Photography by Barry Iverson
Barry Iverson: Inspiring Women IN the Middle East
The real stories behind Barry Iverson’s captivating photographs of Queen Noor, Queen Rania, Princess Diana, Bedouin Woman, Shieka Moza
Queen Noor Al-Hussein Of Jordan at the Royal Palace, Amman, 1999
Photography by Barry Iverson
We did the portrait only 40 days after her husband, King Hussein, had passed away. We went to her palace at the Royal Compound. Of course she was still grieving, but she welcomed us with class. We made a lovely portrait of her in front of a fireplace. She was wearing a scarf and clasping her hands. The portraits shot on 35mm were shipped to TIME to meet the week’s deadline. The next week, I developed the 8×10-inch negatives in the lab. This was one that Van Leo’s colorist did for me. He did a terrific job. It’s much different than if you had just shot it with a DSLR. You just get a totally different feeling.
She was so graceful and kind to us. The equipment, the 8×10 camera, takes a lot of time to arrange, to focus and get right. We made only two sheets of film, but it took an incredible amount of time. Throughout the whole process, she was supportive and I think she knew exactly what we were there to do — and it came out absolutely great.
Queen Rania Al-Abdullah Of Jordan, Geneva, 3 December 2003
Photography by Barry Iverson
TIME Correspondent Scott Macleod and I were assigned to do a cover story on Queen Rania. At the time, she was one of the most interesting characters on the scene and doing a lot of work for under-represented segments of society, particularly marginalized women and the poor. She also stood out as being one of the pioneer figures and role models for women in the region. Being the new queen on the scene, her energy and dynamism made her all the more special. She even had the looks of Cindy Crawford. Five years into her role, ironically, she was presented with the opportunity to be featured on TIME’s cover.
When we approached the palace about doing a cover story on her, the royal secretary tried to give us some previously taken pictures by Mario Testino; the same ones that were published in Vanity Fair magazine. Yet, TIME didn’t get to where it was by accepting hand-outs. Scott and I insisted on taking our own photos and we convincingly won them over. There aren’t many people that would turn down such an opportunity. Plus, we had nurtured really good relationships with the royal palace in Jordan over the years. We had interviewed King Hussein and Queen Noor on several occasions, to the point where they knew us by our first names.
It was decided that Scott and I would spend a week tagging her around Amman while performing her royal duties. After a week passed by, the queen could still not fit us in for an hour long portrait session. So she suggested flying with her to Geneva the next week on her private jet, where she was going to give a keynote speech at the Red Cross headquarters. We gladly accepted. It also gave a chance to get up close unique shots during the flight.
The brief I received from my TIME photo editor explicitly said to make the queen look “corporate” and “business/CEO-like.” Again, this was a time when corporate America was setting the standards for the world; the highest display of power was to be at the head of the table. The main idea behind this brief was to display her power and presence, which was also dispelling the stereotypes of a typical queen; think “Cinderella-like” with a tiara on her head and little to no worries. Relative to its time, seeing a woman at the head of the table was most uncommon, especially in such a patriarchal society.
In Geneva, she not only gave us an exclusive two-hour portrait session in her suite at the Hotel de Geneve, but she also flew in a stylist from London for the occasion and had three changes of wardrobe for the three different settings; the living room, on the sofa, and in the conference room. As an added bonus, we made a closing shot on the balcony with her in a raincoat overlooking Lake Geneva. I shot both digital and 120 slide film on my Hasselblad with the lovely 150mm lens. The very next time I used that lens, the shutter locked up. Talk about luck!
We photographed King Abdullah a few years later. Why did Queen Rania make the cover before her husband King Abdullah? The fact of the matter was she represented more than just Jordan, but was also the face of modern and progressive Arabia.
The Story Behind the Photographer Behind the Lens
I guess I was what you call a third-culture kid, a third-culture person. I was born in the U.S., but because of my father’s work in the petroleum industry, we moved around the world so many times. It seemed like just as soon as you made good friends, then you packed your bags and left again. When I was eight years old, our family moved to Egypt, where my father worked in the Western desert. And that’s actually where I learned photography in the eighth grade. We had some extracurricular classes and I helped with the film printing, which I thought was amazing. I followed my passion from working on high school yearbooks into college at the University of Colorado at Boulder where I studied photojournalism, mass communications and fine arts.
