The space is designed in a way to allow natural light to come in from above.

In addition to the café, which acts as a social focus for photographers and a comfortable workspace for freelancers, Photopia organises photography classes and post-production courses, along with specific workshops for specialisations, such as food, fashion, wedding and travel photography.

The space has also hosted established photographers to give talks along with discussion circles on different monthly themes. The upcoming focus for November will be wedding photography.

Photopia sells photography equipment, photobooks and photographs, aiming to encourage people to buy photography as art works. Photopia also offer a service they call “Ask a Pro” where people can book an hour with a professional photographer to ask all their questions relating to their field of interest.

Some other events hosted include music concerts.

“The musical shows are not related to the theme of photography, but it’s a way to expose people to the music scene and attract people into the space,” Abu Leila explained.

The only other centre in Cairo that is solely focused on photography and image production is downtown’s Contemporary Image Collective (CIC), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to empowering Cairo’s image production scene through hosting art exhibitions, running a photo school and hosting a photography library.

“I had a meeting with CIC and they were very supportive of our initiative. The collaboration never went beyond that because we both got busy, but I definitely want to take the collaboration forward,” Abu Leila said.

Photopia’s team have big dreams of expanding their space and catering to more people in Cairo and outside the capital, elevating the level of image production and encouraging the surge of interest in photography.

Photopia is located on 15 Somal Street, Korba, Heliopolis, Cairo

Opening hours: 11am – 10pm

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