Sherif Sonbol

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Sherif Sonbol
Sherif Sonbol.jpg
Born Sherif Sonbol
(1956-12-06) December 6, 1956 (age 60)
Giza, Egypt
Nationality Egyptian
Education Autodidact
Known for Photography

Sherif Sonbol (born December 6, 1956 in Egypt) is a photographer specializing in architecture, scenic fine arts and photojournalism.

Early life[edit]

Sonbol was born in Giza, Cairo.

He studied insurance at Cairo University and attended the Chartered Insurance Institute in London. He worked for the Egyptian Reinsurance Company as a marine underwriter. He was the accidental witness of a riff-raff between the company's marine hull insurance manager and the chief of the syndicate. Caught up in a delicate bureaucratic situation, Sonbol was told testifying about the incident meant the end of his career in insurance. As a result, he decided to pursue one of his passions -photography- and tried his luck at Al-Ahram, where he soon started working as a freelancer.[1]


It only took a few months for him to become a full-time photographer at Al-Ahram under the auspices of Antoun Albert.[2]

Although achieving professional goals and popularity at Al-Ahram, at a certain point Sonbol saw the need of leaving the newspaper in order to be recruited by the American Embassy's as official photographer. This position was finally not materialized but still the American Embassy incorporated him to its computer department as graphic designer and computer trainer for newcomers,[3]

He managed to combine these roles with his work in the New Cairo Opera House, where he had been taking pictures since it opened its doors in 1988. Eventually Sonbol resigned his place at the American Embassy and returned to Al-Ahram; this time to the Al-Ahram Weekly.[1]

He stayed six years as main photographer of Kalam-El-Nass. On his last year there, the Maraya-El-Nass magazine project[4] saw the light. This was an interior design magazine belonging to the same group as Kalam-El-Nass. The project's key artistic responsibles were to be writer Moguib Rushdi and himself, so he was fully transferred to the new magazine. Here too he managed to "shake the foundations of Egyptian interior photography with his use of natural light".[5]

Currently Sonbol manages to combine his responsibilities as chief photographer in Al-Ahram Weekly [6][7][8][9] and in the Cairo Opera House [10][11] with other projects.
As a freelancer, he occasionally contributes to other publications -including Kalam-El-Nass-. He participates in photography campaigns and other job assignments too. He has also collaborated with important cultural centers such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.[12] His work has been displayed in various exhibits [13][14][15][16] worldwide and has been the subject of doctorate thesis[17][18]

He has given seminars at AFCA (Académie Francophone Cairote des Arts )[19] and teaches photography at the Ahram Canadian University [20] since 2008.

Through one of his most recent freelance projects, Sonbol tries to bring Western and Arabic cultures closer together in order to promote a better understanding and communication.[21]

Technique and style[edit]

  • One of Sonbol's trademarks is his use of natural available light; a technique he developed under the encouragement of Antoun Albert.[22]
  • An acute sense of timing is also characteristic of his images. This is especially evident in his ballet shots and The New York Times referred to it as "a particular agile eye" adding that "Even when Sonbol concentrates on stillness, he exemplifies Martha Graham's adage that a pause is not a pose but "an act of accomplishment" ".[13] Sonbol developed his eye for dance under the supervision of Erminia Gambarelli Kamel, former prima ballerina and currently artistic director of the Cairo Opera House Ballet.[13][22]

Critical reception[edit]

"Nothing is more beautiful than to express art through art…" -Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Laureate[23]

"Rare is the photographer who looks at a familiar art form and shows it in a new light. But Sherif Sonbol’s stunning and revelatory dance photographs [show] a particularly agile eye… apt to shoot from a catwalk above the stage or from the wings, frequently abstracting shapes into dynamic and explosive bursts of color." -Anna Kisselgoff, New York Times[13]

"An artist has reached the pinnacle of his profession when his work can be recognised without his signature being written…" -Mounir Kenaan, leading Egyptian painter [24][25]