I was looking for the biggest story I could find, and that was in the Middle East at Camp David. The Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel had just been signed. That’s where I went and started freelancing. One thing led to another and I quickly started working for international newspapers and magazines. Luck came my way and I got on with TIME magazine very early on. I continued with TIME for roughly 26 years and covered the Middle East from that time forward.
Self Portrait at Giza, 1981 by Barry Iverson
TRAVELING AND SHOOTING
“I have always shot for myself, whether it was on assignment or not. I would finish an assignment and stay for a few extra days. I did this while covering stories in every single country in the Middle East and also sometimes in East and West Africa, from Iran to Morocco, and occasionally in Southern Europe. I always followed my passion and shot with a Rolleiflex.”
There’s nothing nicer than looking at a large format transparency on a light table and taking out the loupe and seeing how crispy and clear the quality is. The equipment you’re using doesn’t matter that much, because it’s all in your brain. You know, that’s really important. But actually when we were shooting with large format, it was so much more about the process and you had to have everything exactly right. If one thing, if one of the elements in the front, one of the standards was off, then everything was off. So you really had to pay a lot of attention to the equipment and the process, as opposed to now where you can pretty much get immediate feedback from your DSLRs and your phone. It’s immediate, but the lag time that we used to deal with is what made for a different dynamic. And unless you were shooting Polaroids with a Hasselblad or on a four-by-five, you didn’t have that immediate feedback. So there was a lag and there was some sort of anticipation and the question, ‘Did I do that exactly right?’ So you always had this lingering doubt, ‘Well, I think I nailed it, but I’m not exactly sure.’
HAND COLORIZING IMAGES
PHOTOJOURNALISM – CAPTURING WORLD EVENTS – A MOMENT IN TIME
But what does that mean to me now? The stories that I did for a personal project in the ’80s was a project called ‘Comparative Views of Egypt.’ I won a Fulbright Grant to do this work. It was essentially a then-and-now project where you take a 100-year-old picture or a 150-year-old picture, and go back to the same place, the same vantage point using the same lenses, (if you can), and try to match the lighting as best you can. I did a series of roughly 130 photographs in this series and the ‘Pyramids of Dahshur’ was a very interesting one. I re-photographed the ‘Pyramids of Dahshur’ taken by Francis Frith’s 1857 photo. It’s a spectacular view. That is one of the most majestic pictures of the Pyramids ever taken, in my opinion. I did this one and then in recent years during the Covid-19 pandemic, I got an idea to not just let the one that I did in ‘87 be its only match. So I reprinted about 26 of these new ones and hand colored them with different interpretations. So when you put them up on a grid, you have different roads leading into them, different skies, moon, nighttime, trees, lakes and so on. It evolved into something different and made it live again. It was a lot of fun. I’ve really gotten into hand coloring, which is something we could never really do in journalism, you know, with photojournalism 101 you do not do any retouching. It’s forbidden other than maybe a little bit of color correction. But, when I left TIME in 2007, I felt liberated to do what I wanted. So I started doing different projects where I could compose things and color things and intervene in the physical photograph, which is something I learned to really enjoy.
Princess Diana at the Great Pyramids of Giza | Photography by Barry Iverson
Princess Diana at Al-Azhar Mosque | Photography by Barry Iverson
Princess Diana Of The United Kingdom, Egypt, 1992
The photographs I made reflect a lot about Princess Di’s personality. Despite being one of the most photographed humans on the planet, she managed to be humbled in front of the international paparazzi by the site of the Pyramids of Giza. Zahi Hawas, who was at the time the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, had given her a special tour of the pyramids. She was just taken away by it all.
It was a bit difficult to follow her because she was whisked around quickly by special security detail and I scrambled to keep up with her at the different positions. One of the best positions was at the famous lookout over the three famous pyramids. From that spot, one is able to see the fine line between the city of Cairo and the desert.
Diana’s visit was a big deal to the country. She came alone, without Prince Charles, upon the personal invitation of Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak in May of 1992.
“As the people’s Princess, she stood up for the poor and the impoverished, despite her privileged royal position.’’
