The Middle East is a fascinating and historical region, where many cultures intersect and where some of the world's biggest religions have started. Through Khaldon's photos, we are able to take a glimpse into a world that many people may overlook or not be familiar with.
Khaldon (@khaldon_khalil) is a pharmacist with a passion for shooting black and white street photography. In this interview we get the chance to learn more about where he lives, his story as a photographer, and the growing love for film in the Middle East.
Hi, please introduce yourself to the Lomography community and tell us how you started your journey into shooting film?
Greetings Lomography community! My name is Khaldon Khalil, a Pharmacist born in Baghdad, Iraq who currently lives between Amman and Baghdad. I first started my analogue journey back in the summer of 2020, just after the lockdown had been partially lifted. I was walking throughout downtown Amman when I saw from the corner of my eye a black shining Canon A1 and it was in absolute mint condition! I thought I really shouldn't let it go. I bought it on-site without any hesitation and I never looked back! I didn't even know where I could purchase films and develop them in the Middle East.
After extensive research, I managed to stumble on the place that helped me start it all, which is Darkroom Amman – the only place in the whole of Jordan and one of the few places in the Middle East that can provide professional services, from processing film to printing and providing fresh films, to even organizing workshops to promote analogue photography in the region. I can't speak highly enough of them and I think I will be always grateful for the help they provided to me and to anyone interested in shooting film in the area.
Can you tell us about the gear you use to shoot film?
Among the vast collection of cameras I own (which is 50+ cameras including a Leica Minilux!) is the Canon A1, usually paired with 50 mm F1.8 or 28 mm F2.8 FDn lenses and yellow/red filters. Also the infamous Yashica T5. As for the film stocks my main favorite films are Ilford FP4+, HP5+, and Ilford pan100.
How would you describe your style of photography?
I would describe my style of photography as mainly street photography with a whiff of documentary photography. Whenever I'm out shooting the phrase "loving the mundane" always comes to my mind. I'm always looking for making the most of my scene and trying to come up with interesting compositions in rather uninteresting places.
You mostly use black and white for your photography. Was it a conscious choice?
I decided to embrace shooting mainly black and white really early in my journey inspired by many big names such as Vivian Maier and Josef Koudelka. Also for ease of use and development since I started developing and scanning my own films at home. It fulfils my needs just perfectly. I have shot many colour films but I always find myself leaning towards black and white!
Amman is a popular destination for student exchanges and has a very young population. Can you describe what it's like living and taking pictures in your city?
Oh Amman! What a wonderful city! After living there for many years, I would always feel so excited whenever I'm walking in its streets taking photos like it's my first time! There is always something new and interesting there, as a city it sits perfectly as a bridge between the west and east so there is always that unique homogenous cultural mashup. It is packed with artistic and historical sites and has an amazing art scene in all aspects!
Besides Amman, you've also taken many beautiful photos of Baghdad. Can you tell us more about your experience taking photos there?
Baghdad is the city where I was born and lived most of my childhood. It's definitely different from my Amman experience in its unique way! The city itself is a very historically rich city but unfortunately, when it comes to analogue photography I found many obstacles because the scene is completely dead. As far as I know, I'm the only person who currently shots and develop film in whole of Iraq! But one of the really surprising things that I found in Iraq was how cheap film cameras are there! (mainly because there are no fresh films circulating.) Can you believe me when I tell you that I've bought a mint condition Yashica T5 for less than 4 dollars! And a brand new Leica Minilux for only 10 dollars! Honestly, I still can't believe that happened to me.
How is the film photography scene in Jordan?
I have really noticed it growing compared to when I first started shooting film. It is for sure a growth in very small increments, but hey, you can't say no to that! As I said the biggest credit goes towards the amazing guys at Darkroom Amman. They are really trying their best into keeping the scene alive at least in Jordan. From doing photowalks to organizing introductory workshops regularly, etc. I've encountered many people in Amman on the streets shooting film which is a very delightful thing to see.
Besides this, I know so many creative artists in Amman who shoot film on a regular basis. Across the Middle East, I know for sure there are still a few darkrooms that are trying their best, even though It's almost one darkroom per country. But having a few is better than having none at all! They are located in Kuwait, Qatar, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, UAE, and Bahrain.
How is the situation in Baghdad now after everything that has happened in the past two decades? Do you think with your photography you're documenting an important time for the region?
It's no secret that what happened in the whole of Iraq in the past decades was so hard, and harsh, and has affected literally everything in the lives of millions of Iraqis. In the past couple of years it has been so apparent that Iraq has started to recover but in a very slow paced process. I mean for sure what happened 20 years ago wasn't easy! I would consider myself documenting a very important "recovery" phase through my lens, trying to project a very healthy side of Iraq and trying to shine light on very lively areas, streets, and events! And I'm definitely planning to do a tour across Iraq and showcase the historical significance of Mesopotamia!
Shooting this "recovery phase" on film really makes sense if you consider that the most recent calm and stable period in Iraq was more than 20 years ago, and so most of Iraq's happy memories of that period were shot on film.
Most of your photos can be seen as street photography. Do you have any tips or techniques you can share?
A tip for any street photographer: always engage with the scene! And always try to come up with smart ways of nailing your shots! I would love to demonstrate with an example of one of my works – Flat Caps. It was taken in a very lively street in Baghdad. I saw these gentlemen across the street sitting inside a local cafe and they looked so interesting! They were wearing the same style of hats and the light was perfectly shining on them. When I first raised my Canon A1 to take the picture they noticed me, and I'm not sure why but they felt insecure and wanted to get up. So I walked away from the scene just to keep them sitting in the same place. I called two friends and asked them to pose between me and them (as if I was taking a picture of my friends instead) until I got my metering/focusing correct. Then gave them the sign to move and I was able to get the photo. Sometimes it's necessary to be sneaky to nail good compositions!
As a Pharmacist is there any way your profession intersects with your hobby of shooting film?
Man, that combination surprisingly works very well together because the chemistry side of shooting and developing film was a really familiar sight to witness as a pharmacist. From mixing chemicals together to constantly checking out the temperature of the liquids to even making Caffenol at home! It all just reminds me of all the time I spent in pharmaceutical labs mixing stuff, which is something I love!
Can you pick a couple of your favorite photos and tell us about them?
The first photo has lots of sentimental value for me for all the multi-layered meanings it has. It was taken on a field nearby an Equestrian club in Iraq. I saw this carcass of the deceased horse (it for sure belonged to the Equestrian club) neglected and thrown like that just to be eaten by worms and stray animals, like it never meant anything to any human being at the club? I honestly couldn't stand what I saw and went back to grab my camera, and took that photo. Only one question was on my mind: Is this really the action of a free willed creature?
The second photo showcases the immense love of Iraqis for books and reading in general. It was taken on a very famous street in Baghdad which is filled with old bookshops and publishing houses. People dive into piles and piles of books in constant search of what they will read next!
Do you have any goals you want to achieve this year in terms of photography?
Of the many goals I have for this year (including trying Lomography film stocks) the one that sticks out the most is to participate in an exhibition or get featured in a published magazine, and in the long run definitely set up my own darkroom, and help keep the scene alive in the Middle East.
Is there anything else you'd like to share or advice you want to give to the Lomography Community?
I would love to thank all the Lomography community for how helpful and supportive they have always been. And thank you for your time in interviewing me, I really appreciate it.