Additional reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Al-Ahram Weekly October 2003, interview following a five-week exhibition of his work at the Lincoln Center in New York.
  2. ^ Cultnat on Antoun Albert, small profile featured in the book "Nubia through two Eras".
  3. ^ At that time (early-mid '80s) the use of computers and word processors was not as widespread as it is nowadays.
  4. ^ An unsuccessful advertisement strategy resulted in Maraya-El-Nass having to close its doors a few years later.
  5. ^ Afaaf Abu Zaahr & Ghada Abu Zahr, editors of "Mirrors" and Kalam-El-Nass magazines
  6. ^ Besides his regular photojournalism assignments, he is in charge of the main photograph of the Pack of Cards section of the newspaper (usually providing the image or selecting other relevant photographs) and also occasionally contributing with articles.
  7. ^ "A Nubian Journey (Al-Ahram Weekly January–February 2010)" Text and graphic contribution to Al-Ahram Weekly: an original article on a usually very secluded event.
  8. ^ "Pack of Cards" subdivision of the "People" section of the newspaper. The subsection opens with a weekly image. When he doesn't contribute the image himself, he is in charge of selecting the image. Due to Al-Ahram Weekly's website organisation, in order to see the latest Pack of Cards (or past issues) navigate from here to current/past issues.
  9. ^ "The Boundless Frontier (Al-Ahram Weekly May 2000)" Text and photos by Sherif Sonbol on his work in Morocco for Museum With no Frontiers.
  10. ^ Cairo Opera House 10th anniversary exhibit review Al-Ahram Weekly, October 1998
  11. ^ a b Al Ahram Weekly July 2009, Review on Sonbol's book "Cairo Opera House 1988–2008".
  12. ^ Bibliotheca Alexandrina "Ecclesiastical Spirituality" exhibit Al-Ahram Weekly review on his latest exhibit in Bibliotheca Alexandrina (December 2008)
  13. ^ a b c d New York Times October 2003, review and interview on occasion of Lincoln Center Exhibit.
  14. ^ Currently his work is on display, for example, in the Museum With No Frontiers exhibit "Mamluk Art: The Splendor of the Sultans"
  15. ^ 2012 Exhibit in Poland: article from "Nisf el Dunia", in Arabic
  16. ^ 2012 Exhibit in Poland: article from "Ahram Online", in English
  17. ^ Eszter Dobay, The Hungarian Moholy-Nagy Academy of Arts. Thesis title: “On the portrayal of movement/action in photography
  18. ^ Paula van Akkeren, Amsterdam. Thesis titles: “What is the role of photography in Egypt” and “The relation between photography and art
  19. ^ AFCA Photography Course, 2006–2007.
  20. ^ Ahram Canadian University´s official website.
  21. ^ The project is moving slowly given the difficulty of finding proper sponsors.
  22. ^ a b Egypt Today February 2006, article on the history of Photography in Egypt.
  23. ^ Alrai Alaa Newspaper, Naguib Mahfouz on Sonbol's first exhibit at the Cairo Opera House, interview by Ashraf Sadek, (link in Arabic).
  24. ^ Featured in Sonbol's catalogues, this special message was originally delivered by Mounir Kenaan's wife, author Sanaa El-Beissy.
  25. ^ In 2001, Mounir Kenaan wrote: “A real artist is when you can recognize his work, without seeing his signature. Sonbol’s photos are like that. When I see a photo taken by Sherif Sonbol, I know immediately it’s his, without seeing his name. He surpassed the impossible. Sonbol, whose endless passion and near-obsession for learning, it is no wonder that he is now the “master’ of all photography masters in ballet – " Al Masry Al Youm English edition article "The Camera Dancer"
  26. ^ Al Ahram Weekly October 1998, article on "Aida" show at the Giza Pyramids. Sonbol's book was based on this unique production.

External links[edit]