On her 5-day visit, she managed to accomplish many historical and meaningful visits around Egypt. She met with the then President Hosni Mubarak and First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, visited the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. She stopped by Al-Azhar University in the Khan el-Khalili area of downtown Cairo, greeted a welfare society for children, an institution for Polio and rehabilitation, and even made her way down south to Karnak Temple in Luxor. I would like to emphasize that Princess Diana was very well known and loved around the world, and Egypt was no exception. The Egyptians adored her. I sensed that many Egyptians, particularly the elderly, were nostalgic for the long-gone days of their own monarchy of 40 years previous.
The royal handlers made sure to provide the press with her full schedule. The presidential encounter, her goodwill visits with the First Lady, and the cultural and historical sites were all disclosed to us. Particular instructions were given to the photographers. Between the Royal paparazzi photographers, local Egyptian-based photographers, and the International press corps, we accounted for more than 25 people. We were assigned specific spots that were cordoned off at each site for special coverage. We couldn’t move a toe outside of the roped areas specified, which was quite difficult, considering the amount of little space we were offered at every site.
It was an exhausting assignment to cover the Princess at several of these locations, given Cairo’s traffic and large population. It may sound odd, but this assignment felt more amiccable than others. It was as though I had known ‘Lady Di’ for years, in part because I had covered her honeymoon trip in 1980 when she married Prince Charles. I wouldn’t have missed her visit back to Egypt for anything. I decided to cover her at Al-Azhar University, the oldest institution for Islamic education, at the Pyramids, and with the heads of state.
This photograph (above right) I took was in the courtyard of Al-Azhar mosque. She struck a humbling pose with a scarf draped tenderly on her head and shoulders, with a pale green dress. Next to her was the sheik of the mosque at the time. Many Egyptians found it respectable that she had some kind of hair covering. It displayed her reverence and modesty towards the institution and Islamic faith. Rather than placing a cotton sack around her shoes, which was typical for visitors and tourists in mosques, Lady Di, in all her graciousness, was barefoot. That just goes to show the extent of her down to earth grounding.
Women of Authenticity
And, so probably my favorite image of all is the Bedouin woman. It’s just a powerful image. You can look at it again and again and it still is striking. You still see something new and it still gives you shivers down your back. You know that it’s a keeper and it’s going to last a long time. And that is, I think, the overriding part of how I chose these images for the series.
Tarabeen Bedouin Woman, 1989, Sinai
The Bedouins pass down all the oral traditions on survival in the desert environment from generation to generation. This included herbs and plants native to the Sinai that they know where to find when needed. It’s an instinct that was, and still is, a quintessential part of their upbringing and oral tradition. In previous times, camels would be their source of transportation, but now, Bedouins have small pickup trucks to move around, and are more sedentary. The Bedouin children attend local government schools and many are now employed in the hospitality industry that has made the Sinai a world-class destination, like Sharm El Sheikh, a couple hours drive to the southern tip of the peninsula. It is the Bedouins who, for millennia, have provided security and support for the Greek Orthodox monks at one of the oldest continuously inhabited monasteries of the world at St. Catherine’s at the foot of Mount Sinai.
“I spoke arabic to her briefly and in this particular moment, during her duties, she looked head on at me and was not afraid or shy.’’
At the camp were a boy and his elder brother. We had tea with them while sitting on comfortable pillows and carpets. Since the anthropologist was studying their lifestyles, the rapport with the family was established and welcome.The camera was not threatening to anyone; however, I tried to be discreet and quick when shooting. The portrait of the bedouin woman was made while they tended to goats on the plateau. Not all bedouin women braid their hair, but similar dress is common and the veil is customary in the presence of males and strangers. I spoke arabic to her briefly and in this particular moment, during her duties, she looked head on at me and was not afraid or shy. The intensity of her look straight into the lens was a rare chance to see her up close and personal. The overcast day gave a soft gentle diffused light to her face. The encounter was natural and nothing was posed or contrived. It was ever so brief, but that was all it took to make an environmental portrait of her of incredible intensity and beauty.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, Doha, Qatar, Weill Cornell Medical School Opening, 2001
As a journalist that had been covering the Middle East for 20+ years, I was delighted to see that an Arab woman was given her rightful place and was recognized for her efforts. I was roving around photographing the event, and it didn’t take me long to want to get in the second row and capture this photograph. I couldn’t have gotten a better angle, even if I had a drone. It is a conscious choice to have a longer line of Arab men in this photograph. I also chose to have her Ladyship be the end point of that line, that represented a more conservative and Middle Eastern culture, and a starting point that greeted a new mindset, a more progressive and forward looking vision for the future.