One of the biggest exports from the Arab world is news, including its news photography. International attention on Arab news has increased in recent decades, energized by landmark events such as the Gulf Wars and the so-called Arab Spring that has erupted since it began in 2010.

Today, millions of images of the Arab world created by local and foreign reporters, including embedded and citizen journalists, circulate to an international audience. Many of these images depict a region rife with regionalized conflict, where the Western political and militaristic construct of a ‘war on terror’ is situated, and where its citizens are making demands for political freedom and economic opportunities. These images are conceptual commodities in themselves and bring forth related economies, such as emergency relief aid and democratization programs.

In much of the Arab world, news is controlled by the state. While the concept of ‘nationalized’ news can connote and circulate a common belief system and even civic pride, it is a problematic descriptive. In recent decades, several ruling autocracies or powers — be they political, militaristic, or religious — have monopolized the media in some Arab regions to promote particular sets of opinions and values, and in extreme cases, disseminate propaganda. Conversely, in other parts of the Arab world such as in the Gulf states, new economies have brought forth increased private sector wealth and democratic agency, providing many with power to broadcast a diversity of opinions. In the last two decades there has been an influx of independent news media outlets in the region, including those geared towards expatriate audiences.

In geographical contrast, freedom of information is sometimes assumed in Europe and the USA. However, our news industries also have agendas. Over the last few decades, visual referents and narratives often repeat in the representation of this geo-political region. What is published is a small part of what each photojournalist produces. This is, of course, part of the editorial process inherent in the photographic medium, but it nevertheless raises the concern that there exist incredibly complex, opaque systems of power defining what we see.

— Madeline Yale Preston, Curator

Five Photographers, Five Views on the Arab World

The five photographers whose work is featured here include Tanya Habjouqa, Austin Tice, Zied Ben Romdhane, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, and Rémi Ochlik. View in-depth examples of their photography in the full-screen slideshow above, and read more about each of them below.

© Tanya Habjouqa

East Jerusalem-based Jordanian freelance photographer Tanya Habjouqa is known for gaining unique access to sensitive gender, social and human rights stories in the Middle East. She has worked on the front lines in Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur, and Gaza having had her images published in most of the major periodicals across the globe. Her images, taken in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, are an exploration of the moments where ordinary men and women demonstrate a desire to live, not just simply survive, despite the threat of violence that hangs overhead each day. Her project Occupied Pleasures earned a World Press Photo award in 2014.

© Austin Tice

Austin Tice is an American photojournalist last seen leaving Damascus, Syria over 500 days ago. Originally from Houston, Tice graduated from Georgetown University and went on to be a Captain in the United States Marine Corps. In May of 2012, he traveled to Syria as a freelance journalist to report on conflict there. His photos represented here catalog his encounters with Syrian children in dangerous, and often disturbing, situations, as well as trying to lead a normal life amidst chaos. Tice’s capture in 2012 makes him one of 30 journalists currently missing in Syria.

© Zied Ben Romdhane

Tunisian photographer Zied Ben Romdhane is currently part of World Press Photo’s Reporting Change project in the Middle East and North Africa. His series Waiting Zones documents a period of transience for Egyptian and Libyan workers displaced along the Tunisian border as a result of Arab Spring events.

© Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, whose images have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and who is a correspondent for The Guardian in the Middle East, presents images of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

© Rémi Ochlik

Finally, the presentation includes the work of 28-year old award-winning French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik. Ochlik was known for his photographs of war and conflict during the Arab Spring revolutions before his untimely death in the February 2012 bombardment of Homs during the 2011-12 Syrian uprising. His images capture protests against the Egyptian government in Tahir square, Egyptians and Bangladeshi migrant worker refugees at the Tunisian-Libyan border, and the fall of Tripoli and the death of Qaddafi from January–March of 2011. 

— LensCulture

Editor’s Note: The exhibition will be showing at the Houston Center for Photography  until May 4, 2014.