Zein Khalifa & Heba Farid’s Pioneer Photography Gallery

Tintera is both a photography gallery and a photographic art consultancy, specialising in collection management, artist representation, as well as acquisition and sales of contemporary and historical photographs and collections. The established and emerging photographers chosen to exhibit in the gallery come from different cultural and educational backgrounds, representing Egypt’s rich and varied culture. eniGma’s Farah Alsharif sat down with the founders of Tintera, Zein Khalifa and Heba Farid, both photographers themselves, to learn more about the vision behind Tintera, and what the founders hope to achieve in the future.

Zein Khalifa and Heba Farid, met a little before 2010 and immediately bonded around their shared passion for the art of photography. Nine years later, in 2019, they joined forces to start Tintera, the first gallery in Egypt devoted to photography. The gallery is located in Zamalek while Tintera’s main office is in London. The motivation behind the launch of their gallery stemmed from their realisation that it was hard to find a platform for self-expression through photography in Egypt.

“We have a dream of elevating photography in Egypt, since there aren’t enough facilities, materials or venues that understand that photography can be an expression of controversial content and is not just a bunch of serene sights that please the eye. Heba and I want to provide the right atmosphere for the community of photographers to grow, and to spread awareness about the history of photography and hopefully also help spread this art form,” says Khalifa.

While there are many art galleries in Cairo, Tintera is unique in its focus on photography. By providing a space for photographers to exhibit, it helps elevate their work to the status of fine art and allows it to get the appreciation it deserves. Its founders hope that, through the gallery, the work of its artists will gain exposure to wider audiences, both inside and outside Egypt. They also are providing photographers from abroad with the opportunity to come to Egypt and showcase their work at Tintera.

“Photography museums are popular in a lot of cities. You can view original works from the 1860s and 1890s up to the 1920s as well as the artistic production behind it all. Photography is not just an industry, but also an art. But exhibitions are much more than collections of beautiful photos,” says Farid. “We want the audience to view the art of photography as more than just pretty photos, and to feel photographs more deeply in their historical context. Photography became a lot more important through the work of academics and researchers, because photos document the world as it has been like for the last 200 years. Photography is not only there to look at, but to read from and to view from many different aspects and in many different contexts,” she adds.

The photography gallery isn’t merely just empty walls, to Khalifa and Farid. it’s so much more than that. Choosing the artists that they work with is a very important aspect of their work. They have exhibited the work of prominent artists, like Nabil Boutros, a well-known and much admired photographer who has been in this field for the past 40 years, Byron Dunno whose “Edge of Giza” series captured the environmental and cultural aspect of Egypt, as well as Paul Geday, Xenia Nikolskaya and many more. Each exhibiting artist was chosen for a reason. Some artists use collage in their work while others for do montages. There are also artists who use hand paint to add an extra layer of information, while some artists spend months and years to come up with a single photo. Tintera is interested in showcasing all aspects of photography, the materials used, as well as the vision that explodes the stereotypes of photography.

Khalifa and Farid also offer career development for photographic artists, to help them achieve their full potential. Last October, they were excited to participate for the first time in an international photography fair, Photo London, with a collection of work by different Egyptian artists. They were even more excited when one of their artists was presented with the Emerging Photographer of the Year award. Tintera was the only Middle East based gallery there. The fair included many big art dealers and buyers and was extremely important in promoting the gallery. “The gallery holds exhibitions every few months. So it’s great whenever we participate in these fairs. Our long term goal is to be able to participate in as many fairs as we possibly can, and more pop-ups in different places. We really want people to grasp what we’re trying to do with this gallery,” they conclude.

In addition to representing photographers and showcasing their work, Tintera is also an art consultancy providing expert advice on museum and preservation work and helping clients understand the photography world by providing answers on the various aspects involved in photography. The founders of Tintera also hope some day to compile their own historical collection of photographs, for people to see and admire whenever they desire. Yet, they are cognisant of the challenges, which are not just financial, involved in this huge task. According to them, this will be a difficult undertaking and will require a huge dedication of time and effort.

To Khalifa and Farid, both working mothers, opening their gallery meant that they could enjoy a ‘free’ working style that allows them to set their own desired parameters. “Being our own bosses is such an advantage since working for someone while being a mother and a caretaker as well is so difficult,” says Khalifa. Farid adds that being totally in charge was what enabled them to take the decision to close down the gallery when the pandemic first hit, because they felt there were bigger things at stake.

Khalifa and Farid describe their work as doing the caretaking work for the artists. They provide a space for creativity and pave the way for artists to be as wild and creative as they wish to be, while the two of them do all the technical stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with creativity. They admit that, being mothers, their own creativity was eroded along the years as they prioritised the needs of others. Farid elaborates, “Motherhood doesn’t go away. Taking the load off of the artists’ responsibilities to allow them to be creative is something that we wished we had when we were younger. That’s why we are happy now that we can provide that to other fellow artists in the field of photography. We are happy to deal with the housework of creativity.”