The nomadic lifestyles of the desert bedouin of South Sinai, Egypt are captured in these intimate and striking GIF portraits. The photographer/GIFographer is France-based Rubens Ben who spent a week hanging with the tribesmen at the end of 2016, following and photographing the herders.
The bedouin keep livestock like camels and goats which they use for meat, milk, and clothing. Rubens captures them standing outside their huts, relaxing on sand dunes, by the fire, or sitting together in their tents.
"We are proud and happy with our home as long as we have Bedouin seating areas (carpets and cushions on the ground), a good fire that is always lit, coffee and tea," notes Sofian Noor, a Sinai Bedouin guide. "We like things to be simple."
The slight motion in the GIFs, which were created in Photoshop, add an extra sense of place to the portraits. Whether it be the flickering fire, a head turning, or a flag fluttering in the distance. They also add a sense of surreality, in that they seem like photographs that appear to come to life.
Rubens has previously covered music festivals, concerts, and carnivals in his GIF reportage style. But his time spent in South Sinai has swapped strobing lights and dancing crowds for the serenity of desert life.
"The trip, self-funded and sponsor-free, was a great [way] to reconnect with nature and the authentic values of the simple life," Rubens explains. "Away from the craziness and frenzy development of Western societies."
Creators spoke to Rubens about his work:
Creators: What is it that these particular bedouin do? Do they herd a particular type of animal? Does their tribe have a name? Rubens Ben: OK so these Bedouins are living in the Sinai Peninsula and in the Negev. Their activity consists mainly of herding camels and goats, hosting strangers, guiding. Bedouins are divided into 12 tribes, or 12 families. In the area I've been, there were a lot of Jabarat and Tarabin tribe. Here is the map of the tribes for more informations.
Did you spend the week living as they do, following them on their daily routines?
Yes, I've been living following their lifestyle for a week, again thanks to the guides that know the area for a long time. We followed different guides and slept in different spots. We hiked for three days in the mountains then went to the coast. The Bedouin culture is one of the warmest you can find. It's almost an insult if you refuse to take tea with them.
What about their culture and lifestyle were you looking to capture in the portraits?
My main goal with these GIFs was to portray the Bedouin lifestyle as raw and natural as possible. There was no setup / reflector / extra light or any artifice to the portraits. only natural light and my camera. The Bedouin I've met live a very simple life, and learn to survive with almost nothing. Their culture is also very close to nature, learning to use her without harming the ecosystem.
Why do you like using the GIF portrait format ? Do you think it helps capture the subject better?
I've been a GIF addict for few years already, following the GIF-Art scene on Tumblr and Ello. I even started an art project called Gif Arte, which prints limited GIF Art pieces on a HD lenticulars in limited editions. As a music photographer, I've also started doing GIFs for clubs, such as the great Nuits Fauves in Paris. I'm also doing an ongoing project, Loop Faces, with GIF portraits of friends and random people. I like using GIFs because they transmit more information than a still. We say that a picture is worth a thousand words, I believe GIFs go further. Moreover, as an electronic music lover, I love loops, they act as a mantra for me, whether they are visuals or sounds. I believe GIFs help to capture the subject in a more interesting way because you always have this subtle moment that tells something about the scenery or the character portrayed. There is in fact a magic about GIFs that you can't find in stills.
Lastly, what equipment did you use to capture the portraits and how do you make them?
I use Sony a7S camera with manual lenses. I shoot a little video then edit it on Adobe Premiere and Photoshop. The trick is to find the loop.
I would like to thank Guy Shiloh (from Sinai Lovers) and Dalia Tsafrir who were the guides during this trip. Without them it would not have happened.