Lina Geoushy - RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year 2019
Lina Geoushy - 'Breadwinners'
Royal Photographic Society Documentary Photographer of the Year 2019
In a patriarchal society where men can expect to control their wives’ career choices and have a final say over all household matters, a woman may go out into the world, find a job as a housekeeper, earn money, and support her whole family. However, her power and status at home may not change at all, so she ends up carrying the burden, rather than the privilege of being the sole provider. ‘Breadwinners’ is a record of female housekeepers who are overlooked and relegated to the fringes of Egyptian society. In this personal project, I took a documentary and portrait approach to produce a series of portraits shedding light on and representing female housekeepers employed in homes in Cairo, Egypt. It is also a series of self-education and investigation into the impact of Egyptian culture and the prevailing power of patriarchy on these women’s lives.
Lina Geoushy on ‘Breadwinners’
As an Egyptian woman and documentary photographer, I grew up seeing female housekeepers in the houses of friends and relatives. I always felt that they didn’t receive the status and rights that they deserved in their community and in Egyptian society as a whole. It was Alfonso Cuaron’s film, Roma, that was a catalyst for my project and was my lightbulb moment. The devotion of the main character, the family’s housekeeper Cleo, the class structure, and other themes in the film were echoes of events and people I have encountered in my hometown, Cairo.
I think I am only driven to work on projects that I have an emotional connection with, so I follow an emotional approach. The next day I started the online research about the legal and social status of housekeepers. I started getting in touch with friends and acquaintances to fix me up with my collaborators and plan initial meetings in Cairo. The process was quite intuitive and smooth after meeting two collaborators. A lot of unexpected layers to the story emerged and that gave me the confidence to continue what I was doing.
Almost all Egyptian housekeepers have never been photographed before, unless it was for an ID photo, so getting access and gaining their trust took time. Additionally, I had to get the consent of employers for interacting and doing the shoots during the housekeepers’ working hours. Some of the housekeepers who initially wanted to take part, refused to collaborate later on, in fear that the man in their family would object to them being photographed. I had to accept and respect their choices of course.
My DPOTY entry is part of an ongoing long term project in which I strive to initiate/ stir up a conversation about how Egyptian society perceives, treats, and rewards these dignified female housekeepers in Cairo. It aims to be a catalyst for social and legal change. It aims to prompt viewers to reconsider their perceptions and behaviours towards these women and the work they do in their communities.
I am an Egyptian social documentary and portrait photographer based in London. My portraiture is about real people and real places. While studying photography at London College of Communication, I started combining my experience in communication and psychology with my passion for telling stories that deconstruct and question the public’s perception of the prevailing power of patriarchy. I believe as a photographer and storyteller, that my role is to connect with my collaborators and provide an intimate and enticing visual invite to the viewer.