American photographer depicts Islamic world in 40,000 snapshots

Altmuslimah Contributing Photographer Derek Brown was recently featured in Today’s Zaman. Brown — who took around 40,000 photographs in 30 countries with large Muslim populations throughout his project — summed up his journey as “an extraordinary experience that I will remember until the end of my life.”
American travel photographer Derek Brown recently completed a project titled “Journey to the Muslim World,” which he began 14 months ago. Brown — who took around 40,000 photographs in 30 countries with large Muslim populations throughout his project — sums up his journey as “an extraordinary experience that I will remember until the end of my life.”

The New York-based Brown began his journey in April 2008 in India, traveling on to countries such as Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Senegal, Palestine, Kazakhstan, Mali, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Bangladesh and others.

Noting that he made the decision to carry out this project in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Brown said: “After Sept. 11, I set out on a brief tour of Turkey, Uzbekistan, Oman and Zanzibar. This brief journey made such a lasting impression on me that I immediately wanted to do more traveling and photographing in as short a time as I could.”

Brown noted that the preparations for his longer journey were difficult and that in order to ensure that his baggage stayed light, he packed only three t-shirts and two pairs of pants. Brown said what impressed him most over the course of his journey was the hospitality shown to him by the people he encountered. “There used to be a very popular song whose words were along the lines of ‘No matter where you go, people are all the same…’ But I don’t think this is true. I don’t know whether it’s cultural or genetic, but the fact is people react differently to different events. That is something I know now,” he stated.

Brown said his goal is to see that as many Americans as possible are able to view the results of his work. Along these lines he wants to do as many exhibitions as possible and turn his work into a book. “Americans have only recently begun to get to know the Islamic world. My real aim is to explain to them the differences. Of course, I am not pretending even to say that I know and have learned everything; all I want to do is relay this wealth that I got to know over a short period of time,” he explained.

Talking about the variety of misperceptions that plague relations between America and the Islamic world, Brown said: “Over the course of my journey, it became clear that our previous president was not liked at all in the Islamic world. People are vexed with and have been chafed by the actions of the US. I was constantly asked questions during my journey about Bush and American foreign policy. But I can actually say that, despite everything, people still maintain a positive view of the future and America. In fact, the election of [President Barack] Obama had a greater influence than Sept. 11 did. I saw that throughout the election campaign period for Obama, the Islamic world was as excited as we were.”

Brown noted that his travels through Muslim countries will no doubt influence the direction that the rest of his life takes. “I found more than I was even looking for over the course of this journey. This journey will be an important vehicle for the next part of my life,” he said.

Brown also spoke about his previous experiences and travels in Turkey, saying: “Cappadocia took my breath away. Photographs are insufficient in giving people an idea of the beauty of Cappadocia. Not only that, but the beauty there is surrounded by so much history and serenity. And of course, I have to remember the delicious foods I savored in Turkey. If someone told me that I could leave on a journey tomorrow, İstanbul would be my first choice of destination. In terms of history and hospitality, I definitely met up with first class of everything in Turkey.”

Brown explained that he did encounter a few difficulties during the Iran part of his trip and that this was partially due to the fact that he was required to travel in Iran with a guide assigned to him by the government. “Having an official guide caused a few problems in Iran. I was nervous about making contacts with people, and since I was going around with a guide, I had to notify the guide of everything I wanted to do in advance,” he noted. Yet, he said, despite this, he found Iranians very hospitable and friendly.

Brown also took time to speak about the impressions left on him by his time in India, noting: “Despite the fact that its population is not majority Muslim, India has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. It is a mystical and magical country. It is very unique and colorful. It is an incredible geography in which many contrasting elements exist at the same time and place.”

(Source: Today’s Zaman)

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