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The Story Behind the Cover of VICE Magazine's Dystopia and Utopia Issue

Tamara Abdul Hadi explains her trip to the Iraqi marshlands and how she captured the photo of this reed house.

by Elizabeth Renstrom
Apr 9 2018, 2:00pm

This story appears in VICE magazine's Dystopia and Utopia Issue. Click HERE to subscribe.

Tamara Abdul Hadi is a photographer born to Iraqi parents in the United Arab Emirates and raised in Canada. In her work, Abdul Hadi explores how minority communities are often subjected to stereotyping and underrepresentation, the ideas of masculinity and self-representation, and the ways in which culture can be misrepresented. She also creates and teaches photography workshops, which have been held in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Abdul Had is a member of the Medium, an artist collective, and a founding member of Rawiya, a photography collective. She has been published in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times, and has exhibited her photos across the globe.

While so many of Abdul Hadi’s images looked great as cover options, we felt the image of the reed house on the marshlands was more intriguing and had a futuristic feel to it, which was more representative of our issue theme.

Tell us the story behind our cover image.
It was my first day in the marshes, and I noticed a woman milking her buffalo on one of the islands. After I met her, I walked on the military line that was built on the marshes during Saddam Hussein’s regime. I saw this reed house, walked up to it, and shot a portrait of it.

What made you want to document the Iraqi marshlands and the women who live there?
As an Iraqi growing up in the diaspora, we had two books in our library at home that I was obsessed with. One was The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger (published in 1964), and another was Return to the Marshes by Gavin Young (published in 1977). These books, I came to discover, were in many Iraqi household libraries. I’ve always wanted to go to the marshes with my camera. It’s one of my dreams to publish a book about what they’re like now. The reason I wanted to document women is because I had read and heard that they were strong and defiant—working as hard as the men, if not harder. I wanted to celebrate that.

Where do you get your day-to-day inspiration?
Tough question. Inspiration is all around me—from my friends and family and the communities that I get to know. I’m inspired by people who create for the right reasons and are honest about their work. Intention is always key in my opinion.

What are you currently working on?
I’m in the process of designing my photography book “Picture an Arab Man” (2008–2014), and I’m looking for a publisher. I’m also working on a catalogue for my male hairstyle and self-care project, “The People’s Salon,” which you guys published not too long ago.

Tamara Abdul Hadi sets out into the marshlands to find, and shoot, our cover image.