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Published: December 2nd 2019
While working in Cairo, I used to visit a little shop on 26th
July Street, Zamalek, that sold fruit drinks. It was on the way home from school, and I would invariably order a glass of banana juice (‘muz’ in Arabic) or fresh orange (‘burtuqal’). Both were cheap and delicious. I was served by either the father or the son. The father was the more traditional of the two, always attired in a flowing galabeya. Our communication was minimal, because my Arabic was hopeless, and their English was non-existent; nevertheless we took to one another, probably because I was such a frequent customer and, perhaps, the only non-Egyptian to patronize the place.
I shot this photo one day after school and gave a blown-up copy to the proprietor. He was overjoyed, had it framed and hung it on his wall. I had my own enlargement, which graced my Cairo apartment and now graces my HCMC living-room.
I had assumed that the laminated blow-up on my wall – dating back to 1989 – was the only copy of the photo I possessed; it was unscannable, and the old negative had long since perished. Then, the other day, while sifting through
my Egyptian memorabilia, I came across a small perfectly preserved print of the cherished photo. I had it scanned and – voilà! – now the entire cyberworld can admire my handiwork.
It's a fine photo, perhaps my best ever. The man knew I was taking his picture but just got on with the job in hand. Concentration is written on his face. I caught him at exactly the right moment – his left arm stabilizing the press, his right arm crushing the oranges. This is an action photo. The composition is good: the three elements - the man, the press and the tray of fruit – are in harmony, and the blaze of colour in the foreground contrasts nicely with the other more subdued tones.
I'm proud of this photo. It's a lovely memory of my time in Cairo. And I sometimes wonder if, nearly a third of a century later, my magnum opus still adorns that shop wall.
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