to journalistic bias and insider/outsider representations. “How you
show people depends on who you are,” she says.
Alsultan is both an insider and an outsider in the two different
cultures, and sees herself as “an activist who uses photography as a
means to poke at systems and cultures that need it.” She also sees far
more commonalities than differences between her cultures, as well
as between herself and her subjects, whoever they happen to be.
From Alsultan’s perspective, journalists too often manipulate
stories to meet the expectations of audiences and publications,
to win awards, and to gain accreditation that leads to more
assignments. The result is often misleading narratives that reinforce
fear, the reduction of subjects to either victims or villains, and the
erosion of trust in the media, she says. “We really don’t earn trust.
We’ve lost it,” she says.
To engage her subjects, Alsultan gives them control of their
own narratives. The importance of doing that hit home as she was
completing her “Saudi Tales of Love” project. Magnum Foundation,
which helped support that project, insisted she get written
permission from her subjects before publishing images that might
expose them to any risk.
When she went back to the women to show them her project
and get their approval, Alsultan says, “All of them cried. They were
in tears because they didn’t know that they weren’t alone…[and] it
projected them in an empowering role that was honest, and truthful.”
ABOVE: A McDonald’s in Saudi Arabia. With roots in both American and Saudi
culture, Tasneem Alsultan is sensitive to the bias that can come with being
an insider or outsider. BELOW: A family picnic in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.“How you
show people depends on who you are,” she says. OPPOSITE PAGE: Everyday life
in Saudi Arabia (top) and an image from “Saudi Tales of Love” (bottom).