Filmmaker, photographer, chronicler of life’s ups and downs; Haya Khairat is one of a rare breed of young Egyptian. With several impressive art and film projects to her name – as well as an Instagram following not to be scoffed at – Khairat has been carving out a place for herself as an artist in Egypt – and making a darn good job of it.
She’s already turned plenty of heads, but as Cairo Gossip’s Mahmoud Hussein found out when he sat down with her for her first ever interview, this is just the beginning.
Let’s start off nice and easy – how long has your affair with the arts being going on for?
I‘ve always been into art – since I was seven, maybe. I started drawing and designing clothes when I was 10 and I even used to edit Avril Lavigne music videos for fun! That pushed me towards editing and directing and actually, the very first camera I could call my own was one of those old video cameras. I’ve always been passionate about film.
Like many young, up-and-coming filmmakers, you’re studying at the High Cinema Institute – why there? Why cinematography?
I picked cinematography because it also exposes you to a lot of the other elements of filmmaking, whereas those studied directing are exposed to a more narrow scope of the industry – and that’s not what I wanted. I want to know everything there is to know about filmmaking. It’s really difficult to get accepted at the High Cinema Institute. In every class, they only accept one girl – so I’m the only girl in my class. They like to think that cinematography is the most masculine job in filmmaking; I think that it’s sexism, pure and simple.
It’s not the best as an educational institute, but it’s the best way to get your foot in the door in Egypt. At the very beginning, I wanted to major in filmmaking at AUC, but I didn’t get in; when I look back at it, though, I’m glad that it didn’t happen – you don’t get your money’s worth when it comes to the quality of the education.
I was actually supposed to travel to London in January 2013 to study filmmaking; I was accepted, but my visa application wasn’t. But, honestly, I believe that everything happens for a reason. Had I studied abroad, it would have been much more difficult for me to find work – essentially, you can’t work as a cinematographer in the Egyptian film industry if you’re not a High Cinema Institute graduate.
Your first real experience with independent filmmaking came with short films, Stranger and SOUL – how did they come to be?
Stranger was something I wrote around 4 years ago. I write a lot on tumblr and this was one piece that I envisioned becoming a film. Being in control of all the aspects, it allowed me to experiment and really dive into my first independent filmmaking experience.
SOUL was a different experience in that I was editor. I had four hours of material to down to a couple of minutes! But SOUL has a special place in my heart and I loved being a part of it. I still get goosebumps whenever I watch it.
You’re just as active with art, as projects such as VIVID DREAMS, COTTON CANDY, El Tanoura; how does the artistic process differ to that of film?
Most of the time, it just happens. You’re in the moment, you feel something, so you decide to project how you feel. For example, I was lying down on the beach at Nuweiba once, when I saw a girl swimming in a black bikini. I simply asked her if she’d interested in being photographed and that’s how VIVID DREAMS came to be.
There was never any real plan or actual ‘project’, apart from COTTON CANDY, which I planned and set-out before I did it. It basically revolved around a girl who wishes to be with her boyfriend somewhere magical. I’m single, but I would love to experience the emotions that I projected into the girl in COTTON CANDY felt. I also picked one of my favourite childhood places and I had to choose the clothes carefully, because I wanted the pictures to be white with a dash of pin. I also have an upcoming project about homesickness that’s an even bigger undertaking than COTTON CANDY. Hard work doesn’t bother me though – I just want to do it right and for anything I do to be the best it can be.
One of Khairat’s pieces from VIVID Dreams (Behance)
Your following on Instagram is owed to your captions as much as your pictures – does the idea of text defeat the spirit of the image?
Well, there was a time where I didn’t want to write captions anymore. I didn’t want to dictate people’s imaginations; I wanted them to see and interpret the pictures in their own way. But eventually, I felt like it was an opportunity wasted. I can understand that some people think that adding text to a picture only means that it’s not strong as an image, but I like to think different. It makes it even more powerful, it adds to it.
Do you have a muse?
My favourite person to photograph is my friend Mariam Hammoud. She’s so natural and never poses. It always comes out naturally and sincerely – no fake emotions. Also Nura Ezzat is someone I feel comfortable shooting; there are certain people that you develop good chemistry with and that’s something that will always make for good pictures.
I’ve actually been in talks with Tara Emad about a potential photoshoot. She’s definitely on top of my list – she has the perfect bone structure.
What about your peers?
Islam Abdel El Salam, Sherifa Hamed, Youssed El Imam and Dalia Hany are photographers that I admire. I consider them real photographers; they’re photographers that do what they do because they love it – for them, it’s not about being famous or getting as many likes as possible. I also love to watch Moustafa El Kashef’s work – he’s incredibly talented.
It’s interesting that you’ve touched on a photographer or artist’s motivation – surely one is as simple as wanting to express something or convey a message. Is that the case with you?
Yes, to a certain degree. I, as a person, have trouble talking, so art for me is a form of self-expression. They’re messages to certain people. Each thing that I do is expressing how I feel about certain people. Whatever caption I write is about an emotion that I shared with someone. In a way, I’m trying to tell people that there are other ways of self-expression that can be just as, if not more, meaningful. If I love someone, I might not tell them “I love you,” but express it in a different way.
Spoken like a true artiste – are you saying that you and your kind are doomed to a life of loneliness and unhappiness?
Artists don’t usually fall in love. They fall in love with the art they could make out of someone else. They love the way they photograph them, paint them, or even write about the spark in their eyes. But they don’t fall in love with them. They destroy people. I destroy people, then I call it art.
That’s actually something I wrote a couple of days back. You meet someone, you love them and then they’re not there anymore, so you’re heartbroken. I remember a time when I was heartbroken; I was hung-up on the thought of me and him for years. But, I’ve never given up on love. I believe that it’s not something to give up on in the first place. It’s there and you’ll feel it; you choose to either embrace it or you don’t.
What do you see when you look into your crystal ball?
The future? I want to make a difference in the independent film scene in Egypt. I don’t want to just make films for money. I want to make films that people will remember.
By Mahmoud Hussein