All in the Details: Ahmad Sabra

Ahmad Sabra

Picture by Ross Holmberg on (

Melbourne photographer Ahmad Sabra speaks to Mspiration about his suite of Gaza images nominated for the Soya Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards.


I always loved art, even from a young age. In primary school I would use paint and draw and photography was something I never had access to. So the photography class in high-school was something big for me. I learned how to shoot in black and white, develop and print the film. My parents wanted me to focus on studies so I moved to a different school and this place had no darkroom or photo-lab, so I forgot about it. A couple of years later, I got a job with Canon Australia up in Sydney. Canon encouraged all their employees to take up photography and they offered us discounts. So I spent a year or so with Canon, saved up and bought my first digital SLR and then I started shooting in 2007. I started shooting landscapes, then got into street photography and then I started focusing on documenting the Muslim communities in Australia. It is only the last couple of months I have been nominated for some major awards like National Photographic Portrait Prize and the Soya Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards.


8. Progress

(Click to enlarge)


In the Muslim community you hear about organisations and one of them was called Towards Hope. I knew about them through a friend and I heard what they were doing in terms of helping Malak, a child from Gaza, come to Melbourne to receive a prosthetic ear from the Royal Children’s Hospital. It was around late 2011 and I wanted to document this. I approached them and Alhamdulilah they agreed. In this picture we were at the hospital and the doctors were checking Malak’s ears to see if there was any progress in her condition. It was the light here that struck me. It highlighted the situation. You see the ear and the background felt very strong and moody. It touches you and it connects with you. This is what I am trying to do. To take those images that move you and gives you goose bumps. For that to happen the image has to have enough detail that you can look at different aspects of it. For example, the doctor from the top looking down at Malak. Also the doctor on the left looking at her ear. All of this tells us a story, it gives you enough information to know what is happening.


   Gaza Orphan

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Gaza Orphan

The whole Malak project was about following her progress right to the end until she returns to Gaza. That was why I was there last year. Once in Gaza we wanted to document the many cases of people needing help. Through Malak’s dad we met a child who was born with a similar condition to Malak. His ears were not fully formed and he needed plastic surgery on his nose and part of his face. His father was killed by the by Israeli army not long ago. After his father’s death, the child’s mother received some money and she spent the $30,000 in getting her son a hearing aid. A couple of months after receiving the hearing aid he fell down and broke it. Since there is no real work happening in Gaza, especially for women, the mother has been relying on families and friends to send her money and the boy still needs more care. The tragic thing here is this boy’s case is not bad enough for other agencies to come and help. He is stuck in the middle.


Eid Al Adha celebration

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Eid in Gaza

During the time I had in Gaza I thought I might as well use the opportunity to take photos of things that interest me. It was Eid Al Adha and these kids don’t get to smile very often. That was a difficult time because there was a couple of Israeli Army raids and Gaza was targeted while we were there. The bombings started a couple of days before Eid so these kids didn’t have much to be happy about. So to see them smiling and so happy to ride in that – I don’t even know what to call it, maybe a tuk-tuk –  made me think about how children have that ability to forget about hardships, wars and killings and just fully enjoy something so small. When I am taking photos I usually focus on the lighting and all the technical stuff. Sometimes you kind of know what you are shooting is something interesting but you only appreciate it and reflect on it when you are sitting in the darkroom developing the film. Photos have the ability to freeze time and capture the small but important details you don’t get the chance to see the first time. This is what this photo did for me. All those smiles. I didn’t see it all the first time. I only appreciated it fully later when the photo was developed.


Gaza Fishermen

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The Gaza Fisherman

I won’t say I stalked these guys but I did hang around their area for about five to ten minutes and showed that I am interested. I ask them questions and told them about myself and my background. I tried to relate to them by telling them I am from Lebanon and I grew up in Tripoli and I grew up around fisherman. They felt comfortable with me and I sat with them when they were having their smoke break and they agreed to the photo. The issue with the Gaza fisherman is the Israeli government at first only allowed them to go out only up to 3 miles into the water. Now recently they extended it only up to 6 miles. Now fishing in such a narrow area wont get you any decent return. This blockade has destroyed a fishing industry in an area of the world where it is important for the survival of many communities. The fisherman told me it ruined their lives, they can’t catch anything. The only thing they know is how to fish and all they are doing now is sitting there hoping for something to change. That photo still makes me angry. People’s lives are being ruined by stupid politics.


Gaza Youth

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Gaza Hotel

That was meant to be a hotel. It was destroyed by the Israeli Army and until now, because of the blockade, the hotel cannot be rebuilt. It has now become this deserted area where kids just go to hangout. I also took that picture on Eid Al Adha. The youths are all dressed up in their best clothes and they have nothing to do. There is no playgrounds or entertainment. So they just hang around here. Now if you notice on the fourth floor of the building there is a young couple having a chat. That’s what I love about photography because you can sometimes go back and develop the film and you see these details that you missed and it gives the picture more meaning. So yes, there is the whole Gaza situation but there is still romance and there is still love.

For more information on Ahmad Sabra and Lahza Photography click here.

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