Egypt Pulse

Why this viral shot will not be Egypt's photo of the year

Article Summary
A Danish photographer captured the view from the Giza pyramid with a photo that went viral all around the world — but Egyptians were far from pleased.

CAIRO — Egyptian tourism authorities have spent 2018 trying to boost tourism through different methods, including inviting 10 American bloggers to capture the images of the country’s natural and archaeological treasures and share them with the world. Ironically, the photo and video that has gotten most of the attention at the end of 2018 — with more than 5.6 million views — outraged rather than pleased Cairo.

The images were taken by Danish photographer Andreas Hvid, who chose Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Khufu — commonly known as the Pyramid of Giza — as a venue for his “Nude Arts” album. In this album, Hvid captures "moments when human beings appear in their natural state — naked or having sex — at emblematic landmarks of global civilizations."

After several attempts to escape security — climbing the pyramids is forbidden — the daring Dane and his girlfriend climbed the pyramid late November and posted images of their naked embrace on his Instagram and YouTube accounts.

The Egyptian media described the photo and the video as “pornographic," as the images went viral on line, with many comments from those supporting the act and others criticizing it.

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Indignant Egyptian officials urged the Ministry of Interior to prevent Hvid from entering the country ever again. In two separate sessions, on Dec. 7 and Dec. 13, several Egyptian parliamentarians called on the parliament speaker to request the Ministry of Antiquities and Ministry of the Interior to ban Hvid and his girlfriend from entering Egypt again, and punish those who helped the couple climb the pyramid and record what they called “a pornographic video and images.” The members of parliament said the act was an insult to the 7,000-year-old civilization.

On Dec. 13, security forces arrested a number of officials responsible for ensuring the grounds of the pyramid to be secured at all times. The Egyptian Public Prosecution investigations had proved that employees accepted a bribe from Hvid to give him access to the area off-limits to the public.

Mahmoud Alwan, a legal adviser at a tourism company that he preferred not to name, told Al-Monitor that Hvid violated the provisions of Articles 2 and 5 of Law No. 2 of 1973 on Supervision by the Ministry of Tourism of tourist zones and their exploitation, in addition to the Egyptian Penal Code Article 107 on bribes and Article 278 on indecent acts in public spaces. “Even if the judiciary assumes good intention because Hvid was not aware that he was committing a violation of the tourism laws and an indecent act in Egypt, he would still be accused of bribery, which confirms his intention to deliberately violate the law,” Alwan said.

Some Egyptians thought that the whole thing was much ado about nothing. A TV host questioned why there was such a fuss. “Is it that the couple climbed the pyramid despite the restriction, that they posted erotic photos or simply that the tourism police had proven inefficient in stopping them? Were [the officials] upset because the photographer only posted the three minutes of the lovemaking rather than the whole thing in detail,” asked Osama Kamel, the host of "DMC Evening" airing Dec. 7 on DMC satellite channel. (Hvid later edited the posted video taking images of his naked embrace with his girlfriend out.)

In a Dec. 7 interview with Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, Hvid said he understood the anger of some Egyptians against breaking the rules and the practice of what some consider an indecent act on top of the pyramid. He noted, however, that he did not mean to offend anyone and chose the Pyramid of Giza as a shooting location because he was infatuated by it. He also denied actually having sex on the pyramid.

A source close to Hvid, who requested strict anonymity, told Al-Monitor that those who regarded what Hvid had done as indecent is a small minority. “Only a few people consider his photo or video footage on top of the pyramid as pornographic material and an offensive act,” he said, implying others saw it as what it is — art.

He denied that Hvid had chosen the pyramid as a shooting site to attract attention to a pornographic photo or video as some claim. He argued, “Pornographic films do not need a site like a pyramid to attract attention. Focus in such types of photos or videos is on a sexy male or female model. This is not the case in the images.”

Many Egyptian photographers also said the photos were not pornographic, as some politicians and newspapers claimed, because the focus was the beauty of the view from the pyramid, not nudity or lovemaking.

Kareem Nabeel, a photographer, plastics artist and a photography lecturer at InFocus Photography Club, told Al-Monitor that the photo of the naked embrace is not pornographic. “We respect all artistic viewpoints including nude photos, even if we disagree with them ethically or religiously,” he said. “I do not think that he intended to do harm or insult Egyptians. He was only seeking fame and social media hype.”

For Ahmed Elsaaty, a professional photographer and director of documentary films, the first thing a viewer should feel when seeing Hvid’s photo is not sexual arousal since the photo is taken from a distance and the details are not very clear. “This photo should stir curiosity about how the photographer reached the top of the pyramid and escaped the guard,” he told Al-Monitor. “This is what the photographer intended to capture. He wanted to document his adventure and success in achieving his goal after several unsuccessful attempts.”

Al-Monitor also spoke with Mahmoud El-Iraqi, another professional photographer, who said, “The part showing the sexual scene takes up only 5% of the photo frame size. This is not the most noticeable item in the photo.” Iraqi believes that the most striking effect in the photo is the effort it took Hvid to install his camera and adjust the lighting and focus despite the wind strength at that time, noting that Hvid was using a remote control or a timer to take the photo.

He added that the clouds in the photo prove that Hvid used a slow shutter to accurately capture all details. This required effort and training since he and his partner had to stay in the exact same position, not flinching, for a long period of time.

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Found in: Cultural heritage

Ahmed Fouad is an Egyptian journalist working as newsroom assistant manager for Al-Shorouk. He specializes in coverage of Islamists and analysis of the political situation in Egypt, especially since the mass protests of June 30, 2013, the one-year anniversary of Mohammed Morsi's presidential inauguration.

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