An explorer working on preserving the historical neighborhoods of Al Madinah through beautiful photography.
How did the idea of documenting the old neighborhoods of Almadinah come about?
When I came back from overseas I saw a changing city and the development is taking down some part of it so I wanted to keep something for the next generation to remember how Madinah used to look like.
What thoughts pass your mind when walking through Almadinah’s soon-to-be-removed neighborhoods?
Nostalgia that comes from growing up in a similar neighborhood and amazement of how skillful the craftsmen were and how the people of Madinah used their environment by building these houses from the surrounding materials, lava rocks and palm trees.
You’ve taken photographs of many places in Saudi Arabia. What was your favorite place to take pictures of and why?
Khaybar is number one on my list and I’m still not done with it. Its lava and inactive volcanoes are just amazing and surreal and there are many places, castles and an old town that need to be explored and documented. It’s like traveling back in time when going there.
What kind of things grab your attention when you’re exploring?
Whatever is new to my eyes and sight, whatever moves my feelings; I stop and take pictures. Let’s say, mostly abandoned things or houses, historical sites and landmarks. The textures of nature also grab my attention.
What do you pack in your bag when you go exploring or hiking?
Camera first, a knife, first aid kit just in case, and a lighter. And for some long trips or hikes I take canned food, bread and bananas for a dose of potassium.
What is your favorite city in Saudi Arabia and why?
Almadinah. It’s an open museum full of wonders and it’s in the center of too many favorite destinations. If you go to the east you will find lava fields and Mount Ohain where the greatest inscriptions can be found. If you go up to the north you’ll be driving by some parts of the Ottomans forts, castles and ancient dams to reach Khaybar and Alula. To the west you will reach Badr and the great Red Sea where you can snorkel at the reef. South, there are beautiful villages and nature like Khals and Milha, Wadi Alfar’e and Himanah.
Your photos are beautiful. Are you self-taught or did you learn photography in school?
Thank you so much. I feel it is more about what I feel when seeing something. It’s more thoughts in pictures. I had an elective course in photography while doing my degree but I remember holding the camera at age of 10 or so, and I’m still learning. Mobile phones helped me with shaping my skills as it was the start of my documenting journey, using only my phone camera. In addition, reading and seeing great photographer’s works like Richard Avedon and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Attending photography workshops also helps.
You do a lot of aerial photography; how do you manage that?
When it comes to aerial photography, I have to mention Captain Abdulaziz Aldakheel. He’s a sport pilot who uses a light sport powered parachute two-seater and single engine aircraft to document the region of Madinah from the sky. We decided to cooperate in doing this and after a while we decided to establish a team to do this mission. We called it Erth team for aerial documentary and our mission is to document the heritage of the region and its landmarks from the sky. We are a qualified team with 14 members, each with different backgrounds.
What kind of cameras and lenses do you use?
Canon 5D is great if printing is needed, a Go Pro because it’s small and stealthy, and my future camera is the Sony A7RS for night shots.
Any advice for future documentary enthusiasts?
Keep on exploring. Learn and push yourself by walking the extra mile. For out of city exploration and documentation trips, be safe and take care while doing this and always be prepared and let relatives know where you’re heading. For urban or in-city documenting I would suggest that you get closer to your subject and go deep in details, read more about what you are focusing on and be prepared. Don’t be shy but respect the spaces of others.
What are your future plans?
I have established Almthba, an interdisciplinary studio focusing on the region of Madinah by promoting art and helping researchers in addition to planning eco and specialized tours. I will be focusing on it in addition to the Erth Team that will keep on exploring and documenting the region of Madinah and after that the rest of the regions inshAllah.
Moath Alofi was born in Madinah, KSA in 1984. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development from Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia, and is currently working as an environmental coordinator and safety supervisor at Dar Alhijra project in Madinah. He returned to Madinah in 2013 where he started his journey of discovery in the expanding holy city, documenting its cultural heritage with the hope of safeguarding it for future generations. He is the founder of @Almthba, and the co-founder of Erth team.