Photographer Captures Intimate Photos of Mecca with a Medium-Format Camera

Mecca in Saudi Arabia is considered to be the holiest city of Islam, and is only accessible to Muslims. 38-year-old London photographer Toufic Beyhum wanted to document what a pilgrimage is like for a Muslim and to “portray the peaceful and spiritual side of Islam”, so he brought along a Hasselblad 500 medium-format camera when he visited the city. His images — a few of which were snapped in locations where photography was prohibited — offer an intimate look at locations that most people will never be allowed to see in their lifetimes.

Here’s what Beyhum had to say to us about this project:

I wanted to go to Mecca for spiritual reasons, I only decided at the last minute to take my Hasselblad 500, my light meter and about 6 rolls of film. I wasn’t sure if I’d even had the time to take any photos, and I didn’t realize you were not allowed to take a camera into the mosque till I got there. I spent a week in Mecca and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Mecca is like a resort for praying: everyone is there for one reason, to pray.

Every hotel, shop & restaurant was full of Muslims from all around the world, every nationality. The bond between people was very strong no matter what nationality, colour or class.

Living in Europe I see how much bad press Islam gets from the media. We are bombarded with images of Muslims portrayed as terrorists or as intolerant, yet those minorities make up less than 1% of the whole Muslim population. I felt that I needed to show the peace & unity that I witnessed while I was in Mecca.

I am very glad that I took my Hasselblad. It was the perfect choice, as it’s not a place you go to very often so I wanted to make sure the quality was exceptional. Out of the thousands of people, I did not see anybody else with a medium-format camera, so I did get a few stares as I held out my light meter. It was trickier when I photographed inside the mosque. There were plenty of people taking photos but with their compact digital cameras or mobile phones.

You can more of Beyhum’s work over on his website.

Mecca by Toufic Beyhum (via Wired)

Image credits: Photographs by Toufic Beyhum and used with permission

  • kaja12

    religious wackos….

  • Anon

    So, how is it that deceit (fibbing about the possession of a camera) and blasphemy (taking photos when someone’s religious beliefs prohibit it) are supposed to achieve the photographer’s stated goal?

  • Richard Ford

    The 6th and 7th shots here are the standout ones. Well shot. Looks like Portra NC?

  • Bartek Nowakowski

    Blasphemy is an imaginary crime.

  • Rob S

    Having live in Saudi Arabia I was very tempted to go to Mecca for the photo opportunities but as a non-Muslim, it was forbidden. I respected their beliefs and passed despite having the ability to go.

    Of the images shown, I believe only the first that shows the Kaba in detail are “harram” or forbidden. I think the photographer should have kept those as private as his prayers.

  • Mohsin

    How could you feel peace when you know you are breaking the law by taking pictures which are forbidden?

  • Labaikaallah

    Taking a photo inside the mosque is not a religious prohibition, supposedly you cannot bring a camera, a water bottle, big bags and such maybe due to security reason. Anyway, you’re supposed to concentrate on your prayers and put aside worldly matters, but of course, we’re all humans.

  • madmax

    Not a very nice place to be, all sorrounded by tall buildings and busy streets. If you want to see some awesome Arab architecture, better go to Spain and see the “Mezquita” at Cordoba or the “Alhambra” at Granada…

  • Simon

    interesting to see the massive mega hotels overlooking mecca. religious capitalism

  • aatifsumar

    Wow. How did you manage to sneak that into the premises? The guards are pretty strict. When I tried to take in a DSLR they spotted me immediately. First they refused to allow me in, but then allowed me in after making me swear by God that I wouldn’t click pictures with it inside.
    Also, people need to understand the difference between blasphemy and breaking rules made by the Saudi government. It is NOT blasphemy to click pictures of the Kabah and inside the mosque. It is just prohibited by the management. In fact people click with their phones All the time and they just good nature fly tell them to put it away. It’s the big cameras that they have a problem with. Hence my surprise at you managing to take so many shots undetected.

  • cummenna

    there are more cranes than people!

  • biker

    Good photographers should not be withheld by stupid rules posed by stupid people. I applaud you for a job well done! Thank you for the great insight that gives a better understanding of Islam. It is with better insight that fear lessens and respect grows.

  • madmax

    God is an imaginary being ;-)

  • Adam Gasson

    Very interesting set of images. Usually you see the wide long exposure photo showing the mass of people. These feel a lot more personal. I’m not sure why the piece has become focused on the use of a medium format camera though. It’s just a medium, the photography is what matters. What you use to express your view is irrelevant.

  • Fock Guugle

    How can any muslim feel peace in their life, at all?

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